No Blues For Memphis Singer Jamille "JAM" Hunter, She's Bringing Neo-Jazz
Sultry jazz-infused soul singer breathes new life to the music scene
Jamille “JAM” Hunter did not simply dream of being a jazz vocalist, she envisioned herself becoming one.
Much of making one's dreams come true is putting in the work to actualize them and so Ms. Hunter lived, moving from California to Japan, then back to California before settling in Memphis, Tennessee. Once there, the culmination of times being hard and living being easy began to manifest into the forthcoming release of her debut album, In the Sun (scheduled to hit iTunes and Amazon Friday, March 16). In the city known for the blues, Ms. Hunter is bringing back the sultry sounds of jazz-infused soul, reminiscent of those divas that performed in the Cotton Club and Lenox Lounge in years gone by.
The subsequent components of capturing her dream required building a reputation and developing a body of work. This led Ms. Hunter to performing small gigs and covers in venues throughout the city before she eventually established and received support for her sold-out Sarah Vaughan tribute concert last summer. This dream has been 10-plus years in the making.
The realities of many artists and musicians that emerge, seemingly out of nowhere, is that they have likely been somewhere honing and enhancing their skills; they have histories. Ms. Hunter’s history began in Lansing, Michigan - not far from Michigan State University, home to Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and the occasional stomping grounds for El Hajj Malik el Shabazz (then Malcolm Little). Her family home was one of love and music, whereby Ms. Hunter was often singing songs that she had penned herself or creating original scores for poems and playing them for her family.
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Like many young women, she grew up in the church and performed in the choir. She and 2 of her siblings were also in the marching and jazz bands. Her mother Marilyn played piano and sang constantly. Singing was a weekly, sometimes daily, activity in her home. Upon graduating from Tennessee State University, Ms. Hunter packed up and headed west, which was not the best place for a budding jazz musician in the era of hip hop, “gangsta” rap, and studio-created girl-groups, but Ms. Hunter (then Freeman) created a pathway for herself.
At that time, in her tiny Hollywood studio apartment, Ms. Hunter was creating tracks and writing songs and began performing in venues around Los Angeles which eventually allowed her to perform in Leimert Park (the heart of art, music, and festivals on the border of the Crenshaw District) before she headed east to Japan where she taught English and gigged at night.
However, it was in Memphis - over time but specifically within the past 2-3 years - that all that Ms. Hunter ingested and lived over the years would begin to culminate into a project. It also took confidence to finally push past singing covers to begin performing her own lyrics and compositions.
Becoming a musician in the time of technology has provided a platform for the artists to propel themselves into the stratosphere. The ability to effortlessly share files and provide an embedded audience with play-by-play updates of show dates to recently recorded tracks and videos, is a part and parcel of contemporary parlance of today’s artists and musicians. Ms. Hunter is still learning the ins and outs of the Internet but has used it to share and build a following. Tenacity and perseverance are the words that distinguish those artists that move beyond the electronic walls of ones own website and into the performance spaces and she is now preparing to launch.
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The 3 singles with hit potential are "What’s Your Name," a flirtatious jazz track, "Malibu," a soulful easy listening experience, and the title track, "In the Sun," an uplifting song that has the most joyous and empowering sweet spot - the vamp. This arrangement highlights Ms. Hunter’s modulation abilities and vocal range.
Loop 21 caught up with Ms. Hunter in the midst of recording and a Robert Glasper concert to talk about her new album and where she’s headed
Loop 21: Congratulations on your forthcoming album! You are also doing an album release in Memphis later this week, what should people expect?
JAM Hunter: I will do a full concert of the songs from the album and a few personal favorites. We’re going to have a blast, my band is awesome! I’ve got Hinds on keys - can you say fierce!? David Parks on bass - that’s one bad brother. And Ramon Sampson, who is ridiculous on drums; we have such a good time when we play together.
Loop 21: So you’re speaking of your writing partners/collaborators?
Hunter: Yes, I collaborated with Claude Hinds III, a brilliant creator of music who was the perfect writing partner. As well with Isaac Daniel, my “music guy,” who was involved in many aspects of the project. Markevius Faulkner of rising Gospel fame joins me on a piece, as well. There are many other musicians and vocalists who loaned their talent to this EP. I love and appreciate them all!
Loop 21: How do you self-identify as a musician? Soul? Neo-Soul? Jazz?
Hunter: All of the above. I like to call it Neo-Jazz. I write what I feel at the time. Sometimes it’s jazz, sometimes, it’s soulful. Most of the time it’s a giant question mark. All of that is revealed in the album. For this project I am really stretching myself out, presenting myself as a vocalist and a songwriter. I am also having some fun with vocals and compositions with some scatting and horns.
Loop 21: As an independent artist, what steps have you taken (or do you take) to ensure that your music is heard on a national and international level?
Hunter: I’m working very closely with the Memphis Music Foundation. They have the expertise and they are teaching me how to make this project as big as it can be. Being an indie artist is no joke. They threw me straight into the deep end but with a life vest. I’ve learned more in the last year than I have during any other time period in my adult life!
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Loop 21: Who are the top 3 artists you would like to collaborate with and why?
Hunter: Quincy Jones because he is Quincy Jones. Stevie Wonder because I know I would learn so much. And Robert Glasper because he’s brilliant and he’s collaborating with the who’s who in music right now and that would make me a who’s who [laughing but completely serious].
Loop 21: Who are your top musical and creative influences?
Hunter: My mom, Dianne Reeves, Sarah Vaughan, Earth Wind and Fire.
Loop 21: Describe some of the responses to the release of your single “In the Sun."
Hunter: The feedback has been very positive. Several radio stations are picking it up. Everyone is really excited about hearing the rest of the EP. Several people have adopted it as their “theme” song as I have. Now if I can just get Michelle Obama to hear it…
Loop 21: Thinking outside of the box, describe your dream project.
Hunter: My dream project would involve being able to work on music under sponsorship or commission but not under contract. I’d like to be able to work with several different musicians that are making their mark on the world. I’d like to spend endless hours in the studio creating and recreating layers of music that would develop into masterpieces that would excite listeners and allow me to solidify my place among the respectable songwriters of this day.
Jamille “JAM” Hunter will release her debut album on Friday, March 16 at Opinions in Memphis, TN. It will be available on iTunes and Amazon. "In the Sun" is available on Ms. Hunter’s website and Reverbnation. For more information about Ms. Hunter and to hear the single and the album’s title track, In the Sun visit: www.iamjammusic.com