Born in New Jersey on March 27, 1968, she shares her birthday with Sarah Vaughan. Whilst not from a musical family, her parents had a wide range of musical tastes and she grew up surrounded by music and enjoyed singing from a young age. At the age of 14 she was at a friend’s house and heard the album Getz/Gilberto for the first time and fell in love with it, being particularly taken by the voice of João Gilberto, rather than vocalist Astrid Gilberto.
After she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York (other famous alumni include Yoko Ono and Carly Simon) as a student of language and literature, she went on to prepare for her masters degree in languages. It is these two passions – language and literature – that have more recently joined together with her love of music. Whilst studying for her masters degree she travelled to Europe and visited France and Germany. Having never had a chance to study music before she took the opportunity to study at the Guildhall School of Music in London.Whilst at the Guildhall she met and fell in love with saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, whom she later married in 1991.
Around this time she also started singing regularly at Café Boheme in Soho and began sending demo tapes to record companies and radio stations. As a result, she appeared in the Richard Loncraine/Ian McKellan 1995 film version of Shakespeare’s Richard III, singing the Trevor Jones original Come Be My Love in the opening sequence (the film also features Brighton Pavilion in a later scene). She also began performing at more venues across London, including as a support act at Ronnie Scott’s. Recently, nearly twenty years later, she appeared at Ronnie Scott’s as the main act and tickets were sold out for the whole week.
In 1997 she recorded her debut album, Close Your Eyes, the first of six studio albums for the Candid record label. Trumpeter and broadcaster Humphrey Lyttelton became an early fan of hers and wrote the sleeve notes for the album. In 1999 she released her second album Love Is…The Tender Trap as well as collaborating on her husband’s debut album, Only Trust Your Heart.
By the year 2000 she had recorded her third album under own name, entitled Let Yourself Go, which was a celebration of music associated with Fred Astaire. Her version of Irving Berlin’s Isn’t This A Lovely Day from this album was featured in the 2005 Uma Thurman film Prime.
In 2001 she guested on her husband’s second album, Brazilian Sketches, recording some of her favourite bossa nova tunes and released an album of ballads entitled Dreamsville. Her next album under her own name was In Love Again, a celebration of the music of Richard Rodgers, one of her favourite composers. Stacey Kent also wrote the liner notes for the 2005 reissue of Irene Kral’s Gentle Rain album. Her final album for the Candid label was The Boy Next Door, which saw her explore familiar standards from the Great American Songbook as well as more modern popular songs by Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Paul Simon. In 2006 she collaborated for a third time with husband Jim Tomlinson on his album The Lyric which earned him a BBC Jazz Award.
In 2007 she released her first album for Blue Note/EMI entitled Breakfast on the Morning Tram, which also featured compositions by husband Jim Tomlinson in collaboration with novelist-turned-lyricist Kazuo Ishiguro. The platinum-selling album earned her a Grammy award nomination. Becoming increasingly popular amongst French audiences, in 2008 she guested on French pop singer Georges Moustaki’s album Solitaire. By 2010 she had released her first French-language album, Raconte-moi… and a year later she released her first live album, Dreamer in Concert, recorded at La Cigale in Paris in May 2011. She had also began working with the French string quartet Quatuor Ébène and she can be heard on their 2011 live album Fiction, recorded live at Folies Bergère.
In 2013 she had the chance to work with one of her favourite Brazilian songwriters, Marcos Valle, the composer of So Nice (Summer Samba) and recorded an album with him entitled Ao Vivo. She also appeared on Joe Barbieri’s Chet Baker tribute album, Chet Lives! and released her first album for Parlophone/Warner entitled The Changing Lights.
Whilst Changing Lights might not seem like a major departure, as it features an entirely Brazilian repertoire, together with more tunes composed by Tomlinson and Ishiguro, it is the first Stacey Kent album to feature her playing guitar. A lover of languages, she can often be heard on stage singing repertoire in French and Portuguese. She also shares some non-music related hobbies with her husband – both are keen readers and they are both enthusiastic skiers and frequently spend the winter months on skiing trips abroad.
Stacey Kent appears at the Pavilion Theatre in Worthing on Saturday 8th November 2014.
Turning Point: Ipanema Dreams. Interview with Brian Glasser on the album that changed her life – Getz/Gilberto by Stan Getz and João Gilberto in Jazzwise Dec. 2013/Jan. 2014.
Interview with Stacey Kent on www.zicline.com (in French)
This article appeared in issue 31 of The Sussex Jazz Mag, available here.
Stacey Kent Discography