By Melina Paris, Music Columnist
Artists, like stars, form constellations in the sky. I was reminded of this fact when I interviewed the standout jazz vocalist, Jimetta Rose.
I first encountered Rose when she performed at the Grand Performances Peace Go with You Gil in 2012 and again at Young, Gifted and Nina in 2013, tributes to Gil Scott Heron and Nina Simone.
At the time, my focal point was Dexter Story, the producer of the two events that was a part of the Grand Performances series on Los Angeles Civil Rights era during the 1960s. It was because of Story, that I was introduced to this generation’s greats such as jazz vocalist Dwight Trible, horn player Kamasi Washington, Nia Andrews and her husband and collaborator Mark deClive Lowe, Georgia Anne Muldrow and now vocalist Jimetta Rose.
Rose recently released her latest album, The Light Bearer, a title that exemplifies her spirit on stage.
Rose is known for her neo-soul and rhythm and blues work. Jazz was a rare foray for Rose until recently, but it’s not unexpected considering the company she keeps.
The album takes you on a musically expansive journey for your soul. Her tone is unmistakably jazz. Her lyrics, whether in song or spoken word impart love. The music dips you into neo-soul grooves, jazzy harmonies and a deep funkiness.
The Light Bearer has been described as a masters class of the hip-hop and soul backed jazz found in the music from the World Stage in Leimert Park. The album was produced by Georgia Anne Muldrow, a genre busting artist who also is the daughter of jazz great and instrument inventor, Eddie Harris, and jazz vocalist Rickie Byars.
The album was written, recorded and produced within a two-week period. It follows a coming of age narrative arch reflecting her growth and maturation as an artist.
“I’m definitely trying to express everything that’s in me,” Rose said.
“Sometimes I think the best way to express ourselves is without words because sometimes we get caught in whether or not we agree, whether we pronounce the word the same, whether we can understand the word because of a language barrier,” Rose said. “We operate in feelings. When we get away from the words we’re able to get a more universal communication.”
She believes that distortion starts to occur when people put feelings into words or personalize them.
“With singing, painting and even writing, it’s still using words but it’s building the story,” Rose said. “I like to write fiction and poetic prose more so than essay writing because I don’t want to program anyone. I just want to show people options to add to their program.”
Jazz permeates through The Light Bearer. It doesn’t just have jazz inflections. Still, Rose hesitates calling herself a jazz singer. Choosing instead to refer to herself as a “jazz fan.”
“I’m not trained in jazz but I love it,” she said. “My ear and my voice go there but I was raised in church.
“Coming into this industry completely led by a gift, not by motivations of success, how do you even navigate this territory? I feel like I’m being pulled by an ability. My voice just keeps taking me places. When you get there you have to be ready.”
Rose sings with a band because she hated singing with tracks. When she was young and starting out, that’s what everyone did. But she loved singing with live instruments and she could only do that in church, which she happily did.
Eventually, Rose auditioned for a band similar to The Fugees, called Hoodie Smith. The experience showed her that she didn’t want to sing if she didn’t have a band. In 2007, a young Rose bravely started her own band. Still with them, Rose is yet again working on a new album.
“I want to spread the sound out more,” she said. “I want more instruments on stage and for the live shows, a little more theatrics and more complex music.”
From primarily performing with tracks to having a band, Rose realized the differences between a church musician and a jazz musician. She recognized she could embody each. Eventually, when she started meeting jazz musicians they called her for vocal gigs. She made a name for herself within Los Angeles’ eclectic jazz scene and with her own band. That continued for a few years.
“I remember being very aware of the fact that I was trying to pull these two very different worlds together.” Rose said.
She described it as, “trying to fit into the more elite crowd but being common.”
“My talent keeps bringing me into these spaces but I was born in South Central and I went to private school,” Rose said. “Ultimately, I know how to relate to people. I think jazz excludes and it’s about not excluding. It’s about pulling these things together.”
This discernment and her skill in combining the realism of hip-hop and the polish of jazz on stage are her gifts.
Jazz has always stretched outwards absorbing influences from diverse musical styles. But a renaissance is happening. It’s an offspring of the classic straight-ahead sound taking shape now in a form inclusive of hip-hop soul, funk and a mix of global sounds within the realms of jazz. This is being created from the cream of LA artists.
Rose has been working with many of the artists creating this sound, such as Dexter Story, Dwight Trible, Miguel Atwood Ferguson, Flying Lotus and Thundercat. The time is ripe for her gifts.
“Now, because there’s a new vanguard,” Rose said.
Shafiq Husayn, founding member of the band, Sa-Ra Creative Partners, called Rose in 2006 to sing background for them around the same time she started her band. Rose describes Sa-Ra as the Parliament Funkadelic of our time and the innovators of this four-way fusion of soul, jazz, hip-hop and electronic.
“I started singing with Sa-Ra and then The Decoders,” Rose said. “As eccentric, funk driven and the funk imagery that they have, like Parliament, their musicality is equivalent to jazz.”
Working with them is how she started working with more straight-up jazz heads. Rose discovered that while jazz musicians know how much work their craft requires they also know just how good they are. Then, she added there are people like herself.
But while insisting she hasn’t been groomed for jazz, Rose also knows her worth, too. “I’m here,” she says.
She realizes it may seem as though she came out of nowhere while everybody else had already been doing this music together and studying.
“It’s like, ‘Where were you? Who are you? What are your credentials? I should know you because we’ve been doing this. How don’t I know you? Then you come and sing, like that? Where have you been?’
“I’m like, ‘At a church at 56th and Broadway?’ I don’t know,” Rose retorts
For the past four years Rose has been doing shows at Grand Performances in different calibers. Initially, she was primarily background, she moved on to solos and in the past two years she has hosted.
“I really desire and think that I’m just here to be the voice of this time, for America,” Rose said. “America doesn’t have a voice. Me sneaking up here is going to challenge the listener but it’s more like learning something new. You haven’t been being enthralled with anything, nothing has been captivating you.”
She wants to experiment with timeless music, to speak about principles that are important to her and to not dumb down her subject matter.
“That’s the decision that a lot of artists have to make,” she said. “Do I want to make money or do I want to make a difference, an impact? I don’t believe we are given these talents arbitrarily. So if you have it remember to share it for the right reason. I’m going to keep doing this because our babies, and everyone need something to see and believe in.”
Rose is featured on a new record with trumpet player, Josef Leimberg called Astral Progressions. It’s an all fusion jazz record including Kamasi Washington, Bilal and Georgia Muldrow.