By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
The Segerstrom Art Center is a state of the arts complex in Costa Mesa, California, a very affluent area of Los Angeles County. It offers several parking structures and theaters of various sizes and a wealth of talent for the community to enjoy. The room where Kandace Springs is performing Is set up like a nightclub venue. The round tables are draped in white table cloths with a small, flickering lamps in the center that made the space feel cozy and intimate. All the tables on the main floor housed four chairs. A balcony, with tables for two, sat above the main floor on both sides of the room. It’s a comfortable cabaret set-up with a capacity to hold 320 people. Tonight, it was full.
A female drummer saunters on stage, sits behind her trap drums and began to solo with gusto. Another female enters, picks up the double bass and joins in. They set up a funky, smooth jazz, soulful groove. Then Kandace Springs prowls across the stage like a lioness. Dressed in black pants, she sits down at the electric piano, soaking up the center spotlight. The show has begun. This pianist/vocalist has a head of hair like a lion’s mane and it bobs and moves with her tenacious delivery on the piano keys. Her voice is husky and rooted in gospel. It’s somewhat reflective of Stevie Wonder when she makes certain vocal ‘runs.’ I’ve seen this artist on YouTube performing with Kenny G, Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oats) and a big band. During the opening number, her bassist sings harmony with Kandace.
Because I’ve been in the music business for such a long time, I can tell this is a new band. Still, their voices blend beautifully. The longer they perform together, the tighter this ensemble will become. Kandace Springs moves from the electric piano to the grand piano to perform the second tune, “Gentle Rain.” Afterwards, she announces that she has a new CD coming out in March on the Blue Note label. Tonight, we are getting a live preview of this new recording. She tells us, her friend, Christian McBride, is playing bass on her Blue Note production. However, “tonight Caylen Bryant (on bass) will accompany me on “Devil May Care,” she says giving a nod to her bassist. Kandace swings this arrangement, propelled by the talented Taylor Moore on drums and amply supported by her multi-talented bassist. In between each song, Ms. Springs interacts with her audience, offering a warm exchange of information. She shares that she and Norah Jones are Blue Note sisters and they perform a duet on her new album celebrating Ella Fitzgerald. “Norah Jones plays the Steinway grand piano and I play the electric piano on the tune, Angel Eyes,” she tells us. The trio digs into this tune, featuring Caylen duetting vocally with Kandice, and on the fade of this song, all three female musicians sing a haunting, harmony part. It’s extremely effective, with a wee bit of gospel flavor to it.
Then came a piano solo where Kandace Springs shows us, she definitely has ‘chops’ and is a classically trained pianist. Her love of piano started at age ten when her dad brought home a piano. Kandace comes from a musical family. Her father was a popular, working soul singer in a country-western town. His name is Scat Springs and he had his own Nashville band. His vocals were so strong that he sang backup for several well-known musicians like Brian McKnight, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Michael McDonald and Donna Summer. A daddy’s girl, she tagged along to his sessions. It was her father that introduced her to legendary singers like ‘Ella’, Eva Cassidy and Nina Simone. Her dad helped her record a demo at age fifteen and it got a lot of buzz.
For her next song, Kandace celebrated Carmen McCrae, performing solo, just her piano and voice singing a soulful rendition of “In My Solitude.”
Then she ripped into a classical-sounding composition to show she was a studied musician. I heard shades of Rachmaninoff, Shubert and Bach. This interlude faded seamlessly into Jobim’s tune, “How Insensitive.” Kandace liberally shares her spotlight with the two talented ladies in her band. She features them next. Taylor Moore on drums is an amazing technician on her instrument. She really fired-up the crowd.
Caylen Bryant lays down her double bass and straps on her electric instrument. The trio does a unique arrangement of Sade’s tune, “Love is Stronger than Pride” with the drummer and bassist singing back-up vocals that enhance Kandace Springs’ smokey delivery of this popular song. Next, Kandace tells us she credits Norah Jones for inspiring her to learn and perform the first standard she ever played and sang before an audience. Then she performs, “Nearness of You.” This was followed by a funky, but still very jazzy rendition of “People Make the World Go Round.” She stunned the audience when she sang and played Billie Holiday’s tear-jerking song, “Strange Fruit.” It was a very moving performance. The trio rebounded from this emotional ballad to a song the group ‘War’ made so popular; “The World Is A Ghetto.” Judging from these two songs, Kandace Springs seems to have a little bit of an activist edge to her music. The drummer tears into her solo on this arrangement and the audience goes crazy.
The jazz community has had an open space available for a female pianist and jazz vocalist. We have been waiting for someone to soulfully fill the hole that legends like Nina Simone, Roberta Flack and Shirley Horn left in our musical fabric. That’s why I was happy to hear Kandace tribute Roberta Flack, going back to the grand piano to play and sing a beautiful rendition of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” She closed out their concert with a fiery arrangement of Nina Simone’s, “I Put A Spell on You.”
The room rose in a unified standing ovation to show the three talented ladies how much they were appreciated. I look forward to hearing the new album by Kandace Springs titled, “The Woman Who Raised Me.” Like two of her idols, Norah Jones and also Diana Krall, she continues to break new ground, playing piano and singing. Her choice of blending musical genres, with a youthful jazz infusion, while celebrating the spirit of her jazz elders like Carmen McCrae, Nina and Sarah Vaughan, (who all played piano beautifully) makes Kandace Springs a fresh, blossoming talent in my New Artist series.