ABOUT

“An emotive performer who breathes passion into everything she performs.” 

LONDON TIME OUT

Born in London of English and Trinidadian parents, New York-based vocalist-songwriter, Tessa Souter, grew up “predisposed to the blend of cultures reflected in her music, which contains Middle Eastern, Brazilian and flamenco elements in an airy jazz framework.” (Philadelphia City Paper).  The Downbeat Critics Poll Rising Star “shimmers in the dark” says the London Sunday Times – which placed her album, Beyond the Blue (Venus-Motema), # 6 on the Best Albums of 2013 along with Gregory Porter (# 3) and Stacey Kent (#10).  Heralded by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the few exceptional standouts in the crowded field of female jazz singers,” Tessa’s “truly beautiful voice” (Sirius Radio) and penchant for exploring music mostly untouched by other singers have set her apart as “one of the finest and most fearless vocalists to have emerged in recent years.” (Boston Globe).

“Broadly imaginative” (New York Times). “Expressive . . . full of passion” (Philadelphia Inquirer), NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan puts her “at the top of my list of great talent. She really moves me.” As Ms. Jordan told the Boston Globe: “She’s a very giving person. And that’s what she does with her music. She gives it.” “Tessa’s singing who she really is,” vocalist Kate McGarry told the Los Angeles Times. “And what she’s lived. It’s that same combination of childlike openness and gumption that she’s survived that comes out in her songs. And people love that.”
 
“My earliest memories are of singing for my mother’s friends when I was about three. She’d have me singing these adult songs and they’d all be laughing and clapping,” she says. “It was very encouraging.” She studied the piano from the age of eight until 12 when, after hearing her voice, her piano teacher encouraged her to take up singing instead. “By the time I was 13, I was taking my guitar to school every day and playing and singing for all my friends at break time.”

“Souter’s crystalline contralto and impeccable phrasing are mighty arrows in her quiver, but it is her ability to become one with a song, finding its intrinsic core that enables her to score successive bull’s-eyes … an exquisite exercise in seductive spell-casting.” 

CHRISTOPHER LOUDON, JAZZ TIMES

But Tessa’s musical aspirations were derailed by an early marriage and the birth of her son, followed by college (she has a degree in English Literature from London University), and eventually a career in features journalism writing for Elle, Elle Decoration, Vogue, the Guardian Women’s Page and other publications in the UK and US. When her son was an adult, a vacation to San Francisco in the 1990s led to Tessa moving stateside, initially cleaning houses while she established herself as a full-time freelance journalist. There, someone discovered her singing karaoke in a bar on Market Street and made it their mission to get her to sing professionally. “I wasn’t very confident and had to be practically bullied on to the stage. I certainly didn’t imagine it would turn into a career,” she says. “But I got so much great feedback whenever I sat in, I thought why not see if I can get into college and study some more.”
Tessa earned a scholarship to Manhattan School of Music, but dropped out after one semester, preferring to hone her craft in a mentorship with the inimitable vocalist Mark Murphy. “After he heard me sing at one of his workshops, he asked me to take care of his private classes and workshops in return for free lessons. “Of course I said yes. I studied with him for four fantastic years, followed by many more as a close friend and mentor.”
 
Tessa has since performed all over the world, including Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Mezzrow, the Blue Note, Jazz Standard and Joe’s Pub, New York; Pizza on the Park, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Ronnie Scott’s and the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, UK; Blue Brass, Palermo, Italy; Dr Gab’s in Geneva, Switzerland; four sold out tours of the philharmonic halls of Russia; and six appearances at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival where, in 2015, she was chosen from over 1,000 festival performers to be one of four filmed by PBS Television. Her 2017 appearance was picked by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle as the “one show overall not to miss.”  Her invariably standing-room-only monthly residency at Greenwich Village’s iconic 55 Bar is in its 14th year. 
 
Souter, who cites Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Sandy Denny, Leon Thomas, Jon Lucien, Andy Bey, Milton Nascimento, and mentors Mansur Scott, Mark Murphy and Sheila Jordan as influences, has made four critically-acclaimed CDs as a leader, including two for the Japanese label, Venus, and two for the multi-Grammy-nominated Motéma label. She also appears on legendary bassist Charnett Moffett‘s Spirit of Sound (Motéma) album and on French singer Pascalito’s upcoming The Picture of Rafael Ohayon.  She has performed and/or recorded with Steve Kuhn, Alan Broadbent, Kenny Werner, Yotam Silberstein, Yasushi Nakamura, David Gilmore, Marvin Sewell, Billy Drummond, Joel Frahm, Lew Soloff, Romero Lubambo, Francois Moutin, Alec Dankworth, Nikki Iles, Jim Hart, Lynne Arriale and Howard Johnson, who says of her, “Her brilliant songs and lyrics make her stand out from the pack so very much, not to mention how well she handles other people’s material.” 
 
She is currently working on her upcoming release, Picture in Black and White – a tribute to the ancestors of her mixed-race heritage. “Finding out at the age of 28 that my father was black was a seismic shift in consciousness,” she says. “Luckily, I had music to help me express it.” Whether performing in philharmonic halls or in the intimacy of a New York jazz club,  “Tessa Souter is a beguiling artist who infuses everything she interprets with voluptuous intelligence and keen emotional insight.” (KQED Arts).  “She makes her audiences feel as though they’ve just experienced something very special.” (Los Angeles Times)  “Best of all, she delivers it with a wit and a wink worthy of the toniest joints in town.” (Time Out New York)

“Singers like her don’t come along every day.”

NEIL TESSER, CHICAGO EXAMINER

SOME Q&As WITH TESSA

Woman About Town 

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle  

ECMReviews.com