For the month of September, we turn our attention to Tiffany Austin, a vocalist and songwriter perfecting her craft in Northern California.
Last year, she debuted Nothing But Soul, an album comprised of reimagined compositions by Hoagy Carmichael that was featured on KQED’s Top 10 Bay Area Jazz Releases of 2015. Austin continues to spread her jazz appreciation by offering lessons, performing regularly, and owning her own record label.
For Austin, jazz is putting both sides of the brain to work simultaneously. To better explain this metaphor, she recalls her grandmother’s home in Watts, California, where she she spent a majority of her childhood.
As a Louisiana native, her grandmother often played Duke Ellington and Big Band, influencing Austin to fall in love with the rhythm of jazz. It was within those walls, she remembers, where she first encountered groove. When Austin heard Ella Fitzgerald scatting with such technical proficiency, she fell in love with the dichotomous nature of jazz.
Austin explains that utilizing both the right and left brain lobes result in soul, feeling, and intellect. Jazz offers the world a spiritual embodiment of soul with the cerebral acuity musicians need to produce a melodic and harmonious sound.
At such a young age, Austin understood and appreciated the various aspects of jazz music that make it unique. In fact, in inspired her to attend performing arts schools throughout her elementary and high school education. Austin graduated from Cal State Northridge with a degree in creative writing before settling in Tokyo, Japan shortly after graduation. Although she was on track to become a lawyer, Austin wanted to travel before attending law school.
In Tokyo, Austin aspired to and became a professional musician. She performed a range of genres including R&B, jazz, and pop. Suddenly, her one year trip turned into five years--five years of what she describes as the best time of her life. During this period, she had the ability to cultivate her artistry and carve out the type of life she had always wanted.
Eventually, she moved back to attend law school at UC Berkeley, where she focused on entertainment law and copyright. Instead of pursuing a career in law upon graduation, Austin decided to follow her dreams and she hasn’t looked back since.
Since she devoting her career to music, she has been able to bring in her own influence to the ever-changing idea of what jazz sounds like. Her debut album, Nothing But Soul, embodies her paradigm of using both sides of the brain. The arrangements featured are classic and traditional, with slight changes that modernize the songs.
“If you’re playing jazz the right way it should be bluesy, churchy and spiritual,” Austin says. “When I’m singing jazz, it feels like blues and soul and the other influences I was brought up with-- like R&B and hip hop.”
Austin will be performing with her quartet at Cafe Stritch in San Jose on October 1st, 2016.