Michele Thomas

Jazz • Music • Connection

The Adele/Beyonce Upset & Chicago's Jeannie Tanner

First off, today's post is about an upcoming performance that I really hope you'll come out to in a couple days because it's a really unique, "one-time only" kind of thing which you'll read more about below...

Featuring....*Alyssa Allgood *Rose Colella *Elaine Dame *Kimberly Gordon *Paul Marinaro *Tammy McCann *Jeff Meegan *Typhanie Monique *Andy Pratt *Abigail Riccards
*Michele Thomas *Amy Yassinger

We crossed the threshold of the 59th annual Grammy awards a couple of weeks ago, and the big talk this year was the supposed upset of Adele winning “Album Of The Year” over Beyonce. And it would appear that Adele may have felt she didn’t deserve that Grammy either, after the acceptance speech she gave where she used her few moments to instead blubber her praise and admiration for Beyonce and her work.  

There’s been the usual post award commentaries and op-ed pieces comparing the work of the two entertainers and their artistic merits...whatever. :/  But I would beg to offer another perspective.  What I saw in Adele was an artist who is humble and grounded enough to shift the spotlight away from herself and shine it on another artist who she respected in an unexpected moment.  And this ability to bridle the ego in a business where at every turn there is such fierce pressure to be the only artist left standing - it is an exercise in self-transcendence to say the least - but more than that, you just don’t see it that often in a business that can be driven by immense competition and hype.

I say all of that to say this…when I first realized I wanted music to be my life and profession I was honestly scared shitless. I knew it was a brutal business and I feared my heart too faint to survive in it. I prayed to meet and connect with the kind of people that had substance and integrity; and then God answered that prayer by also sprinkling in some real assholes so that I could really know what substance and integrity actually looked like in action.  Needless to say, when I do make meaningful connections in this business I feel eternally grateful and blessed  - and one of those connections as of late has been with singer/songwriter, Jeannie Tanner.

A few years ago Jeannie decided she wanted to create her dream project, which was to bring other vocalists together to perform songs from her catalogue of music.  She said, "Any composer dreams of other voices, other musicians interpreting their music. So I started approaching singers I knew. I knew their voices."

Jeannie herself is an award winning composer, vocalist and trumpeter who performs and has also recorded many albums. Tanner’s publishing is represented by Heavy Hitters Music, Los Angeles, CA and her original music has been placed in television, film and can be heard on local, national and international radio, including her own Pandora Radio Station. 

Having mostly known of Jeannie though my husband and her resident drummer, Darren Scorza, we had been friendly acquaintances at best prior to this project.  After sitting in with her band on a few gigs and her having had a chance to hear me sing, she asked me if I would be interested in recording a song for this project she was putting together.  And just the way she approached me, with no hype or pretense - just sincere appreciation from one musician to another, I recognized that aforementioned self-transcendence and knew this was a project I’d want to be involved in.

And what a project it has been! The community and camaraderie surrounding this recording has been a much welcomed highlight of this past year. Jeannie outfitted her home into a recording studio for a month and then welcomed us all into the warmest of atmospheres, with her loving partner Susan serving as the utmost hostess and gorging us with homemade gourmet food and margaritas….Matt Feddermann her engineer just in the next room bringing his laid back yet efficient vibe to the process helping us all feel at ease to access our performing muses.  And then Dan Murphy, her musical director and pianist then facilitating the space for that muse through his artistic direction.  All the while as Jeannie’s mini kennel of the cutest cats (and now) dog you’ll ever see were there to provide some further stress reducing entertainment; and as Jeannie herself maintained the most Zen level of artistic control I think I’ve ever witnessed in a writer/producer of a project.

First row L to R: Rose Colella, Elaine Dame, Andy Pratt, Kimberly Gordon, Amy Yassinger, and Darren Scorza.  
Second row L to R: Me, Dan Murphy, Abigail Riccards, Jeff Meegan, and Tammy McCann.
Third row L to R: Paul Marinaro, Cory Biggerstaff, Dan Murphy (on keyboard), and Alyssa Allgood.
Also, not seen is Typhanie Monique

It reminded me of the process James Taylor chose to take in recording his past two albums, “Covers” and “ Before This World” in an old barn house, or similarly when Cassandra Wilson recorded her album “Belly of The Sun” in an old converted train station in Mississippi.(Not to compare Jeannie’s beautiful home to any old, dusty and abandoned edifice. Quite the contrary!)

But performing in such hospitable surroundings, joyful collaboration comes easy with an atmosphere that is quite conducive to the flow of creative energy - which is what Jeannie provided for us every step of the way, both outwardly and introspectively. 

Out of that tremendous undertaking now comes the LP, “Words & Music”, Jeannie’s ninth album release to date.  And in two days we will be celebrating the fruits of this endeavor with all twelve vocalists and the band who performed on the recording as well as some special guests - the concert will feature most of Chicago’s jazz luminaries.  Yet what I have heard Jeannie express repeatedly throughout every painstaking step of this project is her desire to highlight the singers singing her songs, and not herself.  Even as she is the creator of the music, the album and the very platform that will bring us all together this Monday night to perform - she affectionately deflects the attention away from herself in the name of the artists and musicians that she so much admires.

Jeannie is the Adele to our local jazz community.  Because she understands it to be just that…a community. And when the music industry acts like a community, it fosters some of the greatest art ever produced.  Thanks for setting such a great example for the rest of us Jeannie. ~ Love, Michele