Real Time Music
Sony Holland knows of what she sings.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Write what you know. It’s sound advice for tunesmiths as well as novelists. For vocalist Sony Holland and her songwriting husband Jerry, it’s been a winning formula since moving to San Francisco from Nashville about three years ago. The winsome couple has won a wide array of Bay Area fans on the strength of Sony’s big, smoky voice and Jerry’s topical tunes pegged to the San Francisco area and the locals they’ve encountered there.
“We just write about what we live,” said Jerry during a recent conversation after a session in the Berkeley studio of Whip Records. Sony had just finished her first day recording a slew of new tunes by Jerry, accompanied by veteran ace pianist Ken Muir, who spent about a decade collaborating with jazz/cabaret star Paula West. The session resulted in her latest CD, I Get Around, an album that captures their excitement about living in the heart of the city.
Holland will be performing songs from the new album and On a San Francisco High on Saturday at the Jazz & Blues Company, where she’ll be accompanied by the veteran rhythm section of pianist Art Khu, bassist Dan Robbins and drummer Jim Zimmermann.
“The songs are perfectly tailored to Sony,” said Muir, who has arranged many of the pieces in Holland’s repertoire. “Some of them are actually biographical. Others describe the cities where Jerry and Sony have spent time—Paris, New York, Hong Kong, and especially San Francisco. Maybe this helps explain the uncanny way that Sony seems to ‘own’ her material. She sings with real conviction and is a very powerful and appealing performer.”
During a playback of the day’s efforts in the studio, we listened to the initial version of Jerry’s “Polk Street Girls,” (“the things they wear/I’d never dare”) about the streetwalkers who come out after dark in the Tenderloin, and a romantic ballad set in Union Square: “Kissing You on the Street.” On “I Was No Angel Myself,” the sight of two midriff-baring, stuff-strutting young women on Haight Street prompts some reminiscing about Sony’s youthful adventures.
The couple met in Nashville when Jerry was working as a staff songwriter for Warner/Chappell and Sony was an aspiring pop singer. He helped turn her on to American Songbook standards, music she had grown up hearing on
her dad’s Sarah Vaughan records, but mostly ignored.
“When I met Jerry, he heard me sing and said, ‘You’ve got the kind of voice that would suit classic songs,’” Sony said. “I started listening to everybody, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Ella [Fitzgerald], Tony Bennett, and I just loved it. I’ve always loved music. I was singing when I was a little kid in my dad’s church.”
The couple spent a year in France, which resulted in her debut CD I’ll Remember Paris, and eventually decided to move out to San Francisco, though New York City is their ultimate destination. As a new arrival in the city, Sony performed at Fisherman’s Wharf, attracting large crowds and selling thousands of copies of her CDs.
The couple started working on their third album when Sony was in the midst of a four-month engagement in Hong Kong. Jerry would send new tunes to her on cassette and she would learn them, preparing for the new show and recording. Dedicated to their craft, the Hollands are following another sage piece of advice, doing what they love. So far, that’s translated into a growing audience eager to hear their light-hearted music.
“We’re trying to revive a certain style of writing,” Jerry says. “It’s going against the grain of popular culture, but this is what we like.”
“There are a lot of people who are hungry for this music,” Sony adds.
SONY HOLLAND PERFORMS SATURDAY, JULY 30 at 7:30PM AT THE JAZZ AND BLUES COMPANY in THE EASTWOOD BUILDING, SAN CARLOS AND 5TH STREET, CARMEL. TICKETS Are $40. 624-6432.