The story of Stacey Kent's rise to international fame reads like a Hollywood script.
An American language student visits Europe to study French, Italian and German for a Masters degree in comparative literature. Her life takes an unexpected twist that sees Stacey Kent become one of the world's foremost jazz singers.
Stacey, a recent addition to the Blue Note roster of recording artists, now boasts seven best-selling albums including The Boy Next Door (2003) which achieved Gold status, a string of awards, including the 2001 British Jazz Award and 2002 BBC Jazz Award for 'Best Vocalist,' the 2004 Backstage Bistro Award for best live performance and the 2006 "Album of the Year" for Jim Tomlinson's album, 'The Lyric' on which she was the featured vocalist, as well as a fan base that enables her to sell out concert halls around the world.
Her new Blue Note release, 'Breakfast On The Morning Tram' (Blue Note 2007) features four original songs, including the title track, written especially for Stacey by Jim Tomlinson and acclaimed novelist, Kazuo Ishiguro, as well as a selection of French chansons and choice standards. Since its release in September 2007, it has remained at the top of the French jazz chart as well as holding its own in the top 20 of the general album charts. Its release around the world is sure to mirror this success.
The twist of fate that took her life in this new direction was a chance meeting in Oxford with saxophonist, Jim Tomlinson. Like Stacey, Jim was embarked on an academic path, but their meeting sparked in each other the desire to pursue their love of music together. After a year's study at the Guildhall School of Music, Stacey set about honing her skills on the London scene in the company of, now husband, Jim Tomlinson.
A demo tape, sent simultaneously to Polygram, Candid Records and broadcaster, Humphrey Lyttelton, secured her a role in Ian McKellen's film version of Richard III, a recording contract and national airplay and endorsement from Britain's most respected jazz broadcaster.
Since the release of Stacey's first album, Close Your Eyes (1997), she has achieved, without compromise, both critical and popular success, with her fresh and heart-felt interpretations of the finest love songs of the twentieth century. But
it was a feature on CBS Sunday Morning in 1999 that gave Stacey national exposure in the USA and brought her to wider recognition. Since then, her career has become truly international and she has performed at major festivals and concert halls from Taipei’s Chiang Kai-shek Concert Hall to Carnegie Hall to Paris' famed Olympia.
Stacey's admirers are not limited to the loyal fans that buy her albums and pack out her concerts. Best-selling crime writer, John Harvey, has Stacey sing, if only fictionally, in his latest novel, Still Water. A track from her third album, Let Yourself Go, was selected by novelist, Kazuo Ishiguro, on his appearance on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio. It was this event that led Kent, Ishiguro and Tomlinson towards the song-writing collaboration that features this new album.
Clint Eastwood invited Stacey to sing at his 70th birthday party, Michael Parkinson invited Stacey to sing on his television show, as did Sir David Frost, who asked her to join him one Sunday morning, to sing a song and review the morning papers with him on "Breakast with Frost" and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler , in a recent interview, listed Stacey, alongside Willie Nelson, as being among his favourite singers.
Most tellingly perhaps, Stacey is appreciated by the writers of the songs she sings.
Three-time Oscar-winning songwriter, Jay Livingston, wrote of her, "Stacey Kent is a revelation. There is nobody singing today who can compare with her. She has the style of the greats, like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. And she sings the words like Nat Cole - clean, clear and almost conversational with perfect phrasing. And that's as good as it gets."
If there is one theme that runs through Stacey's music, it is that of romance. Stacey is herself an avowed romantic, and the songs she sings are timeless stories that touch young and old alike, fulfilling a desire for sophisticated love songs that is not catered to by today's pop music industry. She receives fan mail from people of all ages and nationalities and, in an age where music is more likely to divide than unite the generations, it is quite common for three generations of the same family to attend her concerts.
This romanticism is best demonstrated on the award winning recording with Jim Tomlinson, 'The Lyric ... featuring Stacey Kent' (Token 0501). It is the most complete collaboration between Stacey and husband, Jim. On this album, Jim’s saxophone and Stacey’s voice achieve a level of empathy only hinted at on earlier recordings. As the New York Times’, Stephen Holden put it, “Sometimes the chemistry between musicians and the chemistry of love get all tangled up in wonderful ways. When watching the jazz singer Stacey Kent make music with her husband, the tenor saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, it is easy to imagine yourself
eavesdropping on intimate pillow talk by besotted partners in a luxury suite atop some faraway pop-jazz Olympus.”
Her new latest album, Breakfast On The Morning Tram, hints at a more confessional side to Stacey's artistic persona. This is a more complete, personal and mature expression of feeling than Kent has delivered on any of her previous recordings.
It is not easy to account for Stacey's success and she herself remains characteristically coy. What is sure is that Stacey has a voice that grabs you. It demands to be listened to and yet never draws attention to itself. As her new collaborator, Ishiguro put it in his liner notes to her 2002 album, In Love Again, "In song after song, we find a route to the emotional heart of the music without first having to admire her technique." Stacey's natural and unaffected delivery allows the craft of the songwriters, whose work she performs, to shine through. She has an appeal that transcends category.
What the papers say about Breakfast On The Morning Tram "full marks" - Sunday Times
"devastatingly stylish...a beauty in any circumstances" - The Observer