Jazz singer Melissa Stylianou has been turning heads and capturing hearts since the turn of the century, from her native Toronto to her adopted home of New York City, from intimate club residencies to top festival stages. She has won fans far and wide with her recording projects, along with praise from such outlets as the jazz bible Downbeat – which called her “a gifted composer and an appealing singer” and, moreover, “an original.” Stylianou’s newest album – Silent Movie, her fourth disc and first for the New York-based Anzic Records – is an evolutionary step. This beautifully produced studio set sees Stylianou concentrate on conveying intimate, evocative stories in song as she presents her fresh takes on beloved jazz standards and left-field songs from Johnny Cash to Joanna Newsom, backed by a collective of top musicians from the New York scene. As ever, her singing is a joy, reinforcing the description by Grammy-nominated pianist Fred Hersch, who says: “Melissa Stylianou has it all – a gorgeous instrument, superb musicianship and great taste.”
After making a name with the classic standards of her 1999 debut album, It Never Entered My Mind, Stylianou showed a flair for expanding the jazz songbook. Her 2001 release, Bachelorette, winningly juxtaposed tunes by Thelonious Monk and Fats Waller with the Björk title track and songs by Sting and Tom Waits – all delivered with the singer’s signature charm and musicality. NW Jazz Profile called it when the magazine said, “A great new discovery for fans of modern vocal jazz, Stylianou is inventive in her phrasing and pure in sound.” Sliding Down, her rhythmically sophisticated 2006 album, featured another rich blend of the classic and the contemporary, with “Them There Eyes” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird” set alongside striking original tunes. JazzTimes magazine was suitably impressed: “An exotically sultry `All of You’ and a gorgeously dreamy `That Ole Devil Called Love’ make her a standards-bearer worth watching. But it is Stylianou’s artfully imagined originals, ranging from the down-home zest of `Mary’s in the Tub’ to the emotional wreckage of the title track, that shift her from engaging to captivating.”
Keen to channel a creative tradition in jazz, Stylianou has long put her own lyrics to the music of celebrated composers. On 2012’s Silent Movie, she breathes fresh emotional life into instrumental pieces by Edgar Meyer and Vince Mendoza. And “Silent Movie,” the album’s affecting, revealing title track, is a new Stylianou co-composition with her husband, pianist Jamie Reynolds. Elsewhere on the album, she renews numbers long beloved in jazz – “Smile,” “Moon River,” “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” – even as she keeps broadening the field by putting a personal spin on songs by James Taylor (“Something in the Way She Moves”), Paul Simon (“Hearts and Bones”), Johnny Cash (“I Still Miss Someone”) and Joanna Newsom (“Swansea”).
At the 55 Bar in Manhattan’s West Village – where Stylianou has had a residency since 2008 – the singer explores new material with her colorful, interactive group: pianist Jamie Reynolds, guitarist Pete McCann, bassist Gary Wang and drummer Rodney Green, all of whom appear on the new Silent Movie alongside such premier players as saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen. For the past two years, Stylianou has been a member of Ike Sturm’s ensemble, singing original jazz settings of sacred music at St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan. Underscoring her more venturesome, improvisational side, she is the featured vocalist with Gregg Bendian’s Mahavishnu Project, dedicated to performing the music of John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Born in 1976, Stylianou embarked on her path as a jazz musician later than many of her peers. At age 21, in her final year of the acting program at Toronto’s Ryerson Theatre School, she was asked to sing with a friend’s big band at the venerable Rex Hotel jazz club – a life-changing event. From that night on, she devoted herself to the study and performance of jazz vocalism, quickly earning a name for herself as she honed her skills over a five-year Friday-night residency at the Rex. She was also the vocalist for the renowned Spitfire Band from 2001 to 2006 and was seen in the hit Canadian kids’ show “Foursquare” on Treehouse TV. But in a decisive move for her musical development, Stylianou attended the Workshop for Jazz and Creative Music at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 2004 under the direction of trumpeter/bandleader Dave Douglas; she worked there with top musicians from the world over, including many from New York City – foreshadowing the key relationships she would have after moving to the jazz capitol of the world the next year. The honor of a Canada Council for the Arts Grant enabled Stylianou to pursue private studies with such New York-based teachers as Theo Bleckmann, Garry Dial, Tom Schilling and Jeanette LoVetri, eventually leading to her making her home in Brooklyn.
Showtimes: 7:30pm and 9:30pm. Admission: $22