Born: April 3, 1956 Primary Instrument: Vocal
London-born of Trinidadian and English parents, New York-based vocalist, composer, and lyricist Tessa Souter (soo-ter) uniquely infuses jazz with the soul and passion of flamenco, Indian and Middle Eastern music. The best thing is that Souter sounds different. [Karl Stark, Philadelphia Inquirer]. Acclaimed as one of the few exceptional standouts in the crowded field of female jazz singers [Don Heckman, International Review of Music], her new CD, the free-spirited 'Obsession' should introduce her to many new fans worldwide. [Ken Dryden, All Music Guide].
Recorded with Jason Ennis, Gary Wang, Conor Meehan, Todd Reynolds, Ansel Matthews and accordion player Victor Prieto, she creates a kind of modern Great Anglo-American Songbook, presenting a collection of jazz tunes by the likes of Kenny Barron, Freddie Hubbard and Milton Nascimento along with jazz versions of fellow-Brits Nick Drake's River Man, Cream's White Room and the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby. [Berkshire Living magazine]
Her first CD, Listen Love, won critical raves for her crystal clear voice and diamond cut phrasing (Michael Harrington, Philadelphia Inquirer) and direct, soulful sound (Will Friedwald, Village Voice). Her sophomore CD, Nights of Key Largo, recorded on the Japanese audiophile label, Venus, with all-stars Kenny Werner, Billy Drummond, Jay Leonhart, Joel Frahm, and Romero Lubambo, won the coveted Gold Disc review in January 2009's Swing Journal, which said of her, there are traces of Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae in her phrasing, and Julie London and Peggie Lee in her delicate breathing, which harbors a touch of sorrow.
A latecomer to professional singing, after moving to New York in 1996, Souter started sitting in at jazz jams, before winning a scholarship to study at New York's Manhattan School of Music in 1998. She left to study privately with jazz vocal legend Mark Murphy, who mentored her for four years and says of her, She is a true musician ... extraordinary and very moving. Since her professional debut in 1999, Souter has developed into a phenomenal live performer, ... completely captivating audiences [Murphy] all over the world, from the Jazz Standard, New York, to the 1750-seat Moscow International Performing Arts Center and the Blue Brass Club in Palermo, Italy.
Heralded by Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times as a must-see for lovers of world class jazz, Souter has sold out Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, Joe's Pub, the Blue Note in New York, Pizza Express, Live on the Park and Ronnie Scott's in London, the Union of Composers Club, Moscow, and the Rochester International Jazz Festival , among many others. To quote her most recent live review [of her return sold out return to the Rochester International Jazz Festival 2009]: To say that Souter enchanted the audience would be an understatement .... The capacity crowd seemed to be transfixed by Souter's gorgeous voice and wonderful personality. (Ron Netsky, Rochester City Paper). Better still, she delivers it with a wit and a wink worthy of the toniest joints in town. (Time Out New York)
Instrumentation Tessa Souter Group includes Jason Ennis (guitar), Gary Wang (bass) and Conor Mehan (drums). Plus on Obsession, Victor Prieto (accordion), Todd Reynolds (violin), Ansel Matthews (backing vocals). Tessa also does different projects with other musicians.
Discography Obsession (Motema) Night of Key Largo (Venus Records) Listen Love (Nara Music)
Awards:Gold Disc review, Swing Journal for Nights of Key Largo
Souter, whose musical sophistication gives her a significant advantage in the competitive clamor surrounding the current world of ambitious female jazz artists, also has the rare quality of authenticity. Unlike many of her contemporaries she seems more focused on exploring the limitless creativity of the art than simply having another go at the Great American Songbook. LOS ANGELES TIMES
On her amazing album Listen Love, she delivers powerful versions of nonstandards such as Pat Martino’s “Willow” and Pharoah Sanders’ complex “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” in addition to her originals, all delivered in a crystal-clear voice with diamond-cut phrasing and a slight tinge of melancholy. She’s a gem. PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
Like Norma Winstone--whose lyrics for Jimmy Rowles' The Peacocks she uses here--Souter understands what is needed to deliver a song.... Souter's singing style feels natural and organic -- her rich, dark voice combines with her ability to see the shape of a tune and so the words seem to come from her soul. DONALD ELFMAN, ALL ABOUT JAZZ
An Afro-British-Caribbean stylist who proves that the jazz singer’s repertoire is no longer limited to the Great American Songbook. Direct and soulful. Plus she’s the only singer who can make sense of Pharoah Sanders, ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan.’ VILLAGE VOICE
Tessa Souter brings new life to time-honored standards while also mining a creative spark from the unlikeliest quarters--Sting’s “Fragile,” Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” even Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” ...Gentle, spare accompaniment... helps emphasize Souter’s understated, intimate approach. TIME OUT NEW YORK
Unlike many jazz singers, who either emulate the brassy blasts of a trumpet or the gymnastic lines of a saxophone, Souter uses the sustained waves of a violinist. Her voice is sinuous and elastic, stretching and caressing a melody with an actress' sense of the emotional meaning of each lyric. Souter's debut, Listen Love (Nara), is striking for reasons beyond her voice, however. First, the CD is refreshingly free of the Great American Songbook. The closest Souter comes to a standard is her snake-charming rendition of ‘Caravan.’ PHILADELPHIA CITY PAPER
Soulful. You’ll be hearing more from this lady. LA WEEKLY
On her new album, 'Listen Love' (Nara Music), she avoids the obvious earmarks of jazz style: There are no horns, little piano, and a lot of guitars and percussion. Still, Ms. Souter is undeniably a jazz singer. When she does 'Caravan,' she stretches notes to suggest pentatonic chanting, accompanied by guitar and bass mimicking Middle Eastern string instruments... Ms. Souter has also supplied lyrics to several instrumentals, including Pat Martino's 'Willow'.... Her rendition of Pharoah Sanders's 'The Creator Has a Master Plan' proves that it's possible to be spiritual and sensual at the same time. THE NEW YORK SUN
Tessa Souter's Listen Love marks the debut of an important new jazz singer. It's hard to believe she only recently became a vocalist, because she sings with the authority and passion that usually comes from long experience. JIM MOTAVELLI, RADIO HOST, WPKN FM
Ms. Souter dazzles and stuns with her vocal expertise on a potpourri of classics and a few that she adds her own lyrics to. All rendered with taste and élan. It’s a jam packed world out in jazz vocal land but Ms. Souter is able to lend an innate musicality and tastefulness to her performances that separates her from the herd. Jimmy Rowles’ The Peacocks shimmers in her voice, while Pat Martino’s Willow gains added depth with Ms. Souter’s own lyrical bent. Caravan is done with a gorgeously referenced Middle Eastern feel that sounds more right than the original. Pharoah Sander’s The Creator Has A Master Plan is even better as performed by Ms. Souter than Leon Thomas’s version as she makes the music and lyrics come together with added depth to the spiritual aspects of the piece. All in all Ms. Souter imbues her singing with sensitivity and profound insights without beating you over the head. An outstanding new release.” JOHN HAMMEL, WNTI RADIO WEBSITE REVIEW
”Reflective, spare, serious, hypnotic... I've been playing it over and over and keep finding new things … settle back and be bathed in a simply beautiful voice possessed by someone who has learned how to use it.” TALKINGTOBROADWAY.COM
Tessa Souter has all the qualities I value most in a musician: great time, beautiful phrasing, gorgeous sound, a respect for silence, an emotional connection to the moment, and a wonderful ability to tell a story. She is the real thing in every way. LARRY KOONSE
Magnificent! I couldn’t stop playing it over and over. She blew me away! JON LUCIEN
One of the finest of the growing singers in our midst. Tessa is a complete musician whose range of music, expression and dynamic presentation are remarkable and very moving, completely capturing her audience. MARK MURPHY
An important musician. Tessa has naturally what people spend years trying to develop. Her brilliant lyrics and songs make her stand out from the pack so very much. And she creates a mood and an atmosphere when she takes the stage. HOWARD JOHNSON
Tessa is a unique voice in jazz JOE LA BARBERA
At the top of my list of great talent. There aren’t many, but Tessa is a natural born singer. She really moves me. SHEILA JORDAN
Tracks: Eleanor Rigby; Riverman; Obsession; White Room; Afro Blue/Footprints; Make This City Ours Tonight; Crystal Rain (Sunshower); Empty Faces (Vera Cruz); Now and Then; Nara's Song (Little Sunflower); Love Theme From Spartacus; Usha's Wedding.
Personnel: Conor Meehan: drums. Jason Ennis: guitar. Victor Prieto: Accordion. Gary Wang: bass. As a Leader
Nights of Key Largo
Tracks: The Island; Close Enough for Love; Moondance; So Many Stars; The Look of Love; You Only Live Twice; Key Largo; Slow Hot Wind; Moon and Sand; I'm Glad There is You; All or Nothing at All; Morning of the Carnival; Imagine.
Personnel: Kenny Werner: piano. Billy Drummond: drums. Romero Lubambo: guitar. Joel Frahm: Saxophones. Jay Leonhart: bass. As a Leader
Tracks: The Peacocks; Willow; Caravan; Listen Love; You Don't Have to Believe;Daydream; Insensatez; Left Alone; The Creator Has a Master Plan.
Personnel: Freddie Bryant: guitar. Essiet Essiet: bass. Chembo Corniel: Percussion
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New York, NY
Willing to teach: