Twenty years ago, singer/songwriter Cassandra Wilson signed a lucrative recording deal with Blue Note Records and subsequently released her seminal recording “Blue Light ’til Dawn.” The critically acclaimed work led Time magazine to proclaim her “America’s Best Singer.”
“I was shocked because I’ve always thought Aretha Franklin was America’s best singer,” the two-time Grammy winner recently told CNN from her home in Jackson, Mississippi. “Now if I was to vote on that, I would still say it’s Aretha Franklin.”
As modest as she’s being, the blond, dreadlock-coiffed song stylist is, indeed, in a league of her own. Nine albums (seven solo studio recordings) by Wilson have been released on the storied record label since then, she’s remained an in-demand concert headliner globally, and she shares in the Pulitzer Prize-winning glory of fellow Delta native and jazz great Wynton Marsalis for the 1997 jazz oratorio “Blood On The Fields.”
But that was then and this is now.
Shortly after releasing her 2010 opus, “Silver Pony,” Wilson and her longtime label parted ways. This week her latest, “Another Country”– a guitar-laden collection of music — was released through her own record label, Ojah Media Group, via eOne. From a creative and business standpoint, it’s quite a departure from what she’s grown accustomed to.
“I’m sure you’re aware of all the stuff that Blue Note had been going through and switching owners,” Wilson said. “All of this speculation of what was going to happen, so it was time for me to make that move.”
“I think the independent way is much more flexible,” she added. “I was lucky to find (eOne honcho) Chuck Mitchell because he’s the same kind of record industry man as (Blue Note’s Chairman Emeritus) Bruce Lundvall. I’ve talked at length with Bruce about this decision and he gave me his blessing, he said Chuck was a great guy. And when I sat down and talked with him, I got the same feeling. So I feel very fortunate.”
“Another Country” is not a country/western hybrid in the vein of what Lionel Richie’s “Tuskegee,” from earlier this year. It literally was recorded in another country — Italy.
“That was the first time that I recorded in Europe,” Wilson shared. “We decided that it made sense and that it was cost-effective to record in Italy because I was already over there and just finished up a tour. We were able to do it fairly easily. And we got these apartments on The Piazza della Signoria (in Florence) and we were there for 10 days and it was absolutely exquisite.”
The project reunited her with producer Fabrizio Sotti, with whom she worked with on “Glamoured” 10 years ago.
“What happens with jazz artists is that you always have to keep bringing something new to your audience, you have to keep in touch with your audience and take them along on the journey, because the journey doesn’t stop until you close your eyes,” Wilson said.
The singer takes on the Neapolitan classic “O Sole Mio,” but makes it clear that she won’t venture into bold, operatic vocal territory. “I stay in my lane when it comes to that sort of thing,” she quipped. “I don’t think I can climb inside of that genre with the authenticity because it’s not a part of my musical DNA.”
One new area she is seemingly inclined to is social media.
Wilson recently launched her own Twitter account (@reallycassandra) where she informs her thousands of followers about her latest whereabouts and publicly muses with fellow jazz musicians like Dianne Reeves.
“I absolutely love it because it breaks down the barriers between the artists and the audiences,” Wilson said. “It really brings you close to the people who come to sit down in the clubs. And that’s a good thing. It makes us more easily accessible. It makes understanding of your art and your life more accessible to your audience.”
But don’t expect all access to the singer, she said.
“I am very private when it comes to my private life, but the music is for everyone. I do believe the audience have a right to the public Cassandra Wilson, so I tweet away.”
She also uses Twitter as a platform to help promote other causes and artists from her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi — such as her new discovery, a new singer/songwriter named Tawanna Shauntae’, whom she describes as a “powerhouse.” The recently opened live-music venue, The Yellow Scarf: A Music Room, in Jackson, converted from a photography studio, has become a showplace for such talent. And Wilson is the owner.
“It feels good because we’re in the process of mentoring and helping other artists in Mississippi to hone their craft and get out there in the marketplace,” she said.
Wilson is currently in New York readying an eight-show stint at the famous Blue Note Jazz Club, where she has performed to sold-out audiences in for years. Just there in the spring for a weeklong engagement, now she’s hosting her first album-release party with a string of concerts.
Source: Karu F. Daniels, CNN