Samara Joy (Whirlwind Recordings)

Samara Joy

Released July 9, 2021

Arts Fuse 2021 Jazz Critics Poll Top 10 Vocal Album




Samara Joy is a singing star in ascendancy. The young vocalist attracted attention in 2019 after winning the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Now, the 21-year-old announces her self-titled debut release, which puts her spin on jazz standards from the Great American Songbook. Produced by Grammy-nominated veteran Matt Pierson, she’s joined by jazz guitar virtuoso Pasquale Grasso and his trio (Ari Roland and Kenny Washington) for a release that furthers Joy’s reputation as one of America’s most promising young jazz vocalists.
Joy grew up in the Bronx around a supportive musical family. Music was a pervasive presence, due to the inspiration of her paternal grandparents, Elder Goldwire and Ruth McLendon, who led the Philadelphia-based gospel group, The Savettes. “My mother and father gave me the opportunity to hear music on an interesting spectrum, from Luther Vandross and Chaka Khan through to George Duke and Stevie Wonder. Actually, I hadn’t heard of Sarah Vaughan until college. My friends were all into jazz and started sharing their favourite recordings with me. The turning point was when I heard Sarah’s version of “Lover Man” – I was hooked.”
It’s with singers like Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald that early comparisons have been made, and close study of such vocalists formed the basis of the album. “The inspiration comes from absorbing as much of their style as possible. It’s a glimpse of what I’ve learned so far, and a way for me to pay homage to those who have come before, while lending my own perspective to these songs.”
Samara Joy presents the vocalist backed by the trio of Pasquale Grasso, a budding star from the world of solo guitar. “It’s great working with him because I know he brings his best, which pushes me to bring my A-game – nothing less.” Completing the line-up are prolific bassist Ari Roland and legendary drummer Kenny Washington, offering a subtly swinging backdrop to proceedings.
Joy’s interpretations balance the breezy-fresh feel of a relative newcomer with a reverence for a tradition she is now undoubtably part of. “But Beautiful”, “Let’s Dream in the Moonlight” and “Jim” pay homage to Billie Holiday’s original versions, and she acknowledges the great Nat King Cole with versions of “It Only Happens Once” and “The Trouble with Me is You”. “Stardust” is another nod to Cole, showcasing a talent for storytelling well beyond her years. As she says, “There’s nothing like hearing someone who understands sing it to you.” Moods range from the happy-go-lucky simplicity of “Everything Happens to Me” to the longing of “Lover Man”.
Winning the Vaughan award was transformational for Joy. “I was suddenly on the jazz radar. It’s still bizarre to think of how fast things have progressed.” Since then, Joy has dug deep to discover her jazz roots, without losing sight of the innate simplicity that makes her sound shine. Her first album announces the arrival of a young artist destined for greatness.

Track Listing:

1. Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael) 03:53            

2. Everything Happens To Me (Matt Dennis) 03:47         

3. If You Never Fall In Love With Me (Sam Jones) 02:33         

4. Let’s Dream In The Moonlight (Matt Malneck) 02:46             

5. It Only Happens Once (Frankie Laine) 04:21               

6. Jim (Caesar Petrillo / Milton Samuels) 03:58               

7. (It’s Easy To See) The Trouble With Me Is You (Harry Tobias / Pinky Tomlin) 02:36

8. If You’d Stay The Way I Dream About You (Irene Kitchings, Jr. / Arthur Herzog) 01:57         

9. Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be) (Roger Ramirez / James Sherman / Jimmy Davis) 03:46               

10. Only A Moment Ago (Milton Ager / Billy Rose) 03:54          

11. Moonglow (Edgar DeLange / Will Hudson) 03:22               

12. But Beautiful (James van Heusen) 05:00


Samara Joy: vocals
Pasquale Grasso: guitar
Ari Roland: double bass
Kenny Washington: drums

Recorded October 20 – 21, 2020, at Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY
Recording Engineer: Ryan Streber
Assistant Engineer: Charles Mueller
Mixed and Mastered by Christopher Allen
Produced by Matt Pierson
Photography: Shervin Lainez
Graphic Design: Monika Jakubowska


Some artists attempt to obfuscate their influences, or pretend they exist in a vacuum. Not Samara Joy. The 21-year-old jazz singer freely admits she’s the product of a particular dyad: Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. “This music is my foundation for sure,” she told in 2021. “When I want to learn a song and learn how to tell a story, they’re who I go to for perspective.”

Sure, the Divine One and the First Lady clearly burble up in Joy’s approach. But on her self-titled debut album, several other masters of vocal jazz manifest too: Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Carmen McRae. While this style of music is a risky proposition in 2021—it’s a fine line between virtuosity and treacly cocktail-hour fare—Joy proves how much gas remains in the tank.

Samara Joy partly works because it’s so simple and straightforward: The album is Joy, the swinging rhythm section of Ari Roland and Kenny Washington, and some spry guitar work by Pasquale Grasso. If this configuration—a young upstart backed by pros—sounds overly familiar, give it a chance: Joy’s approach is so natural, confident, and easygoing that it’s impossible not to like her.

Is this music particularly innovative? Not really, but it doesn’t need to be; the fact that there have been no Samara Joys before her makes her genuinely new. These battle-tested standards, like “Stardust,” “Lover Man,” and “Everything Happens to Me,” are so richly performed that the listener will walk away smiling. Sometimes, just doing the music is all one needs to do.

Morgan Enos (JazzTimes)