I went to hear Stacey Kent for the first time in 2007 at the Olympia (click here to read my rave review) and immediately fell in love with her smooth, honey flavored voice and flawless delivery of standards and pop music. I am thrilled to have her as an honorary Parisian of the Month, as she doesn’t live in Paris now but did for a short while in her 20s and her new live album, Dreamer in Concert, was recorded at Le Cigale in Paris.
Where were you born & where did you grow up?
I was born in South Orange, New Jersey and grew up in New Jersey, a little bit in New York, and I went to school at Sarah Lawrence in Westchester. My parents are from the Bronx.
At what age did you start singing?
There are two answers to this. I’ve been singing since the very beginning, and I have no memory of where I am not singing or making music or playing music or coming home after a night at the movies with my family, working out what I just heard as incidental music, my life was always as a musician.
I didn’t start singing and consider singing till after I graduated college but even through school people would ask me to sing to them. I was known as a singer more like a little hobby but it wasn’t until I graduated in New York and I came abroad and started to sing, and think that I would sing.
I know your singing career was almost an accident. When did you decide you wanted to become a full time singer?
An accident, yes, but when you graduate from college and you are free to roam, so often people from one country get displaced in another country and end up getting bumped on a path they weren’t intending to go down. I was going down more of an academic path. I came from a fairly academic background and that what was expected of me and I was very happy studying what I studied- I was a comparative literature student at the time. When I came abroad I started to sing and just mess around with it not thinking at that point I would become a singer because there are no artists in my family, there’s nobody who has that kind of less pragmatic nature.
I decided to become a singer when I was abroad and when I left college I went to Germany and from Germany I came to England to visit some friends who were on a junior year abroad program at Oxford because Oxford had an exchange program with students from Sarah Lawrence, my college. I went to visit my friends who were there and that’s where one thing lead to another because there was an audition going on at the Guildhall School of Music in London and I hadn’t studied music in any kind of official capacity. I took piano lessons as a kid and obviously I was a musical kid, and there was this one year post grad course and I said, what if I took a little time off from my masters and just dabble in this music thing for a little while because I love it and these are the years I could be playful and I am going to do this and then go home and continue my masters. I went and auditioned for the course and didn’t think I would get in because everyone in the course had performed for 3 or 4 years of undergraduate music studies and I hadn’t. I wasn’t sure I would be taken seriously and get in, but they did take me and I was one of the only ones who didn’t have an undergrad degree in music. This was the turning point because the whole key to this story lies in that year, because when people are looking for young musicians to play for private functions at the Natural History Museum or an event like that, we got called a lot, and I started doing all these Friday and Saturday night functions. I was just thinking this was just fun time and suddenly I am up here singing at all these events and I had a huge repertoire of standards because I grew up listening to them, so I was very prepared for this path without realizing I was. That was the turning point, that’s when I thought, wow, I could actually do this and I got a little taste of it. Another important part of the story is Jim my husband, had a similar story to mine. He was a philosophy/politics/ economics student at Oxford and graduated the same time as I did and went on this one-year post-grad course also to dabble and he was called to do these functions with me, and all the while we were falling in love.
When and why did you move to Paris?
I was a student there for little while. You see, I was hopping about, I was a kid with a real wanderlust. I was studying languages and was there for a short time as a student. I also spent time in London and Munich.
What are the key elements you look for when you choose to sing and/or record a song?
I can give you some of the elements, but sometimes something just bites you, in the same way you meet someone or you just have good chemistry. It’s one of those things you feel and yet it’s a fascinating question that I ask myself, because sometimes I’ll know a song for a very long time, and I like it, but it doesn’t quite click yet and it could literally be years later or suddenly playing around with it and I go, “Oh my God, I got to have that song” and suddenly it’s the only song I want to sing. And why that happens, that’s happened to me a bunch of times through the years, and I don’t really understand it but I love it, I love it when it happens when I get surprised like that by even something I know.
Who were some of your favorite singers when you were growing up and who are some of your strongest influences?
My favorite singers when I was a kid were Willi Nelson, Cat Stevens, Carol King, Julie Andrews, Mitzi Gaynor, Barbra Streisand, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and then let’s talk about the Brazilians: Antonio Carlos Jobim and most of all, my greatest hero, Joao Gilberto. I was fourteen when I heard the Getz /Gilberto album for the first time
Do you prefer smaller cabaret type places or concert halls?
I absolutely love them both and wouldn’t trade one for the other. What I feel so fortunate about in doing in my career is that so often we bounce around from country to country. Just to give you an example, since the middle of March, I’ve been in in 15 countries in three months, in so many different venues- sometimes massive concert halls, sometimes little clubs. This month I played in a fantastic tiny club in Indianapolis and the vibe in there was so good, so delicious, I loved it. I then played in some concert halls in Brazil and then I played at a gorgeous concert hall in Singapore, the Esplanade Theater, their main concert hall, and the vibe and the universe we create with the audience in a big house and a small house are quite different because they are architecturally different but the kind of music we play and the intimacy we create on the stage doesn’t really shift. The bottom line is I love playing live, it’s such an exquisite feeling to be able to share music with people. It’s so much more profound than just singing to people, you’re connecting with these people who are there to go on this journey with you. It’s a very beautiful and intense experience.
Please tell us about your latest CD, Dreamer in Concert ?
My new CD was hugely exciting to me, every one of them is exciting, they are your new baby, you have a passion about them no doubt. This one is special, in that I finally decided to make a live album. and here are a few points why it was such a thrill.
First, it threw some surprises at me, because leading up to it, I had certain pre-occupations with it, because it was our first live album and because we are so fastidious about the sound in the studio, it was really important to me to achieve a fantastic sound and I was looking for the clarity we get in the studio but without making it too pristine, keeping it very intimate but also keeping it energetic because it was live and I think we chose well. We had our choice of theaters and I chose La Cigale because it has a great acoustic for all of these things we are talking about. So we did it for two nights and I picked two nights because I thought if I do two nights it will make me relax, because if I only do one night, I am under pressure. Pretty much the entire album was from the first night. It was two really enjoyable nights and here are some other things that happened that were so wonderful. I posted it on my Facebook page we were doing a live album and people had been asking me to make a live album for ages, and the reaction I got from people was amazing. The welcome we got before it even started was so beautiful, so people wrote and said I’m coming and they were coming from Asia, Brazil, all over France, all over Europe, and the USA. Even now I am on tour I am running into people who said I saw you at La Cigale. Everybody reacted so wonderfully and so when we got out on stage the energy was phenomenal. Going back to my pre-occupation about making a live album, this is the real point: I knew I was making a live record, leading up to it I was concerned I would think too hard and I didn’t want to be thinking. When I am up there, I am looking to concentrate and looking to find my zone and looking to be lost the poetry and that’s it. I was worried leading up to the date that I would be thinking about the record and in talking to myself, I talked myself around, I kind of trained myself, and once I got on stage, I didn’t think about it at all, I just played. I loved it so much that I will definitely do another one, and sooner than later, since it was such a good experience.
What do you prefer about Paris?
I am so crazy in love with that city, I really am. There are just a couple of cities in the world where I feel so at home. There is something personal I should say that is a big part of the story. My grandfather lived in Paris for many years of his life. Paris is part of my entire family history. I’m going to take a minute to fill you in on this.
My grandfather was a Russian immigrant. My family on my dad’s side left Russia right before the revolution and there were a lot of them and they didn’t have a lot of money or little money to get them to the USA and so what was very typical of the day was to drop some of them off in Europe let them make enough money to let them continue their passage to the USA and my grandfather was one of these kids. Now he was very young when he left Russia and was in Paris for many years of his life and he finally went to America to move in with his family years later, but by that time he was a fully formed guy, he wasn’t Russian, he considered himself a Frenchman, and so his way of coping with this loss of a country he really wanted to be in, is he taught me how to speak French as a little girl. He stayed in America in the end and dreamed of going back to France. He taught me a lot of poetry and he exposed me to French music and movies and that was our universe. Once he taught me to speak, French was the only language we ever spoke and he dreamt so much in front of me of his life in Paris, that when I got there, I already had this personal history with this man I adored, so I am so personally connected that I’m still in that dream state over those childhood fantasies that I shared with him. On a practical side it is just so simple, so beautiful. I was there the other night and we walked everywhere and we look out on that beautiful city, and it’s romantic.
So as soon as I get there, I feel I am at home.
Click here to order Stacey Kent- Dreamer in Concert
I am happy to announce the sale of a new set of prints of my Eye Prefer Paris Photos. I am offering 20 of my most popular and iconic images for sale including my doors, architectural details, statues, and monuments. They will make great gifts for all your Francophile friends, relatives, and colleagues but don't forget to buy some for yourself.
Click here to see photos and for full details including sizes, prices, and shipping. Here is a sample of some of the photos.
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte's professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday,Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
Tours cost 195 euros for up to 3 people, and 65 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com