Updated: May 15, 2019
By: Gabby Byrd
As you probably well know, Texas doesn't exactly experience regular "seasons"; still, I've come to find that most people experience the seasons internally and regardless of weather. When I had school to make me look forward to summer vacation-- many moons ago, it seems-- I tended to feel hyper-aware of the potential those couple of months carried. I remember fantasizing about spending endless days at the pool, maybe meeting someone special and ephemeral, or maybe falling and slipping into something that feels like love (yes, I was as hopeless as I sound, haha). In reality, I didn't spend that much time at the pool and was far too shy to really meet anyone; instead, I spent most of my summers in my room listening to music, watching music videos, and taking advantage of whatever summer music programs my parents could afford.
When I went to the High School for Performing & Visual Arts (HSPVA) in Houston for vocal music, I would study art songs, arias, and the fundamentals of technique, but then, just for me, I would go home and study a bunch of jazz records I had checked out from the school library. Being a young person entranced by jazz and classical music but also obsessed with popular music of the day, I sometimes felt like I was living two different lives or attempting to travel along two different paths. Once I had finally mourned the fact that I wouldn't be going out of state for college (read: begging my mom to spend a zillion-billion dollars for me to go to Berklee), I went to the University of North Texas for vocal jazz and-- after some kicking and screaming-- eventually felt right at home. My peers and professors and the music that came out of the little musical playground that was UNT helped me realize I could love and appreciate jazz without feeling the need to neglect my love for other kinds of music. Since the lines between musical genres are practically nonexistent these days anyway, I'm hard-pressed to find a reason not to just... embrace it all.
Feel free to fight me on this, but I think if there's any season that truly needs a good soundtrack, it's summer; so, I've compiled these songs for you to enjoy and interact with whenever it feels like summer in your heart or whenever you darn well please. My goal was to choose songs and albums I thought would empower and comfort and uplift the girls who love jazz, the girls who feel lonely, the girls who like to play and jam, the girls who like to groove and dance, and the girls who defy stereotypes and expectations. I made this specifically with you in mind. You'll notice that 1) every artist here identifies as female 2) one playlist is a little heavier on the jazz, for those of you who prefer more jazz listening and 3) I'm really bad at hiding my love for vocal music. Instrumentalists, I promise I was thinking about you guys, too! The idea behind "Night and Day" parts 1 and 2 was, depending on your style (and, I guess the kind of day you're having), maybe part 1 sounds like the perfect soundtrack for your day, and part 2, for your night. Who knows? Even if you end up hating every song, it is my wish that there is something you can take away from these artists that will spark your curiosity and make you want to do your own exploring and crate digging. Now then, let's get into the music!
A few highlights:
Can't Hold Me by Emily King
I'm the kind of person who generally avoids motivational-sounding music at all costs, but tracks like "Can't Hold Me" make Emily King's latest release, Scenery, hard not to enjoy. While the synths give off a strong 1980's workout video vibe to reflect King's joy and freedom, the lyrical phrasing of King's melody is somewhat teasing and playful. The chorus, "you can't hold me now, only I can do that," only helps to echo this sentiment of *finally* feeling free and uninhibited.
EARTHA by Jamila Woods
Gather 'round, ya'll, it's time for a history lesson! "EARTHA", is one of several songs on LEGACY! LEGACY! that was named to honor different creative individuals in history, more specifically, creatives of color. Eartha Kitt, as you may see in this legendary clip was a bold and unapologetic woman with her own ideas about what it means to be in a relationship with another person. It is this conversation, this somewhat taboo thinking that inspired Jamila Woods to apply these concepts to her own life and write "EARTHA". If you're interested in reading what Woods has to say about each of the songs on her new album, check out her interview with Stacey Anderson for Pitchfork.
Swimming by Little Dragon
Little Dragon has been one of my absolute favorite bands since high school, and it's because their music is incredibly infectious and always makes me want to shake my pants. Whether I'm getting ready in the morning or lounging around the house on the weekend, there's always a Little Dragon song to fit my mood. The story Yukimi Nagano tells in "Swimming" is one I like because it makes me reminisce fondly about the many crushes I had growing up... and appreciate the fact that they never worked out.
The Meaning of Love by Karin Krog
Karin Krog, if you're as unfamiliar with the name as I was, is a versatile Norwegian jazz singer who started performing and releasing records in the 1960's-- Dexter Gordon disciples might be familiar with their 1970 collaboration, Some Other Spring. Due to the fact that her recordings weren't even distributed in the US until 1994, I feel that her work is grossly under acknowledged and appreciated here in the states. As one would probably expect, "The Meaning of Love" is rather introspective and explores some complex emotions: regret, resignation, appreciation for the world around us, uncertainty, grief. Surprisingly though, Krog doesn't fully partake in the melodrama. Despite her words, there's something in her voice that reveals the beauty that's always hiding in the melancholy, the rainbow that follows the rain.
Smooth Operator by Meshell Ndegeocello
As a longtime Sade stan, I'm always excited to hear how other artists reimagine her work or... don't. This arrangement of "Smooth Operator" closes out Ndegeocello's most recent recorded work,Ventriloquism which is purely a collection of covers, each blessed with thoughtful touches and quirks only a seasoned artist like Ndegeocello could birth. Some might view making an album like this a daunting task, but Ndegeocello is no stranger to the game and takes every opportunity to showcase her distinct individuality. Ndegeocello, pronounced correctly, is "N-DAY-GAY-O-CHELLO", which is a phrase in Swahili that means "free like a bird."
Aldeia de Ogum by Joyce
Jazz standards aside, this was one of the first Brazilian jazz songs I ever heard and immediately fell in love with because it's so fun to sing! If "Aldeia de Ogum" appeals to you, I suggest checking out the work of Elis Regina, Roberta Sa, and Gal Costa; and if you're feeling a little adventurous, Hermeto Pascoal.
Gabby Byrd is a vocalist, writer, music history nerd, and Houston native currently living and performing in the DFW area. When she's not working her nine to five you can usually find her somewhere feverishly making to-do lists, scouring the internet for sold-out back issues of Wax Poetics, or being introverted at home with her cat (who is assuredly cuter than yours). Occasionally she posts recordings at www.soundcloud.com/babriellegyrd and writings at www.byrdseyeblog.me.