Singer, Songwriter and Producer Talks About Her Album “Sophistication“
Dutch-born singer, songwriter and producer Thisbe Vos came to Los Angeles with more than just dreams of being a successful vocalist. She came with a plan — to create an album of jazz standards in the style of her inspiration and unofficial mentor, Ella Fitzgerald.
Thisbe Vos began performing with UK’s Number One Swing Band “The Jive Aces” as a teenager. She’s performed in musicals, clubs, festivals, national radio & television shows, and has toured over 30 cities in Europe and America. Inspiration for her music comes from her extensive travels – her first composition “Pordenone” originated on a train ride from Pordenone, Italy, on her way to Switzerland.
Thisbe’s music ensemble is made up of veteran musicians with an average of forty years experience and includes several gold-recording artists; in her first album, which debuts six original “standards”, they bring the sound of traditional jazz to life.
Two years in the making, “Sophistication” brings to the Jazz Listener the contemporary sound quality demanded of today’s productions while preserving the style that has made Jazz the genre par excellence of the sophisticated music lover.
Thisbe was kind enough to spend some time with JazzFidelity.com to talk about her career, the album “Sophistication” and her plans for the future.
As a teenager, you were performing with the number one swing band in the U.K., the Jive Aces. What was that like?
That was great fun. I met them when I was seventeen and they were playing in Amsterdam. I loved what they were doing right away and when they asked me to join them on their tour, I could not say no. We ended up touring all over Europe and all over the US. I got to go on national radio and television with them and play in a whole lot of swing clubs. I also did a lot of promotional work for them – it was not always singing. A lot of people asked me at the time if I was the girlfriend of one of the guys in the band, but I wasn’t. They were more like brothers, and they took good care of me. We had a lot of fun together.
Is it true you moved to Los Angeles just to make this album? Did you have musicians in mind you wanted to work with?
I did. After a musical hiatus, I was back in Holland and I had been having this “dream” for a while – that I wanted to record some very specific songs in a very specific style on a solo album, so I would have something that I could give out to people and say “this is me”. Basically a more mellow jazz style, like that of Ella Fitzgerald, and I felt that I needed a very specific type of “traditional” jazz musician. I came to the conclusion that I would probably have to go to America to find that sort of musician. So I ended up moving to Los Angeles.
I read that you basically found on the internet where Henry Franklin, acoustic bass, was performing and went to see him about working on this album. Obviously that meeting went well. Describe it for us.
I had been looking on the Internet to see where the local jazz musicians were playing, so I could get to know some – with the ultimate goal of finding the right people for my album. The second person I checked out on the internet was Henry. I watched some videos of him on YouTube and he seemed like a real authentic guy, so I went to a hotel where he was playing and I kind of sat down in a corner trying not to be noticed and watched them for a while. It was pretty clear after a couple of minutes that he was exactly the kind of musician I wanted to have on my album.
And I have to say something here – Henry is not only a great jazz musician and a really nice guy, he also just IS a jazz musician. If you would meet him on the street or at the airport or something, and you didn’t know him, you would still just instantly know that he is a jazz musician because he just “looks” like a jazz musician. And the funny thing is, if you had to guess what jazz musician he is, you would probably even know he is a bass player. But he is also a real master of his craft. He has been on several gold records and has played with all the big names – but at the time I didn’t know that. I could just hear he was really good.
I ended up speaking with him for a little bit and he invited me to sit in on a song. After that night, I went back to hear them many times, and Henry was nice enough to introduce me to many other jazz musicians who also came out to see him. That was a great help, and I gradually got the personnel for the album together.
There are 6 Thisbe Vos original compositions on Sophistication. Did you come to Los Angeles with all of them? How much input did the band have in the writing process?
I had written the first ones years earlier when I was on tour with the Jive Aces. One on a train between Italy and Switzerland, one in Madrid, and then I wrote some of the others in the years in between. And I wrote the two final ones in LA. When I write songs, I usually work alone, and I invent the melody and the words in my head. I don’t use a piano or anything. Sometimes it all comes to me within the space of half an hour or so and sometimes it takes months before the song is finished. Then I go to my pianist and he helps me work out the chords. He is also great to work with. So the musicians weren’t really part of the songwriting process on this album, but they were a big part of the final outcome in terms of arrangements.
Thisbe Vos – singer, composer and producer, too. How daunting a task was it producing your own solo debut?
That part was a bit scary, especially at first. I originally also came to LA to find a producer, since I had no idea how to actually go through the steps of making an album. Shortly after I got here, I had a chance to meet with a veteran jazz manager who gave me some advice. We were talking about my ideas for the album and it became apparent that I actually had pretty defined ideas about what I wanted. He said “you should just learn how to produce it and do it yourself”. So I started thinking about it and I realized he was right. Because if I gave it out for someone else to do it, it still might not come out the way I wanted. In terms of finding the right musicians and the studio, I got a lot of help from Henry. And for the songs, I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted for each one. Also, the musicians I found are really easy to work with. You just tell them what you are looking for and they get it, and they do it, usually right away. So that wasn’t hard.
But when you’re finally in the studio, and you’re singing, and you’re also listening to the music at the same time, and you wrote the song, and you’re thinking about the quality control for all of those things, it was nerve-wracking at first. After a couple of times in the studio, I now know what to expect and what parts I don’t have to worry about, and what parts I may have to put more attention on in rehearsal. So I feel comfortable with it now. I am still happy that I did it myself on the first album though – I learned a lot from it and I got what I wanted.
Sophistication, a perfect title for the album by the way, is released in September of 2011, has the response lived up to your expectations?
The response to the album has been absolutely great, and actually in many ways has far exceeded my expectations. I love it when people email me on Facebook etc to let me know how they liked it and I’ve gotten some very sweet personal stories sent in to me by people about how the album impacted them or that they play it constantly. I was also surprised that people actually got little details of what I was trying to do – like the slow version of My Favorite Things, something that I put in very deliberately and had been wanting to record that way for years.
So, what’s the bigger source of pride, getting praise for your work as a performer, a composer or producer?
This may sound weird but I think I would have to say as a composer. I feel that that is the area where I have most to contribute at this particular time. At one point it struck me that almost all of the songs we think of today as “standards” were written in the 1930s and 40s. That’s almost 80 years ago! At the time, it was just one song after another being written and coming out like from an assembly line – after that, the well never seems to have been as plentiful. I think that’s a pity – and I feel it’s one of the reasons why jazz could end up dying out if we don’t do something about it, because the more great, fresh music we have to enjoy the more it’s going to be alive. So I try to contribute to the repertoire with new songs that still have the familiar elements that we all love. The best compliment is when people tell me they went online because they couldn’t figure out where they heard this song before and it was driving them crazy – and they discover that I just wrote it.
Do you have a favorite track on the album?
Not really, they are all my babies. I have noticed though, that “House of Make Believe” seems to be a very popular one amongst people. I guess I could also say that in terms of arrangement, I am particularly happy with “I Am All Right”. For that one (one of the last ones I wrote for this album), I had something very close to that particular arrangement in mind when I was writing the song, so when we were recording, I asked the horns to do particular things in certain places, and with the input the players provided themselves, it all came together. I was really happy with the way the instruments are sort of talking to each other and at the end they all kind of blend in together. On my next album, I am planning to do more of that, with some slightly more elaborate arrangements on certain songs of that nature.
You’ve been in the States a few years now, how do audiences here compare to audiences in Europe? Are there any major differences?
I find that hard to compare. I have actually performed mostly in the US, even when I was touring with the Jive Aces. Also, the style of music I was doing with them was different, it was more like high-energy dance music, almost like Dixieland at times. I think it really depends what kind of venue you are playing at – if you’re performing at a jazz festival it’s going to be different than performing in a dance club or in a more intimate venue. We also did bookstores and some universities at the time. Those are all very different types of audiences.
How big a role has Facebook and other social media played in the success of Sophistication?
Facebook has played a very big role in the release of the album. Most of my current fans are from Facebook since when I arrived to LA, musically, I basically started with a totally clean slate. I have found a lot of fans and like-minded jazz lovers on Facebook that I interact with on a regular basis, so it has been really great. Having your own website and making some music videos for your songs I think is also really important. Before releasing the album online I released three singles with a music video each. They were not high budget and mostly shot by myself, but they were still well received by a lot of people and I tried to put some creativity into it, to give the song some kind of visual background. I didn’t have time or money to do big media campaign, so I focused on promoting on Facebook. I still received (and am still receiving) requests from radio stations and blogs for interviews and I’ve gotten some album reviews as well, just because they found me. I was also offered a record deal recently because someone found me on Facebook (we are still in talks). So it’s helped me quite a bit.
I am also on Twitter and have found some interesting connections there – on the whole I still feel that Facebook is the promotional tool of the moment for musicians.
What’s next for Thisbe Vos?
I am working on another album. It’s going to feature more originals and some slightly elaborated arrangements, with a lot of woodwinds. Hopefully to be release later this year….
I’ve also been receiving requests to perform in a variety of places. While it hasn’t all come together yet, I would like to do a tour at some point.
And I’ll be continuing to write new songs, cause I really love doing that.