Her song goes “I’ve got soul, spinning out of control,” and, in a way, it is the mission statement of Tiffany Jane and the Kicks. A song with some old-school rhythm, jazz pedigree, and a taste of funk, it’s from an album of originals just like it, all sung with amazing range and power by Jane. A petite package with a larger-than-life vocal presence, she is no stranger to performing, having toured as a child with her singer/ actress mother in the musical theater circuit.
“When I was little, my Grandma and I would put on the oldies station in the car and play ‘guess the singer.’ That’s how I discovered Stevie Wonder, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, all the greats. I get influences from them for sure.
“It’s funny, I learn that a lot of singers I respect surprisingly started off in musical theater. I think musical theater aids in learning harmonies, vocal placement, and especially vocal expression. Also, a lot of the old musicals sound like the jazz standards we know today. So before I started writing and singing in a jazz-influenced band I knew some of the standards from shows I was in as a little girl.”
Jane studied vocal performance at the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, earning her an A.A. degree, and “always had a thing for soul, jazz, funk, and blues.” She got off to a flying start as a solo artist: in 2009 she entered the Musicpalooza talent contest at the San Diego County Fair and won – beating over 240 entries and claiming the cash prize. A solo CD followed in 2011, Love Stories. The accolades continued, with her winning the LA Indie Music Award for Best Blues Artist in 2012, though the story of the Kicks, her jazz-infused band, was just starting.
“We have been on a journey to find our permanent members, and lucky to play with some wonderful musicians in the past, as well as the present. Paul Castelluzzo [guitar] and I have been the founding members as well as co-writers for the past two-and-a-half years. Then we brought on Sean Sobash [bass] and Tim ‘Figg’ Newton [drums], which has been a blast,” Jane said. “Ed Kornhauser recorded keys on the Discovery album and we primarily play with Kirk Danielson live.”
At a recent live show, the Kicks flashed versatility, with a set list that included some of the tunes from their debut disc, but mostly a batch of covers of jazz chestnuts (“Misty,” “Stormy Weather”), a generous helping of Stevie Wonder’s mellow soul grooves (“My Cherie Amour,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”), and sharp versions of tunes by Norah Jones and Michael Jackson (including a nifty reworking of “Rock With You”). The support by Castelluzzo and Sobash give Jane a chance to soar in a few spots; she is the refreshing female singer in this age of TV vocal competitions who can hit the highs and handle the entire range but doesn’t try to make every song an exhibition of unneeded vocal acrobatics. She fits her powerful pipes right into the pocket of the material, forming a nice blend, especially with Castelluzzo’s lyrical jazz lines. Their busy local gig schedule includes regular dates at Magnolia Tap and Kitchen, Martinis Above Fourth, 98 Bottles, and other locations in Hillcrest and the Gaslamp District.
The writing and recording of their debut CD Discovery provided new experiences for the band.
“I think a lot of the challenges we face are the same challenges in every genre… remembering there aren’t rules to writing. To risk, to try things out that may not make sense in the moment, because later they could end up being your favorite part of your song, or the part that inspires a different song altogether.
“The best writing for me comes when I remember to just be. I tend to write lyrics first, so if I can get myself detached from all that’s going on around me and write a story – fact or fiction – from a place that’s real for me, melody tends to come easily after that. I ultimately want to write music that makes someone go, ‘YES, that’s exactly what I needed today – whether they knew it or not; I feel heard, healed, understood, inspired.’”
Jane describes the Kicks’ two-person writing team as “kind of a Bacharach and David deal.”
“Paul Castelluzzo writes the progressions and I write the melodies and lyrics. It’s wonderful to have such a seasoned instrumentalist writing with me because I play very little piano and struggle to create the chord qualities I hear in my head on my own… whereas he will pick it up very quickly or create something I didn’t even hear. A lot of his progressions give me the freedom to take melodies to places I currently wouldn’t be able to on my own. I feel lucky to have him as my counterpart.”
The new album certainly captures some soulful moments. After opening with the signature tune “I’ve Got Soul,” it keeps the impressive songs coming with lovely ballads like “Move Closer” and “Just to Think.” The latter tunes might just be in the class with the material that Norah Jones hit it big with a decade or so ago, as are “Let Me Be Your Lover” and “Sing Me To Sleep.” No surprise that it helped the band score a nomination for Best Jazz in the recent San Diego Music Awards.
This is still a young band that recently completed their first tour, with stops all over the country.
“The first tour was a great learning experience. I booked the entire thing by myself and I now have huge respect for booking agents. It’s not easy! We had a lot of support from our family, friends, and fans. It absolutely wouldn’t have been possible without them,” said Jane. “There were tough times absolutely, but overall, a wonderful experience. We played in Chicago, Nashville, Knoxville, New Jersey, and New York, just to name a few stops. We saw some remarkable bands, hidden treasure venues, and lots of fields and flat land. I’m anxious to do it again, however next time I’d love to be able to focus solely on being a singer and bandmate, and have an experienced booker do the business side of things.”
As far as other plans for her and the Kicks, Tiffany Jane says, “We are writing new songs as we speak. We just released our album at the end June (see the CD review in the October 2014 issue), so another album isn’t right around the corner. However, we would love to release a single to follow up Discovery quite soon, and any opportunity to record we welcome with open arms.
“We absolutely will tour, especially since we just released the CD and want the rest of the US to hear our new material. My dream projects for us never end-a UK tour is a dream of mine. I continue to think up ideas every day. Music videos, tours, venues, merchandise, a music documentary showing a day in the life of us… This is my passion, my heart, and my job.”