When Elaine Lucia says that her new album was a labor of love, she means it in the most literal sense.
The Petaluma-based jazz singer dedicated A Sonny Day to her late father, Frank “Sonny” Lucia, a gregarious, charming man who frequented his daughter’s gigs and befriended her accompanists. While every track is infused with his vitality, Lucia makes it clear that the album was the result of labor as much as love.
“It took four years to put this out,” says Lucia, who celebrates the CD’s release on Saturday at the Jazz & Blues Company with pianist Jonathan Alford, vibraphonist Gerry Grosz, bassist Pierre Archain and drummer Tim Bulkley.
After her father passed away, Elaine Lucia got stuck in a lawsuit over his estate. “I never had a chance to mourn him,” she says. “This CD was my way to grieve. I could have let that destroy me, but this music and CD really helped me so much. I financed it on a credit card, and every song is filled with love.”
The album opens with an exquisite version of “I Like the Sunrise,” from Duke Ellington’s Liberian Suite, the start of a thematic arc that runs from birth through death. From her soaring, wordless vocals on Chick Corea’s “Sea Journey” and her playful version of Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman’s “Fun Life” through to Dave Frishberg’s “You Are There” and the album’s poignant closer, “Final Remembrance,” a Gerry Grosz composition with an original lyric by Lucia, the transparent arrangements perfectly frame her bright, crystalline voice.
A Sonny Day isn’t the first time that Lucia has charted an emotionally resonant musical journey. She first started gaining national attention with her 2000 debut, Sings Jazz and Other Things, a gorgeous collection of ballads and rarely sung jazz gems, like I’m Gonna Go Fishin’, the Duke Ellington/Peggy Lee collaboration from the film Anatomy of a Murder. Opening with a Brazilian-tinged version of “Detour Ahead,” the album includes her ethereal rendition of “Key Largo,” and assertive reimagining of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want.” Lucia’s particularly effective on Jobim’s “Agua de Berber,” a track that features an insinuating solo by the great alto saxophonist Bud Shank.
“That record also tells a story,” Lucia says. “I had been a single mom for eight years. I was on food stamps. I was poor and working full-time and I had this fire inside of me to keep singing. I opened with ‘Detour Ahead’ because I kept thinking that nothing’s going to stop me.
“It’s a dreamy album. It’s about wandering, traveling, and that’s what I was doing in my life.”
For her Jazz & Blues Company performance, Lucia will follow the new album’s program for the first set, then focus on standards and her original tunes (on which she accompanies herself on guitar) on the second set. She also performs on Sunday morning at Pacific Coast Church in Pacific Grove, singing spiritually-touched tunes such as “The Secret of Life” by James Taylor and “By My Side” from the musical Godspell.
Lucia records most of her material at her home studio. When hanging out with her regular accompanist, pianist Jonathan Alford, they often relax by playing classical music. In jazz contexts, her conservatory technique is evident, as is her ability to engage in the off-the-cuff bandstand exchanges that mark an accomplished jazz player.
“It was drilled into my head that my voice is an instrument, and that’s how I think of it,” Lucia says. “I really consider myself a musician.”
ELAINE LUCIA performs at 7:30pm on Saturday, Sept. 30, at KRML’s Jazz and Blues Company, in the Eastwood Building, San Carlos and Fifth, Carmel. $40. 624-6432 or thejazzandbluescompany.com.