Kool Kat of the Week #2: The Better Half Will Reach You: Jazz Singer Yolanda Rabun Is Keeping It So Real at the Atlanta Jazz Festival

Posted on: May 23rd, 2012 By:

Photo courtesy of Yolanda Rabun.

The Atlanta Jazz Festival brings a national and international who’s who of the art form to Piedmont Park for an amazing free concert every Memorial Day Weekend. With so many incredible artists, we decided we couldn’t pick just one, so this week, look out for two Kool Kats.

Kool Kat #2 is Yolanda Rabun, one real lady of jazz who’ll be singing both her own originals and classic pieces on Memorial Day Monday, May 28 at 3 p.m. The former Atlantan now lives in North Carolina but is excited to be returning home in support her debut CD SO REAL, and we can’t wait to hear her, whether she’s channeling classic chanteuse Billie Holliday or showing us with her voice how the true meaning of love embodies peace and harmony and even when true love means it’s time to leave. She has sung with Isaac Hayes for President Ronald Reagan, performed with Clay Aiken, been the lead vocalist of the Stanley Baird Group opening for Jennifer Holliday and traveled the world. All at the same time as serving as corporate counsel for a Top 5 Forbes company. We caught up with her to find out more about her eclectic background, what her mother taught her about music and life, and what it means to be So Real…

How did you discover jazz?

My mom introduced me to Nancy Wilson and Nina Simone when I was younger. Billie Holliday was a really big hero of mine. And Diane Reeves. My background is musical theater. I always think of musical theater as a story being told to music and that’s what jazz does too. As I got older I was called by jazz bands asking me to come play with them, and I began stepping out. In fact, throughout school I would sing with different jazz bands. I’d do things here and there, but I really got into my jazz vocal career five to six years ago when I became the official lead jazz singer for a band in North Carolina.

Who are some of your favorite classic jazz singers and why?

Billie Holliday, her music changed during the course of her career and that was very impressionable on me because it gave me meaning behind what jazz what can be. When I think of jazz, I think of improvisation—feeling through music based on what’s going on around you, being more straightforward with tones, more purposeful with meaning. As Billie got older and had been through more, her music became slower, energy more focused either in the emotion of anger or the emotion of sorrow. That was amazing for me. This woman could take music and deliver a message basically through the emotion going on in her life and the song. That’s a skill that I’ve worked on through my years studying music.

Sara Vaughn and Dinah Washington also made an impression on me, and Nancy Wilson is one of my biggest influences.

Trumpeter Al Strong and Yolanda Rabun at Raleigh's Artsplosure Festival 2012. Photo credit: Frank Myers.

Do you consider your style to be traditional jazz or contemporary jazz?

I don’t even think I want to be labeled. I like to be considered both so I’m not put in one corner or other. There’s a photo of me with a flower in my hair on my album, and that’s part of my brand. When you see it, you probably think Billie Holliday. I almost want to you, I sing traditional jazz in live shows. But listen to all of my music and you’ll find out it’s a mix. I want to send the message that whether I am singing contemporary or classic jazz as it was back in the day, whether soulful jazz or gospelly jazz, in the end it is jazz. And jazz is delivering emotion through the actual sound you hear in the music.

There must be a great story about how you came to sing and do a recording with Isaac Hayes and sing for President Reagan?

I was a junior at Northside School of the Arts and President Reagan was visiting. There was a big production and they wanted a song. They said Isaac Hayes was producing it and my face lit up. When I met him, he said he was so glad I was singing it. He was amazing. He was very caring about what needed to happen but also very stern and concerned that I was at my best. When I did it, it was on CNN and all the news stations. As soon as the song was over, I got so excited that I turned around and shook President Reagan’s hand. The Secret Service didn’t expect that. But he grabbed me and hugged me. It was a great experience all around, meeting the President and working with Isaac Hayes.

You often quote the statement: “Half of what I say is meaningless but I only say it so that the other half may reach you.” Where did you get that from?

It was something my mother said to me. I always wondered what she was saying. But I know now it means to pay attention to everything that is said since the portion that you need the most comes when you are ready to receive it.  The story about Isaac Hayes and being able to meet the president—what does that all mean? Mr. Hayes said a lot to me in the course of our working, I remember him reiterating that I would be a singing lawyer and that I am! In the end, it’s about having been blessed and continually being blessed to be able to work with really great people in my career. I’m based in NorthCarolina now, have traveled all around the world and I get to come back home to Atlanta for the Atlanta Jazz Festival. Did you know I used to sing the theme song for Atlanta and now I am coming back toAtlantato sing my music. I’m really, really excited.

Can you take a little about your debut CD SO REAL?

SO REAL is smooth and soul jazz. I started writing the song “So Real” for my husband. It was exciting for me, doing a demo and getting back into the field of music. As a corporate lawyer,  I’d gone full surge into that career but I wanted to get back to music. I wrote the song “So Real” as part of a demo and then set it aside.  Finally, the hard start of stepping out on my own and starting on my own album began in 2010. Because everything became  “so real,” that’s the music I wanted to sing and make my own. I took the single and created a full HD video, and then it toured to Portugal, Spain, Turkey and Jordan. I sang for it for the US troops because what they are doing for us was so real. Then I finished the album and took it back to Diego Garcia, and the  response  was amazing. The “So Real” song and album did well on the charts for the independent labels in the UK. I can’t even tell you how overwhelmed and excited I am.

Can you give us a taste of what you’ll be performing at the Atlanta Jazz Festival?

Hi, I’m Yolanda Rabun here and this is my new contemporary jazz album “So Real.” That’s a big deal. I’ve been the lead singer for a jazz group and now I’m stepping out and here I am. You will see a mixture of a lot of musical influences, Nancy Wilson,  Billie Holliday and others that will surprise a few. I will do some songs from my SO REAL album, and a song by one of the biggest influences in my life out of all my influences, Gladys Knight! My songs involve a journey of love, a journey of freedom, a journey of harmony and peace. My show is centered around the idea of real love and what that is, whether it’s blossoming, wonderful and happy or searching and unclear. In the end it’s about harmony and peace.

I’m from Florida but grew up in Atlanta. I went to Warren T Jackson Elementary, SuttonMiddle School and Northside School of the Performing Arts. I met my husband, Rick, in Atlanta, I was married in Atlanta (formerly known as Yolanda Williams) , one of my children was christened in Atlanta at my home church (Cascade United Methodist), my mom, (Kappitola) is in Atlanta where I was raised as her only child.  Atlanta is my home. I’m coming full circle. I started in Atlanta with my music, went off and became a lawyer, and now I’m coming back with my music.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: A Jazz Interlude With Kayla Taylor: Why She Loves ‘30s/’40s Classics, the Unsurprising Success of Her New CD and the Pleasures of Playing the Vintage Artmore Hotel This Friday

Posted on: Nov 16th, 2011 By:

Atlantans who love classic jazz won’t be surprised to hear that Kayla Taylor’s new and sixth CD YOU”D BE SURPRISED hit #23 on the CMJ Jazz charts this week and is receiving airplay across the nation and throughout Europe. Instead, we’re liable to say it’s delovely and just one of those things that had to happen. But then local audiences have had the treat of listening to this Atlanta native and chanteuse extraordinaire resurrect top tunes from the ‘30s,  ‘40s and ’50s  live for a decade or more with musical partner/guitarist Steve Moore. And because this Friday night, Kayla will be performing at one of Atlanta’s coolest vintage venues, the courtyard of the Artmore Hotel in Midtown whose building dates back to 1924, we thought the timing couldn’t be more perfect to make her Kool Kat of the Week.

One of those rare actual Atlanta natives, Kayla literally grew up singing, in her school chorus, church choir and in the shower, but winning two awards in a 7th grade talent show cemented her ambition to make music a career. Along the way, she has performed country music, gospel, R&B and classic and original rock ‘n’ roll until she finally found her heart resided in the golden era of Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin—all of whom are represented on YOU’D BE SURPRISED’s playlist. ATLRetro caught up with Kayla to find out more about why she decided to embrace one of our favorite musical eras, what she has planned for this Friday night at the Artmore, her new CD, what’s next and where you might catch her singing while shopping…

ATLRetro: According to your bio, you always sang even as a little girl, and through the years, in addition to jazz, you’ve performed country, gospel, R&B and rock n roll, too. How did you come to embrace vintage jazz?

Kayla Taylor: I have always loved vintage jazz. The charm and romance of the ‘30s and ‘40s was something that always attracted me. I love how clever the lyrics are. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of old movies that were filmed and set during that time period and found all of it to be a natural embrace. Then in the mid-‘80s, Linda Ronstadt—one of my rock heroes—came out with her Big Band albums with The Nelson Riddle Orchestra and the romance started all over again.

Photo credit: John Lee Matney.

I understand that your earliest award was for singing Irene Cara’s “Out Here on My Own” from FAME? What’s the story and how big an early influence on you was the movie, FAME?

I wouldn’t say that FAME had a big influence on me, but the music and Irene Cara’s voice definitely did. I loved the pure emotion that was in her voice when she sang “Out Here On My Own.” The school talent show was coming up, and so I decided that I’d sing that song. I practiced for weeks in my room with the door closed. I must have played that record hundreds of times. My parents had no idea. I wasn’t trying to win—I just wanted to sing in front of all those people. I was also in a girls’ trio that performed “Sincerely”— a tune from the ‘50s. Well, the trio took 1st place, and I took 2nd place. I was so thrilled and excited. My parents had always been supportive of whatever I wanted to try, but at that point, they jumped completely onboard with my singing adventures.

Who are some of your favorite classic jazz composers and performers, and why do you think their music remains so timeless and relevant today?

Cole Porter, The Gershwins, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Johnny Mercer . . . there are so many amazing composers from that era that I adore, but these are just a few of my top picks. As far as performers, Julie London, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, Etta James, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. I think the music is so well-crafted that it can’t help but remain timeless and relevant. Most of the songs are about love or the loss of love—that will always be timeless and relevant.

How did you meet Steve Moore and end up working together?

Great Story! Steve Moore was in a rock band called A Fine Line—an original rock project. They ran an ad in the Creative Loafing looking for a female vocalist. (That’s what you did 19 years ago—you ran an ad in a printed publication if you were looking for a musician.) I called about the position. They sent me a demo of some of their tunes, and I thought they were really cool, so I learned them and showed up at the audition. Later that night, Steve Moore was the one who called me to tell me I had gotten the job. That was the beginning of an amazing relationship as friends, co-writers and business partners. We went through several original rock projects together (A Fine Line, OneWithout) and even an acoustic duo (The Adventures of Kayla & Steve). One day we were talking about all these great jazz standards that we both loved and how much we would both love to play that music one day and to have our own jazz combo. Five minutes later we had made a decision to start working towards that direction. That was over 10 years ago, and we’ve been at it ever since.

Kayla Taylor and Steve Moore. Photo credit: John Lee Matney.

Can you tell us a bit about YOU’D BE SURPRISED came together, and what it means to you that it’s doing so well?

To say we are excited is an understatement. OVER THE MOON with excitement might scratch the surface. All of this came about because we hired an expert to handle it for us. We’re indy artists—SmartyKat Records—that’s our own label. We don’t have the connections personally to make this kind of airplay and exposure happen, so we hired Kari Gaffney and Jeff Williams of Kari-On Productions to handle all of it for us. Kari has over 21 years experience promoting and marketing CDs to radio and print media. I have never seen anyone work as hard as she has been working. I don’t know when she even has time to sleep. She’s done a fabulous job for us.

What’s your favorite song on the CD to perform and why?

WOW. To pick one tune—that’s tough because I love every song that’s on the CD. It’s like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. If I have to pick one, though, I’d have to say the title track—“You’d Be Suprised.” What I love about that song are the great lyrics. They are so clever!!! I love the Marilyn Monroe version.

The Jazz in the Courtyard series at the Artmore, where the building dates back to 1924, promises an urban escape with “sultry music, sexy vibes and sinful drinks.” And the signature cocktail is “The Prohibition.” Can we surmise that the goal is to create a speakeasy atmosphere, and will you be tossing some Roaring ‘20s tunes into the mix?

Artmore is a great hotel, and the courtyard is a beautiful venue. We have a great time playing there and love that they have embraced our music. We’ll still be hanging out in the ‘30s and ‘40s era but love that they have created a speakeasy feel—with a modern twist. All concerts take place in the courtyard, and there is a fabulous firepit and heaters to keep everything warm. If it should rain or turn freezing cold—we’ll move the show into their basement speakeasy lounge. I think we might be good to have this final concert of the season out in the courtyard, though.

Anything else you’d like to share about Friday’s gig at the Artmore?

Reservations are not required, but if you want to reserve a seat, you can email them at sales@artmorehotel.com. Come prepared to have a great time. I have a retro-styled microphone that is wireless so I can move all over the courtyard, and I love to come by and sing to anyone who seems like they might be receptive. Trust me, though—if it’s clear you’re there with a date and you just want to make eyes at each other—I’ll stay out of your way.

Where else will you be playing in Atlanta soon, and any plans for a tour to promote YOU’D BE SURPRISED?

Our next big show will be at Feast in Decatur on Saturday, December 3. This will be a great show because it’s the beginning of the holiday & Christmas season, and we’ll have some of the great jazzy Christmas tunes from the era to throw into the mix. This show generally sells out, so it’s a really good idea to call them to make a reservation. We play from 7:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. with the five-piece combo. The food at Feast is fantastic and we always have a great time. [Call] 404.370.2000 – for reservations.  As far as a tour to promote YOU’D BE SURPRISED—definitely something we are thinking long and hard about we just have to make the numbers work out.

Do you really burst into song at the grocery store? If yes, where do you shop?

Not every time I’m in the grocery store, but yes, I have been known to burst into song in the middle of a shopping excursion. My sweet husband, Scott, has been so good about dealing with those moments and I know they have been embarrassing—but sometimes a song just wells up inside and I have to blurt it out. For the record, my favorite place to shop locally is Publix—the stores are smaller and easier to navigate and everyone is super-friendly. If I’m going to travel away from my neighborhood to shop, you’ll find me at Whole Foods.

Finally, we’ve got to ask. What would we be most surprised to know about you?

Two things: first, I am an avid gardener. I love digging holes and putting plants in them and then nurturing them and watching them grow. It fascinates me! The next thing . . . I actually suffer from stage fright on occasion. It’s true.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2014 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress