Words and Music
Sony Holland breathes life into the work of great songwriters.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
It’s a stretch to think of any paying gig, much less one in a world-class setting, as a dress rehearsal. But witnessing Sony Holland on the bandstand in Oakland a couple of Monday nights ago, one got the impression that her performance would serve as the perfect prelude to her Valentine’s Day show at the Jazz & Blues Company in Carmel.
At Yoshi’s, in Jack London Square, Mondays are typically quiet, a night where local or rising-star touring musicians are featured. Valentine’s Day, in turn, may be the second biggest night of the year for a working musician behind only New Year’s Eve.
Sporting a striking red pleated dress, Holland looked very Feb. 14 as she charmed and moved the crowd that turned out to help her celebrate the release of her latest recording, Out of This World.
“Yes, absolutely,” she said later, when I asked if the dress was making a trial run for this Wednesday night. “That is exactly what I bought it for.”
The red dress was an ideal, all-purpose symbol for her second set. The vibrant color highlighted her flowing blond hair, and also matched the quality of her vocals, which can rise to an impressive level of authority without ever being overpowering. The classic garment also reflected the makeup of her set list, which mixed standards with timeless-sounding originals.
“A lot of what I hear from people is that the originals sound fresh but familiar,” she said in a phone conversation from home in San Francisco. “When I first starting singing jazz, my creative partner [and husband] Jerry Holland said. ‘People cover standards all the time. Why don’t I write some material for you?’”
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Jerry and Sony first met on a blind date when they were both living in Nashville. He had already scored a number one hit with his song “Friends,” as recorded by John Michael Montgomery. She sang pop music before they both moved for a year to Paris, where she was bitten by the jazz bug. Relocating to San Francisco a few years ago, they now make up one of Northern California’s formidable creative teams.
Sony Holland’s respect for songwriters goes beyond her in-house ties. During her shows, she’ll give the name of each number’s lyricist and composer and even share how she came upon the song originally and whose version of it first caught her ear.
“I think it’s really important to give the writers credit,” she says. “If it weren’t for them, what the heck would I be playing? And or me, it’s a privilege to sing the material.”
As the daughter of a singer, the native northern Minnesotan had her musical inspiration right at home.
“I was the kid that could never go to sleep at 8:30 at night,” Holland admits. So she needed either the sound of the radio or her mother’s singing to lull her to sleep. “She would sing classical stuff—Italian and German arias—and was just amazing.”
The set list for the Valentine’s Day concert won’t exactly have the same effect as her mother’s singing, she promises. But there should be a similar feeling of warmth and affection provided by Holland, pianist Benny Watson, bassist John Shifflett and drummer John Rokeach:
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to put everybody to sleep!,” she reassures. “But we’ll do a lot of the romantic stuff that we usually do, given the occasion.”
SONY HOLLAND performs on Wednesday, Feb. 14, at the Jazz & Blues Company, San Carlos near Fifth, Carmel. $40. 624-6432 or krmlradio.com.