There’s something so retro about Boston–based singer, guitarist and bandleader Miss Tess, who’s making her third Savannah appearance Thursday at Jazz’d Tapas Bar.
Tess – no last names, please – is one of those old–timey swing performers with a velvety, romantic voice and a touring band (the Bonton Parade) that includes clarinet, standup bass and a white–knuckle drummer keeping time with deft brushstrokes.
Yet on Darling, Oh Darling, the just–issued fifth Miss Tess album, the authoritative retro–jazz numbers are placed alongside winsome and melancholic country–styled ballads – not exactly western swing, although Miss Tess throws some of that in there, too.
“Definitely, there’s a country influence,” she says. “Maybe we’ve just been touring the south too much or something! I love old country music, too. And western swing – I know there’s a bunch of crossover – I’m a big fan of that stuff. In the last couple years, there’s probably been more of an influence than on past albums.”
Tess, who wrote every song on Darling, Oh Darling, says that even though she’s known for her old school jazz and swing – she’s extremely well–known for it, in fact – she wasn’t interested in restricting herself to the tried–and–true.
“I had a bunch of tunes I wanted to record, and I really took each song and was like ‘OK, what do I want to make out of this song, regardless of whether I have the people in the band right now?’ So we brought in a bunch of guest artists. It was just kind of fun to explore some different stuff.”
There’s even a straight–up rockabilly song on the album, “I Don’t Wanna See You Anymore.”
“I like that we’re eclectic,” Tess says. “It gives us the opportunity to cross over and reach different listeners, too. It’s hard at first: People are like ‘This is a bluegrass festival – you’re not a bluegrass band, so you can’t play here.’ But now people think our eclectic nature is cool. I mean, I got ‘Outstanding Folk Artist of the Year’ in Boston. Oh! I guess I’m a folk artist.
“I’ve done singer/songwriter gigs, too. I feel like I can sit in with them, and the folk thing. I’m just trying to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing, I guess. That’s just what comes out. I don’t try to change it to fit into anything.”
Now in her late 20s, Tess grew up around old–timey music – her father and mother played clarinet and standup bass, respectively.
So vintage music was in her blood. “I guess that’s just what I learned, when I started learning,” she explains. “My first guitar teacher said ‘Here, I’m going to teach you some swing chords.’ And when I went out traveling by myself, and started writing songs, those were the chords I knew.”
They played 175 dates last year, and there’s likely to be more than that on the docket for the next 12 months.
“We play in rock rooms, we play in bluegrass rooms, and we get a lot of people who aren’t really familiar with jazz,” Tess explains. “They’re like ‘I didn’t even know I liked jazz!’ “
Still, “I definitely don’t want to be limited to that. I don’t even feel like I’m a jazz musician sometimes. I just write songs, and that’s the repertoire I draw from. But I’m so far from a lot of modern jazz artists.”
Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade
Where: Jazz’d Tapas Bar, 52 Barnard St.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19
Artist’s Web site: www.misstessmusic.com
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