Jazz vocalist Suzy Williams has been on a writing spree. This year, she has written 22 songs, mostly jazz pieces, with a few swing numbers that could be tailored to fit the arrangements of a jazz combo.
“I usually write one song a year or one song every two years, and I just went nuts with this whole thing,” she says, the excitement building in her voice. “I’m just really on a tear.”
Part of her self-regimented program is to work on a melody in the shower. “I have to write a melody or I don’t get out…With that discipline, I end up coming up with a nice melody every couple weeks. Getting the words to line up, well, that’s why I don’t have 365 songs.”
Much of Williams’ new material is intended for Suzy Williams and Her Solid Senders, currently the most active of her seven musical projects. With a monthly gig at Santa Monica’s Temple Bar, the swing group is providing a steady creative outlet for Williams and her friends, which is exactly why she conceived the project after hearing that a trumpeter friend of hers was short on work.
“A lot of times in today’s jazz scene, it’s hard for guys to make a living,” she explains. “I’m trying to create a world where they can make some money, mix and match, and get out there.”
Sonically, Williams takes inspiration from 1947, the year when the Beat writers were just getting started and when music was beginning to change form as big bands gave way to smaller combos.
“That’s the kind of music we’re doing,” she says. “Bebop-influenced swing.”
She continues to elaborate on her influences. “Benny Goodman Sextet in 1939 was sort of the precedent for that sound that happened 10 years later. It’s like that cubist sound that’s still kind of sensual and sexy and high energy.”
Williams, who has been working as a singer since she was a teenager, concedes that she went to the “Bessie Smith School” of music, citing the famed blues singer as an early inspiration.
“As a young girl, I found that I could sing like her,” she says, adding that she also tried to live Smith’s notorious life. “Back then, I felt like I should try to live Bessie’s life so that I could authentically be a blues singer. I got the blues.”
Williams traveled through the eastern United States, playing everything from Ivy League universities to roadhouses to Carnegie Hall. Years later, she headed out west. It was 1994, and the Northridge Earthquake shook the area during her first week in town. Still, she stayed. The Westside has been good for Williams. In addition to her work with the Solid Senders, she has twice sang the work of such writers as Vladimir Nabokov and Lewis Carroll at Beyond Baroque, and released the CD Mr. Friendly’s Animal Tales as Suzy Williams and the J Tones. Along the way, she has confronted some interesting musical challenges. Five years ago, Williams tackled vocalese, which is similar to scatting, but uses actual words and phrases. Right now, Williams is perfecting her scatting technique.
“Good scatting is very hard,” she says. “It didn’t come natural to me and I wouldn’t have dared to do it until I was in my 50s, but I’ve been really studying.”
Check out Suzy Williams and Her Solid Senders at the Temple Bar on November 27. Swing lessons will be offered between the sets.