On YOU HIT THE SPOT, Chicago singer TRACYE EILEEN returns to her straight-ahead jazz roots on an album of standards performed with a contemporary edge. This is Eileen’s fourth release and third full-length album. Always exploring new ways to express herself, each of her previous recordings covered different genres and stylistic approaches.
Eileen launched her professional career with the release of her first straight-ahead recording, Love’s Journey (2012). She recorded the album shortly after studying at the Bloom School of Jazz in Chicago, where the owner of the school was so impressed with her talent that he briefly served as her manager, helping her hone her straight-ahead sound for her debut album. On her next album, Why Did I Say Yes? (2018), she veered away from straight-ahead jazz into soul and R&B. Then, in 2020, she released It’s Time, a smooth jazz album featuring originals co-written by Eileen on which she reflected on her journey of love as she moves through life. The album charted on several major music charts in the U.S. and abroad and was played in 67 countries on over 220 radio stations. Smooth Jazz Daily said, “The special feature of Tracye’s performance is not only her voice but also the ingenious use of her vocals in the arrangement, for which she constantly finds new approaches.”
Eileen has also enjoyed a 6-year residency at Buddy Guy’s Legends, the famous Chicago blues and jazz club. The club’s talent manager had found Eileen on LinkedIn and offered her and her band a monthly residency. She still performs regularly at the club, and over the years she has opened for many of the biggest names in the music business, such as Babyface, The Stylistics, Mary Wilson, Chante Moore, After 7, and Buddy Guy himself.
Although she delved into various musical styles on her prior recordings, each of her albums have focused on love songs. “I’ve always been a fan of love songs,” says Eileen, “and I decided to be self-revealing, because I want my music to be authentic and real with songs that people can connect with.”
For Eileen, YOU HIT THE SPOT is a homecoming to straight-ahead jazz, which has been part of her life for as long as she can remember. Her father was a professional jazz drummer who missed an opportunity to tour with Count Basie’s band because he was drafted to serve in Vietnam. “My father, Ed Smith, an accomplished jazz percussionist, was a major influence in my life. His inspiration many years ago led to successful roles as lead singer in my high school and college jazz bands and my continued love of jazz music.” When she got older, she performed professionally with her father many times.
On YOU HIT THE SPOT, Eileen is joined by two different bands made up of some of the top jazz artists Chicago has to offer. Her trio appears on five cuts that were recorded live at PianoForte, the beautiful performance space, recording studio, and high-end piano boutique. Her band includes DENNIS LUXION (piano), PAUL MARTIN (bass), and LINARD STROUD (drums). She also brought on board Thomas Gunther to arrange and produce an additional three studio tracks, which feature JEREMY KAHN (piano), JON DEITEMYER (drums), STEWART MILLER (bass), STEVE EISEN (reeds), RAPHAEL CRAWFORD (trombone), and VICTOR GARCIA (trumpet). Associate Producer Sasha Daltonn worked with Eileen on song selection and interpretation. Daltonn is a well-known Chicago-based jazz vocalist whose one-woman show, Sasha Sings Dinah!, enjoyed long runs in Chicago and Off-Broadway.
Eileen has always been attracted to the great vocalists from an earlier era, like Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone because of their extraordinary ability to tell stories through music. Indeed, for Eileen, there is no difference between singing and storytelling, and she approaches a song much like an actor approaches a role. She analyzes each song by writing a narrative about it. Once she settles on the details, she tailors her vocals to fit the story arc of the song. AlthoughEileen’s sound is reminiscent of her idols, her style is soulful, bluesy, and modern.
Eileen’s renditions of “The Very Thought of You,” “Just in Time,” ”I Love Being Here with You,” “You Hit the Spot,” “It’s Almost Like Being in Love,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” and “The End of a Love Affair,” are tender, swinging, and upbeat.
The songs on YOU HIT THE SPOT have been performed and recorded over the years by many wonderful artists, but Tracye Eileen brings her own perspective and successfully delivers authenticity to every style she chooses to sing. Her return to her straight-ahead jazz roots really does hit the spot.
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