By Kristi Kates
Being compared to the likes of both Ella Fitzgerald and Madeleine Peyroux - and being dubbed Outstanding Folk Artist of the Year by the Boston Music Awards - is no small feat.
But Boston-launched, New York-based singer-songwriter Miss Tess, who will be appearing in Traverse City at the InsideOut Gallery, on March 2, is no small-minded musician, pushing and pulling her talents through a wide range of projects but always keeping her own musical sensibilities intact.
PUNK TO PARADE
With her 1940s guitar and her band, the Bon Ton Parade (Danny Weller on upright bass, Raphael McGregor on lap steel, and Matt Meyer on drums), Miss Tess - no last name, thank you - is making a big splash these days with her latest album, The Waltz Set. It might seem like something of a breakthrough for those outside of the East Coast musical scene - yet Tess has actually been pursuing her career for the past six years.
Growing up in Massachusetts, Tess says she was influenced early on by the music heard in her family home - which she did a complete 180 from in later years by buying her first pop-punk CD.
I grew up listening to my parents playing old folk, swing, jug band, and big band music, she reminisces, but I think the first CD I bought was Green Days Dookie.
Fortunately for her audiences, the old-school tunes stuck for Miss Tess far more than any renditions of Green Days Basket Case may have.
It was inevitable (to create a more retro style of music) based on my background, she explains, I grew up listening to so much of that style of music that I think its just in my blood.
THE WALTZ SET
She eventually took piano lessons, and then spent some time couch-surfing with her guitar in tow - and by 2005, Miss Tess had already formed her Bon Tons band, which began playing at nightspots around the Boston area. The first pair of Miss Tess albums would arrive in 2007, one a regular album and one a set of jazz standards on which Tess was accompanied by a sextet of Washington, DC-based jazz players.
And to think that all of this accomplishment was started primarily out of Green Day-worthy ennui.
I think it was actually boredom, Tess chuckles, I used to work at an art gallery, and sometimes there was nothing to do all day. Then I started traveling with my guitar and wrote more songs that way.
More songs is an understatement. In 2009, this overachiever released two more albums, Live on the Road - a live album, natch - and Darling, oh Darling, a quirky playlist of original tunes on which Tess experiments with jazz, blues, rockabilly, and even country-western sounds.
The Waltz Set definitely has a few more country influences for sure, she says, as well as some folk inspirations. I wanted to try a concept album, so waltzes were my concept.
Who doesnt like 3/4 time, ya know? she smiles.
NEW AND OLD
The past four years have seen Miss Tess spending much of her time on the road, criss-crossing the country on a range of national tour dates. And that aforementioned album, The Waltz Set, debuts five original waltzes - certainly a diversion from todays radio hits - plus a waltz-based cover of the Skeeter Davis song End of the World. The vintage tunes and sharp musicianship showcase just why Miss Tess is finally starting to get more and more attention outside of her home region.
2011 and 2012 is slated to be a very busy year for Miss Tess, as shes relocated to New York City and is also carrying a consistently heavy touring schedule. She and the Bon Tons are currently on a six-week tour from Nashville to the Midwest (TC included, of course), and are then heading to Austin, Texas for the big SXSW Festival. A new full-length album is also in the works, with recording set to begin later this summer.
And as for her influences of today, theyve shifted a little, from the pop charts to music crafted by her peers - but her love for retro sounds is always in effect.
A lot of the newer stuff I listen to is music being created by my friends, she says, but I still listen to a lot of the old stuff.
Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade will be performing on March 2 at the InsideOut Gallery in Traverse City. For more info on Miss Tess and her band, visit www.misstessmusic.com or www.myspace.com/misstessmusic.