Unbelievably, Scarecrow Sessions is Kiki Ebsen’s first legitimate jazz album devoted to 12 special standards. It’s what her famous father, Buddy ("The Beverly Hillbillies", "Barnaby Jones", "Breakfast At Tiffany’s"), always wished for.
The original Scarecrow in the "Wizard of Oz" — he later played the Tinman, but had to bow out early due to a severe allergic reaction to the metal dust in the make-up — kept encouraging his musically-inclined daughter to learn jazz standards. But she kept doing her own thing, far removed from jazz, writing and performing her own original songs and backing pop/rock/R&B stars like Chicago, Boz Scaggs, Tracy Chapman, Christopher Cross, and Wilson Phillips on tour.
After Buddy Ebsen passed away in 2003, Kiki discovered a song he co-wrote entitled, “Missing You.” A ponderous ballad, the song gave the Scarecrow’s daughter ample room to define her own vocal cast.
After five solo records, she finally turned to the jazz standards he loved to hear, releasing Scarecrow Sessions with David Mann as producer on September 30, 2014. Twelve of the covers were chosen specifically with her father in mind, including “Missing You” and soundtracks from movies Buddy starred in (“Moon River” from "Breakfast At Tiffany’s", “At The Codfish Ball” — "Captain January", “St. Louis Blues” — "Banjo On My Knee", and the two from "Wizard Of Oz", “Over The Rainbow” and “If I Only Had A Brain”).
The result is an astounding, malleable debut on her Painted Pony Media label. Kiki Ebsen warmly embraces melodic meaning around lyrical turns, leaving plenty of space for her delicate, yet perceptive vocal persona and a world of inhabitants — a reluctant thief in the night (“You Don’t Know What Love Is”), an illusory, alien dream (“Laura”), as world-weary an enchantress as Barbara Stanwyck in that 1936 movie with Buddy (“Easy To Love”).
With her are the best jazz musicians to entrust with a debut befitting the daughter of Buddy Ebsen: bassist John Patitucci, guitarist Chuck Loeb, drummer Clint de Ganon, keyboardist Henry Hey, violinist/violist Antoine Silverman, cellist Sachi Patitucci, and saxophonist/flutist David Mann. They took good care of their featured artist, accompanying her every vocal journey through the lifts and surrender.
Kiki Ebsen shines when she covers certain songs on the album that were especially dear to her father, and to an adoring public: the wavy crash of nostalgia and reflection in “Moon River,” the wind-swept “Over The Rainbow,” and an uptempo, smooth jazz redo of “If I Only Had A Brain,” reflecting her past as songwriter to Boney James, Jessy J., and Eric Marienthal.
In “Moon River” and “Over The Rainbow,” Ebsen refuses to sink into sentimentality or insecure vocal theatrics. She doesn’t have to; her voice is there, a pulsating heartbeat liable to run off at any moment, but it stays, breathing life to the moments in between the lyrical highs and lows. Breathtakingly original, a true tearjerker. If it’s possible to feel the pride and joy of a parent showering down on his lovely daughter, it’s through these songs.
The singer-songwriter went on an extensive tour last summer to promote her debut jazz album, receiving the highest of praise from the jazz community: JAZZed Magazine (“highly approachable and there’s joy in the listening”), Smooth Jazz Therapy (“Everything about Scarecrow Sessions oozes class”), Jazz Weekly (“An impressive album that reflects the musical upbringing that her father…gave her”), and Smooth Jazz Daily (“With her album Kiki has obviously reached the hearts of those who fondly remember the golden days of Hollywood”).
Yesterday, Kiki Ebsen gave more insight into the making of the album and plans for the future.
What are you most proud of with this new album? The overall quality of the product. This includes the performances, production, arrangements, and packaging. It quite simply could be the best work I’ve done so far.
What does jazz mean to you as a classically trained singer? Jazz is a great opportunity to explore places you wouldn’t otherwise go in the classical world. To get freely out of your comfort zone knowing you have the foundation vocally to go there. To discover an array of colors in your voice and play with them at will like an artist’s paint box. Combine that with your emotional connection to the music and lyric, and some really wonderful, unexpected things start to unfold.
Your voice is phenomenal, unlike anybody else out there. What other plans are there for you creatively? Well, thank you so much. I want to do a follow-up record to Scarecrow Sessions and keep exploring the jazz genre in general. I am a songwriter as well, so I hope to do another original record in there somewhere. I am lining up solo performances for 2015-2016 that also include some guest appearances with orchestras and big bands, too. It is all pretty exciting.