Interview: Singer-Songwriter Jasmine Tommaso on Recording Her Debut Album Listening Party (2013)
At the end of 2013, Jasmine Tommaso released her debut album, Listening Party, a collection of acoustic interpretations of classic rock, pop, and jazz songs and a pair of original compositions from the young Italian-American singer. She also did her first video, an acoustic cover of “Yellow” with arranger-guitarist Federico Ferrandina. Tommaso and Ferrandina found time to record “Climbing Up The Walls,” “Drive,” and “Time Is Running Out,” as well.
The eleven-track Listening Party album opens with Tommaso’s creative reworking of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” combining her powerful voice wrapped around an understated bass line. Also featuring a single horn player, Tommaso’s stripped-down version of Dennis Edmonton’s classic still retains the defiant snarl of the 1968 tune. A similar spirit of rebellion is found in her cover of the acoustic blues introduction to “American Woman,” another tune from Canada which The Guess Who topped the charts with in 1970. This website recently caught up with the busy singer who is currently splitting time between the recording studio and a full line-up of live shows. She agreed to answer a few questions about these songs and more.
6D: Were you familiar with “Born To Be Wild” before recording the track? Why did you choose this one to open the album?
JT: I was indeed. It’s a song I’ve always loved. The message appears to be simple, but the implications run deep. The nature and spirit of the record revolves around the concept of “freedom,” so I couldn’t have chosen a more fitting song to open the album with.
Jasmine Tommaso’s version of “Born To Be Wild” is online:
6D: The “American Woman” intro you sang is one of the all-time best song openings yet some fans are unaware of it since it was cut from the single version. Whose inspired idea was it to cover this?
JT: A lot of research went into this project. My producer, Marvin Etzioni, and I wanted to shine light upon hidden gems like the “American Woman” intro, that often get lost in the sea of covers and renditions that have been done throughout the years. That’s why we focused on the intro alone, rather than continuing on to the rest of the song. This one was Marvin’s genius find.
Jasmine Tommaso’s intro for “American Woman” is on SoundCloud:
Besides singing in English, Tommaso does “No, No, No, No” in Italian and Donovan’s “Catch The Wind” in Spanish.
6D: Where did the idea for these two songs come from? Did you also sing “Catch The Wind” in English and then opt for Spanish instead? What was the thinking?
JT: Since I had just moved to Los Angeles from Rome, I felt the need to include this transition musically. I cared to invite the listeners to experience songs in Italian (my first language) to bring them closer to my journey: an introduction to my personal and artistic background. Also, Marvin and I chose to cover Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” in Spanish to comment on the Hispanic reality I was introduced to when moving to California. Each song is a piece to the puzzle that recreates my experience as a free artist in Los Angeles.
Jasmine Tomasso’s rendition of “No, No, No, No” is here:
6D: Your cover of “As Tears Go By” in Italian really works. Did you choose this Rolling Stones’ tune or someone on the production side?
JT: I was excited that Marvin found this tune in Italian. The greatness of this project is a direct result of the wonderful collaboration with my producer and the late sound engineer David Vaught. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.
And one more from Jasmine Tommaso using her mother tongue, “As Tears Go By”:
6D: Which songs on Listening Party did you write?
JT: There are a few songs I had written for this project, but I decided to include just two. The first on the record is entitled “Learning to be Free”, and it was co-written with my producer. It started when I was at David’s studio: I sat at the piano and it magically came to me. Marvin came up with the lyrics almost instantaneously. It was a song that knew it existed before we did. We spent time in the recording studio figuring out instrumentation and production, but we finally stripped it down to the essentials: cello & voice.
As I mentioned at the beginning, “Freedom” plays an important role in the record, and it’s message here is loud and clear. Though we are born “free”, we often get in our own way and sabotage our sense of freedom by limiting ourselves. This song is an invitation to leave fear and insecurity behind, to stop indulging in self-doubt and live openly in accordance with our true selves.
Jasmine Tommaso and Marvin Etzioni’s original composition, “Learning To Be Free,” is online:
The other tune that made the cut is “Choosing.” This original piece is related to abandoning falsehood, and embracing the journey of self discovery. The song was written at a time in which most of the certainties around me came crashing down. It was time for change. The tough kind of change you don’t want, but know will be for the better. It comes down to choosing to be honest with ourselves every time. Even though it might require extreme hardship and pain.
A video clip of “I Wish You Love” by the Tommaso Quartet live at Vibrato Jazz & Grill in Bel Air is on YouTube, featuring Giovanni Tommaso on bass, Pasquale Strizzi on piano, Tim Pleasant on drums, and Jasmine Tommaso on vocals:
6D: “You’ve Got What I Want” has such a Roaring Twenties feel to it. Are you a fan of such Prohibition-era jazz?
JT: Jazz is my love. It’s why I’m a singer today. And I love all styles of jazz really, this type is just one of them.
I wanted this tune to make a statement: to be minimal but BIG. The most simple things in life are often what make the most impact. This is the philosophy behind this piece.
6D: I was impressed by Antonella Sabatino’s video for “Yellow.” Any chance you will work with her again?
JT: I love Antonella and her work. We both went to the same high school in Italy. She is doing wonderful things and I hope to collaborate with her again very soon.
Watch a video for “Yellow,” directed by Antonella Sabatino, that features Jasmine Tommaso and guitarist and arranger Federico Ferrandina:
6D: Any idea when your next video will come out? Will it be a track from Listening Party?
JT: I have several ideas in mind, but nothing’s set yet. It might be something from “Listening Party,” but I’m also working on some original material I’m very excited about. We’ll see how it unfolds…
Jasmine Tommaso was born in Italy but is currently living in America. She first earned a scholarship to attend the Berklee School of Music in the Boston area, later she moved to California and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2007. She has since split her time between Italy and the United States
6D: How long did you live in Boston? Was this your first extended time abroad? What impressions do you have of being a student in Boston?
JT: I attended Berklee College of Music on a five-week summer performance scholarship. I absolutely adored the city, but it wasn’t my first time in the States. I actually first came to the U.S. in 2001 to complete high school in Dana Point, California. That was quite the change, coming from Rome.
6D: Well, as the site is literally named after a composition of your father and Stefano Torossi, I must ask, what was it like growing up in an environment with so much music around you from your father, uncle Vito, and others? What are some of your earliest musical memories?
JT: Music was there before I could even remember it! And it was pure bliss. I took it for granted for a while, especially as a kid. But I snapped out of that pretty quickly. My first “collaboration” with my dad was at one of Carlo Pagnotta’s jazz-heaven birthday parties. I was nine years old when I sang “Lullaby Of Birdland” with my dad (Giovanni Tommaso) on bass, Stefano Bollani on the piano, and Roberto Gatto on drums.
“Lullaby Of Birdland” by Apogeo with Jasmine Tommaso and Vito Favara at Parco Archeologico Selinunte 2009 featuring Giovanni Tommaso on double bass, Anton Pinciotti on drums, Vito Favara on piano, Bebo Ferra on guitar, and Jasmine Tommaso on vocals is on YouTube:
6D: Have you met Stefano Torossi?
JT: I may have through my father when I was little. But I can’t say for sure, so officially…not yet!
6D: Who are a few singers and bands that have most influenced you?
JT: The list is quite long, but some of my favorites are Esperanza Spalding and Eva Cassidy.
6D: Are there any music projects, performances, recordings, or the like, that you can share?
JT: I have a live show schedule on my website that I update monthly (http://www.jasminetommaso.com/live-shows/). If fans are ever in the Los Angeles area, check it out, I’d love to meet you!
Also, I’m currently working on new material for my next project so…I’ll keep you posted on any upcoming recordings/videos, etc.
See the Jasmine Tommaso Quartet live at the Casa Del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica where she will be performing throughout the month of April. Tommaso’s Trio and Duo will also be playing gigs around the Los Angeles area during the month. Visit her website for the latest concert and release information including details of her live performance schedule.
The following video LP features the music of Jasmine Tommaso including live performances of “Summertime,” “Lullaby Of Birdland,” “Young At Heart,” “I Wish You Love,” “Cry Me a River,” and Antonella Sabatino’s video for “Yellow”:
Listen to the entire Listening Party album at bandcamp.com.
Jasmine Tommaso recently appeared at the conclusion of her father Giovanni’s 50th jazz anniversary at the Auditorium Parco Della Musica in Rome, Italy, singing “Someone To Watch Over Me.” Players include Claudio Filippini on piano, Anthony Pinciotti on drums, Daniele Scannapieco on saxophone, Giovanni Tommaso on bass, and Jasmine Tommaso on vocals:
A promotional video for Jasmine Tommaso’s upcoming Nelle mie corde album has just been posted online. The Alfa Music release recorded in Rome in January 2015 features Fabrizio Bosso on trumpet, Claudio Filippini on piano, Giovanni Tommaso on bass, Marco Valeri on drums, and Jasmine Tommaso on vocals. Here’s a sneak preview of the making of this new Jasmine Tommaso album:
More Music and Info
Jasmine Tommaso’s personal website
A selection of acoustic covers as well as a Simone Sello-Tommaso original composition are found on SoundCloud: