Jill Jack has staked her reputation for more than 20 years as an Americana singer-songwriter, building a national and even international following over the course of 11 albums.
Now she's into all that jazz -- or at least a lot of it.
Last fall Jack premiered her American Songbook Band, a group of jazz players assembled by her regular drummer, Ron Pangborn, to play standards written by George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini and others, and even some more contemporary pieces by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and Paul Simon. After a year of performing them she's released a sampling of repertoire on a CD, "Pure Imagination," which Jack is confident shows how much she's evolved in performing that style.
"It was challenging," acknowledges the Ferndale resident. "The first couple of gigs I was sweating bullets. I hadn't been nervous in 20 years, so it was a great, humbling experience to stretch and be uncomfortable and not be secure in myself.
"I kinda blew a couple things in the first gig, but I'm a quick learner, and I'm pretty stubborn. So by the third or fourth gig I was pretty comfortable wtih it, and now I'm even more comfortable. I'm still learning, but it's a real pleasure to do something different like this."
The pressure, Jack says, comes from how familiar an audience is with, say, "All Of Me," "The Look Of Love," "S'Wonderful" -- or even "Bridge Over Troubled Water" -- than it might be for her original material.
"People know this music," Jack explains. "Many people have grown up with it. If you screw it up, they know you're screwing it up. It's not just, 'Oh, that's the way she does it...' "
Jack grew up with it too, thanks to her parents. They would take her to the lounge at the London Chop House or Little Harry's in Detroit, where she'd hear piano players' renditions of classics made popular by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and others. "They were such beautiful songs, and my dad especially was so into it," Jack says. That provided motivation to move in that musical direction as well, although it took about five years to make the group, led by pianist Dale Grisa, a reality.
"You can't be lazy with this music," Jack says. "With folk-rock you can get away with a lot, but this, you have to hit the notes dead-on and there's a lot more breathing and a delicateness to it, but yet dynamic.
"Once I was in the room with the band they were like, 'Be you. Don't try to be like someone else, 'cause that's not going to work. Once I realized my voice, the sweet side of my vocal, could fit some of the material really beautifully, I could pick and choose and say, 'Let's do this' and not do 'The Girl From Ipanema,' 'cause I will butcher that' -- although I've gotten better at that one, too."
Jack has maintained the American Songbook Band alongside her other music and expects it to be a going concern -- and even produce another album at some point.
"I'm not afraid of it anymore. It's really soothing, in fact," she says. "It's a different role because when I'm doing the Jill Jack stuff I'm in total control of the band and what I say goes. This is a little different. I've kid of got to step back and little bit, but stay in control. It's been a collaboration between all of us, which is really a nice change."
Jill Jack & the American Songbook Band CD Release Show
7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 10.
Local Kitchen and Bar, 344 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale.
Tickets are $50 and $20.
Call 248-291-5650 or visit localkitchenandbar.com.
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