To those who are familiar with Philadelphia’s iconic jazz scene, Shakera Jones is a revered powerhouse vocalist who has made a name for herself in the city and beyond for her captivating performances bringing listeners in to her world as a multifaceted artist, lyricist, and composer. Jones emerges with her long awaited and highly anticipated debut album release “Love, Life, Lyrics & Music” available February 20, 2022.
For this album she’s enlisted her industry heavyweight musicians and friends who have also made names for themselves throughout the jazz world, featuring George Burton (Piano), Nimrod Speaks (Bass), Anwar Marshall and James “Biscuit" Rouse (Percussion), Stacy Dillard (Saxophones). “Love, Life, Lyrics & Music” is a concept album written, composed, and arranged by Jones and is a reflection on how she processes “life” experiences, those of which impact her the deepest when “love” is involved, which in turn inspire her “lyrics” and the mood of the “music” she composes, as Jones explains “I am my truest self when I sing songs that express all in which I am feeling, thinking, or experiencing. This process allows me to feel less alone, and validates my feelings and experiences. I wanted to create a work what would speak to the Souls of everyone who has been through something, is healing from something/someone, and who is still hopeful that all this isn’t for nothing! Hoping, I can be a source of encouragement, healing, inspiration, and joy.”
Growing up in Montclair, New Jersey, Jones’ love of jazz and soul music was influenced by her parents and sparked the vocalist to start singing at the early age of 4 years old. From there she took every opportunity to perform, “when I heard Aretha Franklin, Sarah Vaughan, Marvin Gaye, and other Soul, Jazz, and Funk music growing up the sounds flowed through my veins and I knew singing and performing would be in my future,” reflects Jones.
Her nature for performing inspired the vocalist to move to the iconic jazz city, Philadelphia, where she attend the prestigious jazz programs as an undergrad at Temple University and as a graduate at University of the Arts, earning her Master’s degree in Jazz Studies where she began to focus on songwriting thus developing a style all her own, immersing herself in Philadelphia’s rich jazz world performing alongside city legends and mentors such as Mickey Roker, Sid Simmons, Orrin Evans, Tim Warfield, Byron Landham, Bootsie Barnes, and Mike Boone. Her own group the Shakera Jones Quartet became a staple in the area’s jazz scene winning audiences with her notable sultry voice, impressive range, personal lyrics backed by groovy arrangements and Jazz/Soul/Hip-Hop influenced musical accompaniment. Artists such as Anita Baker, Chaka Khan, and John Coltrane heavily influenced her style, along with Carmen McRae who effortlessly paints a story when she sings and has inspired Jones to do the same through her enchanting performances. Her award-winning sound is the recipient of the prestigious “Jazz Vocalist Award” from the world-renowned Clef Club of Philadelphia and has led to performances on iconic stages such as the Chatterbox in Indianapolis, Twin’s in Washington, D.C., to a residency at the 88 Club in Ohio. She was also a featured artist at the Women in Jazz Festival. She has performed and shared the stage with other industry influencers such as The Last Poets, Eric Roberson, Def Poets: MReld, Sunni Anderson, Georgia Me, Black Ice, and Abyss.
A master storyteller and lyricist, Jones has a knack for entrancing audiences with her soul/jazz style and raw emotion on stage, “in performing my original music I have found audience members who relate to the story/lyrics I am singing, which lets me know I am affecting the soul of others and may even be helping with the restoration of their hearts too. I am my most vulnerable and honest when I sing songs that resonate with the core of who I am. I want my music to do that for others,” affirms Jones.
The full-length album features all original songs and three arrangements of standards, such as the opening track by Cole Porter “It’s Alright with Me,” featuring dynamic rhythm by Anwar Marshall and Jones powerful and unyielding voice singing its powerful lyrics with undeniable intensity “It’s the wrong place at the wrong time…” defining the right and wrong to love without abandonment. “Lush Life” by Billy Strayhorn is another featured standard in which the musicians pay homage to the traditional jazz idiom highlighted by Stacy Dillard on Saxophone who portrays the angst of what being alone can provide with the familiarity of a bar and those to comfort you, while Jones sings with reckless control conveying the deeply personal connection she has with its lyrics. On the final standard of the album, Billie Holiday and Mal Waldron’s “Left Alone,” Jones set out to have the band play in the manner of a dirge with Stacy Dillard soloing on the piece aggressive and sweet, each musician plays through their own sense of pain, and vocally Jones reflects her own story unapologetically and with the pain it deserves.
“I Saw Her Today” is an original piece, a short yet powerful composition reflecting on how loving blindly can end without reason where the balance of the band and the lyrics create a vibe of an emotional rollercoaster which many have experiences yet rarely speak about. “Dreaming in Color” the listener is transported to a dream-state with the group delicately playing behind the almost whisper-like sung melody, creating a cardinal love and attraction which feels like fantasy or an out-worldly encounter with love making, representing all the beautiful things about love and convening when it seems like a dream in full color realized.
The cabaret inspired track “Love Poem” Jones bares the truth of the heart longing for connection when writing songs or poems (un-interrupted thoughts) in free form her truest self emerges to find the why’s, how’s, and facts about what she is feeling and acts as an introduction to “I Was Made to Love You” the music is a tribute to the confirmation that love exists. Each note played and the rhythm performed is a testament to how love can be solidified if one puts themselves out in front with truth and honesty.
Slow and steady the music of “Naturally” creates a vivid recap of a night of chance and circumstance after a heartbreak. The band takes its time to create the foundation of this experience while Jones sings honest lyrics depicting what actually happened and the band takes the ride with Jones’ vocals directing the energy. “Ortlieb’s Moment” is a dedication to the Philadelphia Jazzhaus staple where the music was always playing and the musicians were always improvising which made it feel like home and was the place of one of the first “Shakera Jones Quartet gigs and features a serendipitous intro composed by George Burton on piano, Anwar Marshall on Drums and Nimrod Speaks on bass.
“Mo Better” was inspired by the scene in Spike Lee’s “Mo’Betta Blues” where Bleek goes to Indigo and pleads for her love to save him after a terrible karmic incident. The piece is a genre merger of hip-hop, soul and, jazz. Each genre holds a place in Jones’ performance because of the raw energy they exude. The original composition pays tribute to jazz in the chordal structure with soul in the lyrics and hip-hop in her lyrical delivery conveying that even after the most terrible things love is what saves us, Jones, and, the man she adores. “Natural and Free” Jones’ wrote while in love and feeling freer in a love-space that she had ever experienced, the exhilaration of being her whole self-unadulterated—wearing her natural hair and being adored for it and expressed by the creative freedom of the musicians having liberty when playing throughout the composition which reflects Jones’ own freedom in love and always being her true self. The originals on the album end with the track “What Do I Do?” which features New Orleans-church vibe highlighted by Anwar Marshall drumming and Nimrod Speaks bass lines. The bouncy background draws in the listener and makes one want to snap. The percussion played by James “Biscuit” Rouse and piano accompaniment by George Burton add to the origin of Black music. George Burton’s solo over the chorus lays down in confirmation the truest form of Soul music. Here the lyrical use of call and response makes this an easy song to sing and vibe to.
Jones’ debut original album was written while healing her heart after a devastating break-up, “this project is an offering of my honest and truest self. I prefer to sing and compose songs that make me feel something deep in my soul. When I am singing from that space I know I can tap into the soul energy of those who listen. This project is a representation of the deepest part of me only those closest to me know, I feel brave for letting the world inside my heart and thoughts.”
Written by: Lindsey Grande
Photography: Jamie Blackshear