Shayna Steele is back with a new album

Sun Herald
Shayna Steele is back with a new album
New York songstress from Biloxi has new album
tmsmith@sunherald.comApril 11, 2015



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Actress, vocalist, songwriter. From Biloxi to New York and around the world, Shayna Steele has made the progression and steadily carved her career niche. With the release of her new album, “Rise,” Steele is defining her voice in the world of jazz.

Steele, the daughter of Bobby and Kande Steele of Biloxi and a 1993 graduate of Biloxi High School, headed to New York in 1996 and got a role in the Broadway hit production of “Rent,” followed by appearing in the revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” But music, not stage, was her first love, and in 2002, she and partner David Cook began writing music. Two years later, her debut EP was released. She has since worked with or shared the stage with Moby, Ledisi, George Clinton and Snarky Puppy, and she has been “a sideman with Lizz Wright, Bette Midler, Natasha Bedingfield, John Legend, Matthew Morrison, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Rihanna and Kelly Clarkson,” according to her bio on her official website. Her first full-length album, “I’ll Be Anything,” was released in 2009.

“Rise” puts Steele in a more intimate setting than the “big” sound on “I’ll Be Anything.”

“Rise” (Ropeadope Records), produced by Matt Pierson, features David Cook (piano, keys, organ, co-writer), Eric Harland (drums), Marcus Miller (electric bass), Christian McBride (acoustic bass), Robin Macatangay and Errol Cooney (guitar) with guests Robert Randolph (slide guitar), Bashiri Johnson (percussion), Gregoire Maret (harmonica), Andy Snitzer (saxophone) and jazz vocalist Sachal Vasandani.

Steele has spent late winter and early spring touring Europe in connection with the album’s release, but recently she took time from her schedule to chat with the Sun Herald via email.

“Gone Under” (with Snarky Puppy, on “Rise”) is really catchy, and you display quite a range on it. How would you compare the album “Rise” to “I’ll Be Anything”? Do you feel your style has grown, forged a certain direction?

Thank you! The two albums couldn’t be more different. “I’ll Be Anything” is more neo-soul driven and “Rise” has more of a blues/jazz focus.

You work closely with David Cook (her husband) on all areas of your songs. Where do you get your ideas? Do you and he work 50/50 on the music and lyrics, or are you more the idea/word person and he’s the music person? Or vice versa?

It’s different every time we write. Sometimes he comes up with a beautiful song and I write lyrics only. Other times I’ll be on the train or out somewhere and a melody hits me and I record it on my phone and he builds the chords around my melody. We have a great connection and an understanding. It helps that we’re married!

Many genres in the music industry can be extremely competitive. Is jazz like that, too?

Competitive is not the case with jazz. It’s about the music. We inspire each other to be better musicians. Of course we all want some version of success, but in no way are jazz musicians egomaniacs…. Well, at least the guys I hang with. We couldn’t be a more humble group of people.

You’re touring in Europe, Indonesia and Singapore, then you’re back in the States. Have you been going to parts unknown or are you visiting some favorite venues?

I have a few favorite venues like Musig Im Ochsen in Muri, Switzerland, that I’ve played four times now. Some other favorites this tour have been Porgy and Bess in Vienna and Moods in Zurich.

Will you be back on the Coast any time soon? If so, where, when?

Hoping to play this fall. I’m working on it. Hard to find a venue that works with my style. Where do you think I should play? Maybe we start a petition.

You’ve mentioned that Biloxi’s proximity to New Orleans had an influence on your music, and that moving to New York really defined and broadened your music. Did your time in Biloxi itself have an influence on who you are, personally and/or professionally, today?

Of course. Biloxi was bittersweet. We moved there from Germany and I absolutely loved Germany, so it took me a while to feel comfortable. Every time I’m there, I’m relaxed, see old friends, but for the most part I’m under the radar. I hate the attention when I’m hanging at the Beau Rivage with my sisters or going to dinner. You always run into skeletons or people who may not like you for being in the spotlight. That part sucks. Ninety percent of the time everyone is proud and supportive. I love Biloxi for that. Everyone is so warm, and I love to contribute back to the community when I can.

Musically, I’m inspired by every place I’ve been. Biloxi

inspired “What Are We Giving” and “Highyella.”

Everything after that is inspired by my travels.

Any future projects in the works? Any possible stage work, or focusing now on your music? Or both? Is it advisable for Broadway musical performers to have their feet in both waters?

Touring my new album and writing new material.

I had my feet in both worlds for a while, but it can only last so long. I’ve fully committed now to my solo career. Quit theater, quit background singing… I take on session work and one-offs with Kelly Clarkson, but it takes 100 percent of my time to commit to the band…. And of course being a mother. My days in theater, are over as far as I’m concerned. Not because I don’t love it or respect it. It’s just that the original music has taken shotgun.

How do you relax between gigs? What does a day off look like for you?

Ha ha! Day off? Never. My spare “hours” are spent sleeping, chasing a toddler around and tasting great wine.

How do you prepare for performances? Several years ago, I was at an after party held for Wynton Marsalis, and he asked the hostess for a cup of hot water with lemon. He told me he always drinks that after a performance to soothe his throat after playing the trumpet. Do you have any similar ways to prepare or to take care of your voice?

I meet fans and sell CDs. I’m running a business! He’s (Marsalis) earned it. He’s so great. I am working toward some state of relaxation… Might be a few years. I hope to meet him someday, because I am a fan of the entire Marsalis empire.

I do warm up before a show and hang with the band. We like a Swiss board game called Brandy Dog. The band is playing it now as I do this interview.

Do you miss being down here? What is it? (Hope that doesn’t put you on the spot.)

Eek! Listen, I miss my family, but damn, I love New York. No better place in the world. Don’t get me wrong. Biloxi is still home to me. Hope to see y’all at the seafood festival or a Krewe party sometime. Cheers from Italy!

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