Jennifer Saran: Smoky Nights



On this episode of Big Blend Radio, global singer-songwriter Jennifer Saran discusses her new jazz EP, “Smoky Nights” that was produced by Narada Michael Walden.

In just four years, singer-songwriter JENNIFER SARAN has gone from best-kept-secret status to being hailed as one of the freshest new voices in alt-pop/adult contemporary music. She wowed critics with 2015’s Merry Christmas, You Are Loved, her debut holiday album produced by multiple Grammy and Emmy-winning record maker Narada Michael Walden (Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Sting) and released on his own Tarpan Records.

SARAN followed it up with Walk With Me, a captivating mix of luscious soul and R&B, co-written and produced by Walden, and next came Wake Up, an album brimming with consciousness-raising gems, including the globally recognized title cut that featured the talents of South African Grammy-winning male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the distinctive playing of guitar legend Carlos Santana. Continuing her collaboration with Walden, SARAN released her second holiday album in 2017, Soulful Christmas, a delightful assortment of seasonal treasures that saw the singer joined by The Temptations on the single “Christmas Lover.” 

Fans have been speculating as to what SARAN will do next, and now that answer is upon us: Jazz. On September 20, the Hong Kong-based singer releases the five-song EP SMOKY NIGHTS (Tarpan Records), once again produced by Walden, that sees her fully embracing the moody and melancholy genre she’s loved her entire life.

“I’m so excited to be writing and singing jazz,” SARAN enthuses. “I’ve always been a fan of Billie Holiday, Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. And, of course, there’s Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. The songs that Narada and I wrote follow in their traditions, blending darkness with the gentle side of things.” She adds, “Maybe I was born too late, but I believe there’s a timelessness to this style of music. It’s dramatic and elegant. I’m finding that this material feels very natural to me.”

SARAN touched on smooth jazz with the aching track “Last Kiss” (from Walk With Me), but her new songs inhabit the format completely. SMOKY NIGHTS’ title cut is a silky, languid beauty that casts a seductive spell on a listener. Says SARAN, “It’s about a feeling you have with another person. You want to be there, you want it to work, but you know it won’t. It’s about that hesitation. You see it before you, but you can’t go there.” 

“The Love is Now Gone” is a potent yet graceful ballad on which SARAN’s exquisite vocal phrasing commands attention. “It was Narada’s idea to do a more ‘exposed’ piece,” she says, “sort of like what Laura Nyro did – it’s a little louder and more in your face. To accomplish that you need a good theme, and heartbreak always works. After I wrote the words, Narada created a musical package that allowed each lyric to really hit the listener in a profound way. He forces you to hear the words.”

SARAN includes her hypnotic 2018 cut, “Let the Waves Wash Over Me,” which she wrote in the aftermath of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony at the Senate confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. “The reaction to the song was wonderful,” she says. “People really loved the music, but they also connected to the obstructiveness of some of the politicians in Congress. What wasn’t obvious at the time is now very obvious.” Next is “Don’t Forget My Name,” which coaxes and seduces as it glides along a graceful groove that ultimately builds to a crushing crescendo. “That song concerns a relationship that was good when it was good, but it has to be in the past,” SARAN observes. “You have to go forward, but you hang on to the memories. ‘Don’t forget what we had. It was important and necessary.’”

SMOKY NIGHTS concludes with a doozy – “Get Over Yourself,” a sassy bit of jazz swing captured live in the studio (complete with Walden’s studio crew sounds). “From the president on down, you’re screwing up. Get over yourself!” SARAN snaps, clearly having a blast. “That’s not the way I usually record,” she reveals. “The brass was punching, so I punched right back. It was very quick and spontaneous. It was a lot of fun.”

Producer and collaborator Walden says, “It was my honor to work with Jenn on SMOKY NIGHTS, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear her jazzy touch. I know it’s a musical style that’s been in her heart and soul for some time. I call it, ‘something for the tender in you!’”

Of her ongoing creative alliance with Walden, SARAN says that their work together feels like a dream. “We’ll decide to write a song, and it’s like we always know what the other is thinking,” she notes. “Narada will sit and play the piano, and I’ll write lyrics in another room. But I can even be miles away on a plane, not knowing what he’s writing. In either scenario, my lyrics always have a way of matching his melodies, and vice versa. It’s the craziest, most beautiful thing.”

SARAN is especially delighted at Walden’s production work on SMOKY NIGHTS: “He pushed me harder than ever before, but in a good way. I was used to singing in a lower register, but on the first four albums he urged me to use the whole range of my voice, so I was singing higher, but in a softer, gentler way than you might expect. Now he took me back to where I was always comfortable. He really brought out the best in me. I’m really excited to have people hear what we’ve come up with.”

More at 

National Parks Arts Foundation Song Game



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