Jazz vocalist Stacey Kent living the dream at home and on the road

There’s something about jazz that makes you immediately think metropolitan.

It’s the music of the big city and you picture those who make it, make their living from it, spending their off days in a coffee shop or book store in SoHo, lunching in Manhattan or drinking martinis and smoking elegantly in their studio apartments.

Not living the quiet life away from it all in the Rocky Mountains five hours outside of Denver.

That’s where celebrated American jazz vocalist Stacey Kent is Skype-ing from on this morning, from the home she shares with husband and musical collaborator Jim Tomlinson. 

“There’s nothing here but the mountains and the deer roaming around and the snow and the farms and the goats — it’s so beautiful,” Kent says.

“It’s a great place to get some calm after the craziness of touring and get our inspiration from Mother Nature and just be in a tranquil life, which is the complete opposite to what it’s like when we’re out there and we’re speeding around.

“So we love both, but we’ve got a great balance.”

Well, she’ll have a pretty easy transition from one to the other when she kicks off the next leg of her touring with a Thursday, Feb. 22 show at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Arts Commons.

It will, surprisingly — considering Kent’s 20-plus year career which has taken her to “over 50 countries” — be her first performance in this city north of the border, at the foot of the Canadian Rockies.

She admits it’s always been high on her list and says they even debated driving straight up from her home to ours, “because we so enjoy this countryside — from us to you,” but that the dates following her Calgary debut made it impossible.

“Another time,” she says.

Kent will be here in support of her latest album I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions, which was released late last year and which marks another first: the first time she has recorded with an orchestra.

It features the Grammy nominated artist doing her so-very smooth jazz thing in a studio in London — the famed Angel Recording Studio — backed by almost 60 musicians.

Her local date, however, will feature her performing songs from the album in the more stripped-down and jazz-like quintet configuration, with sax player/hubby Tomlinson, pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Tom Hubbard and drummer Anthony Pinciotti.

“It’s really fun to play the orchestral repertoire with the quintet — they’ve been arranged in such a great way that they work with both, and that’s so much fun for us musically,” she says of the four new songs, five classic Brazilian covers and a trio of French tunes, including a gorgeous version of the Serge Gainsbourg composition Les Amours Peruse.

Still, she describes the experience of singing while being backed by all of those players — something she’s gone back and forth with since the album’s release, and had done many times previously during her career — as “sublime,” and promises will be how she next greets Calgary audiences.

“It’s so visual,” she says. “It’s hard to describe how cinematic the experience is. And so when I’m up there, it’s not that I’m specially seeing things, but it is in an abstract way a very visual experience for me. All senses are called upon.

“I feel like the songs that I picked and that I continue to pick for the repertoire, because we keep adding to the repertoire, tend to be very visual songs. So all of the harmony around you takes on a colour, all of those voices around you take on a shape.

“It’s a thing I’ve done for a long time on stage, but I had never recorded with, and I just had the best year of my life recording this album — really.”

As to why it took her so long, why she chose to go the orchestral route after 10 previous studio recordings, Kent is somewhat philosophical, noting that it was always a matter of when, not if, and if there is an if, does it really matter when?

“It’s really interesting that you ask that because time for all of us is so relative and so subjective …,” she says.

“I see it quite differently, I feel quite patient. I’m not going to record with an orchestra all the time and so there was really no rush to do it. I think I waited until I felt like I had exactly the material on this record that I wanted to make,” she says, noting that some of the songs she’d already recorded before but also knew she wanted to revisit when she eventually did make an orchestral record.

“Every song that I pick for every album is handpicked, selected for that moment in time with those other songs, and I take that part of the job so to heart. And some of the songs that were written for this orchestral album were only just written, and so I was waiting to fill in the components on the album that I wanted to be the songs tailor-made for me, because it is such a personal experience.”

Stacey Kent performs Thursday, Feb. 22 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. For tickets please click here.

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Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at