I like days like today, days when you find yourself in a nice groove, where your every move is smooth, where you walk whistling with a cup of coffee from the Deli to your home and turn the radio on and sounds come out to where you are and take the already mellow mood you’re in to another place, another dimension.
I mean Jazz 88.3 was pouring out some lyrics in my living room that stopped me in my tracks: “When Sunny gets blue, she breathes a sigh of sadness” and it was sounding so good I couldn’t feel anything but gladness. One of my all time favorite songs; I’ve heard it most of my life by some of the greats. Johnny Mathis did it sweetly with strings. Sarah did it sassy the way she did everything. Anita O’Day swung it in her inimitable sultry way. Barbra did it. Nat did it. Mel Torme.
But I was hearing it this day in a most righteously funky way. These musicians saturated the song with soul as thick as grandma’s peach cobbler, the guitar harmonizing with the singer’s voice, the bass and drums bumping nice rhythms and when I recognized who the singer was I could practically hear my heart hum.
It was Steph Johnson hanging out with Claudia Russell on the Jazz Ride Home – and, oh, she sang the hell out of that song. She’s my next door neighbor and I’ve heard her from her bedroom, at different stages of developing and arranging When Sunny Gets Blue, along with Summertime which played next, so free and easy with a hip playful bounce to it, but I had only heard the repetitive fingering of strings she needed to get the songs the way she wanted them to be – I hadn’t heard them from beginning to end. And I didn’t know exactly what I was missing but I do now.
The finished product is something to experience if you love good music, if you appreciate watching a performer grow as that’s what this young woman is doing as I remember her saying on facebook: “I am having the best rainy afternoon playing guitar. I am SO GLAD I started to really learn how to play my instrument….and if I die poor because I fell in love with harmony and jazz guitar and old songs and creating new compositions, that’s ok with me. :0) Really.”
That’s an artist talking my friends, a learner, one who is rather comfortable with a guitar in her hands, yet surrounds herself with people who can only help her get better at her craft. She records and does gigs with Fernando Gomez who has made a name for himself in San Diego on the drums, playing a range of styles, salsa, reggae, funk, rock, jazz and Latin Jazz – and with Rob Thorsen, an upright bassist of the highest order who has played with some of the notables of jazz, Charles McPherson, Hubert Laws, Mundell Lowe, Gilbert Castellanos, Mike Wofford, Holly Hofmann.
Steph shares a house with musicians like gifted multi-instrumentalist, Dave Millard, a house where anybody might drop by to jam, the musicians just mentioned, Daniel Jackson, who has played saxophone or piano with nearly everybody who is anybody in the music world, pianist Joshua White, second place finisher in the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition, a young man who can make a piano talk – in tongues – composer and master Latin Jazz pianist, Turiya Mareya, whose artistry compels you to listen…
Around such expertise I expect my newly found friend to rise and shine and do the hokey pokey musically for all the world to hear. She’s already been noticed, having won the San Diego Music Award in 2010 for Best Jazz Album with an R&B album. How good is that?
What she did with When Sunny Gets Blue is telling. She took that song and made it her own. That’s greatness. She’s asking, through her music, for newer days for herself, for more exploration into her soul and she’s getting her due from the way she’s pursuing her life much like Sunny who had lost a love and lived in anticipation of a new love and the song goes:
“Hurry, new love, hurry here
To kiss away each lonely tear
And hold her near when Sunny gets blue.”
For Steph it’s just a matter of time when new opportunities, like a new love for Sunny, will rush in and she will, as it has been for me on this day when I heard her sing on the radio, find herself musically taken to another place, another dimension.
I base such a feeling on the two songs I heard that will be on Nature Girl, her new CD. Am I going to get one? Yes-sir-ee!