Monday, August 20, 2012

Open Letter to Haley Reinhart: All That Jazz

"Pssst...Jazz is your calling, Haley. Follow your destiny."

Dear Haley,

As you may or may not know, I've been obsessively following your musical odyssey ever since being captivated by your Season 10 American Idol audition of Oh Darlin' over 18 months ago. Since then, I've watched every performance and interview you've given, saw you perform live in South Florida (where you famously signed my flask), follow your twitter, subscribe to your website, and have bought every stitch of music you've ever made available for purchase.

Along the way, one of the things I've admired about you is your tremendous artistic versatility. There is virtually no genre I'm aware of that you can't perform beautifully. Hell, now we even know you can rap! That said, this blessing could also become a curse from a career perspective if you're not careful, because while it's obviously a blessing to be multi-talented, it can also create a "jack-of-all-trades" curse if it prevents you from dedicating yourself to a specific music path.

Your album, Listen Up!, which is an absolutely fantastic compilation, follows this pattern of  performing a variety of different sounds rather than settling on a specific theme or genre. A little Motown here, a little disco there, a little reggae here, a little rock there, a little pop ballad here, a little soul there, and all beautifully done, but it might have helped your label/management team promote your album if you had narrowed the genres. Ambiguity is extremely difficult to market, and we see that in how your promo has been all over the place, targeting demographics ranging from tweenage girls to middle aged men. Too much of everything to everybody spreads your resources thin, and can confuse both the customer and the retailer. When consumers are confused they tend not to buy.

So, if the goal is to make great music that sells well, and still stays true to who you are as a person and an artist, what direction would be best for you to go?

Well, we know that being the daughter of parents with their own 60's/70's cover band, your heart will always lie in classic rock. While I absolutely love your rock sound (Spiderweb, You Oughta Know, What Is And What Should Never Be, House Of the Rising Sun, etc.), I don't believe it allows you to maximize your incredible tone, phrasing, instincts and vocal abilities in general. It's somewhat limiting. Also, there aren't many doors open for rock music in today's radio market. So, for these reasons, I think it would be the wrong path to choose in establishing yourself as an artist.

You could also take a run at being a diva pop princess, with big, sappy ballads and some synth-driven dance tracks that appeal to the teens. However, while this format certainly sells well, you've always chafed at the idea of being identified this way as an artist. You have an old soul, and have made no secret that's not who you are or the kind of music you want to make. Hell, you appear to need a barf bag when discussing your own pop ballad, Undone, during interviews, and often seem to struggle connecting emotionally with it when performing live. Just not a natural fit. As far as mixing dance club tracks, just NO on so many levels I won't even get into it. So, obviously, you should NOT go the a pop-tart route, either.

Which leads us to your one, true calling: Jazz. Look, just like Pavarotti was naturally gifted to be an opera singer, you're similarly gifted as a jazz singer. You've said yourself that from the first time you opened your mouth to sing some jazz phrasing in high school the whole class stopped dead in their tracks, jaws agape.

Building on that, you went on to perform the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland after winning a national jazz competition. You studied and performed jazz in college, and then took your jazz talents to the Idol stage and received standing ovations performing jazz duets with Casey Abrams and Tony Bennett. After Idol, you subsequently recorded two more jazzy duets with Casey, releasing the gorgeous holiday single Baby It's Cold Outside, followed by a jazzed up cover of Hit The Road Jack on Casey's new album.

Of course, the piece-De-resistance came when you hit New Orleans and spontaneously performed God Bless The Child with the great Irvin Mayfield Jr. at his club in the French Quarter. It was caught on video by Casey, and was such a brilliant performance it garnered well over 100k views on YouTube. You blew away Irvin so powerfully that night he was compelled to invite you to perform with his band at his star-studded, Carnegie Hall show in October.

You must know deep down inside how gifted you are in this genre. It can't be tought, it can't be learned, it's just a blessing from above, and you would achieve greatness by giving it your full attention. I am absolutely convinced you could become known as one of the true legends of jazz, while at the same time staying true to the music your dad wisely forced you to sing as a tween when you wanted nothing to do with it.

Follow your head, follow your gut, follow your instincts, and follow destiny, for you were created to become a jazz singer who would help revive the genre to popularity levels unseen for generations. You are the sexy torch singer who must carry the jazz torch, and carry it to the loftiest levels, providing music pleasure and inspiration to millions.

Go for it, Haley!

Luv ya,
Kenny Poo

Haley's brilliant performance of God Bless The Child in New Orleans with Grammy winning Irvin Mayfield Jr. on trumpet.


  1. I agree. The Jazzy side of Haley is the direction she needs to head. Jazz vocals are meant for singers with unbelievable control over their voice. And Haley makes it known that she can do that. Enough of the pop, it doesn't showcase the quality of her voice and it's almost a slap in the face. She needs to be set on JAZZ JAZZ and JAZZ!!

    1. Thanks for commenting, HJ! It's true what you say, the pop genre just doesn't provide a wide enough canvas for her gorgeous voice to paint a full picture. It restricts her gifts. Jazz, on the other hand, is her natural element where phrasing, tone, range and instincts have no boundaries.

  2. You're so sweet :)

  3. I love jazzy Haley and hope she puts out a straight jazz album. I also agree that it's beneficial for an album to be consistent. However, I see nothing wrong with her exploring different genres on different albums. It would be a shame not to hear more songs like Keep Coming Back, Liar, Spiderweb, Hit The Ground Running, What You Don't Know and Now That You're Here. I think the pop ballads are beneath her and not a good fit for her voice.


    1. Thanks for commenting, Ryan. I love variety Haley, too, but she needs to establish herself in one genre before taking on others. Kelly Clarkson is a pop singer who also dabbles in country and other genres, but she's a pop singer first and that's where she makes her true mark.

      Similarly, after Haley has established herself as a jazz singer she could once again experiment with different musical flavors, but first and foremost needs to focus on jazz where she's most gifted.

  4. Ken, great letter. I agree too, Haley's genre is definitely jazz. I get mesmerized listening to her sing jazz. Some of the older vids of her ( especially Night & Day ) are fantastic. The Mayfield video just showed how talented she is. Hey when the obvious regulars in that club gave her props ... enuff said. (And of course the Carnegie Hall invite just proves this is where she belongs) My only concern if she goes to this music alone, could she draw enough sales?

    BTW, I got Casey's CD, Hit The Road Jack was fab. How about to test the waters here (I'm talking to you Interscope) Haley/Casey collaberation jazz album with more covers, throw in some Irvin Mayfield accompanies, can you dig it?

    Go Bills!! Go Sabres
    I'm out, jeff s. aka nevrbluffs

    1. Thanks, Jeff! Glad we agree on Haley, the Bills and the Sabres...the ultimate hat trick!

  5. First, I really appreciate your thoughtful letter to Haley. I know from twitter how much you care about her future and you convey this so sincerely in your post.

    It's funny because yesterday I stopped at my Mom's and showed her the Haley/Mayfield video. I was dazzled by it the first time I saw it--and it still knocks me out. The impromptu performance--the feel of club--Irvin M and the other great jazz musicians--Casey's giggling in delight at Haley's rendition of GBTC.

    As I was driving home from my Mom's I was thinking about some of the same points you made in this letter. I was thinking about some of it in reference to Casey as well. He also had different genres on his record. So--I kind of flipped out when I saw your tweet and read your blog post. Some sort of weird twitter telepathy or something.

    ITA--Haley can sing just about anything. But, when she sings jazz that's when she seems to feel it down to her bones. It's that old soul that takes over and transports her and the audience. At least that's how I see it.

    Same with Casey. He doesn't have the same natural vocal chops--but he's also versatile singer and a pretty good one. But, when he doing jazz--it's the same deal. It's in his soul.

    I was thinking after Season 10 was over that wouldn't it be a interesting idea to put these two musical soul mates together and form a real band. Kind of like a mixture of Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan. The concept of Fleetwood Mac and the jazz/pop/rock of Steely Dan. Fleetwood Mac had Stevie and Lindsey B writing together and separately. Stevie singing lead mostly--but others did as well. They were a group--but were still very individual at the same time. By doing that--it would bring two fan bases from AI together and give them a little better push into the market place. It would also be a different concept and may have caught the attention of the media and audience.

    None of this means that I didn't like Haley or Casey's cds--I did. I enjoyed Casey's a bit more because it has folk and jazz on it--two genres I'm partial to. I also like his melodies and chord changes a lot.

    I'm also all for a jazz cover album with those two--or on their own Laura

    1. Thanks, Laura! I'm not sure I agree Haley should form a band with Casey. Though I love their connection, I'd rather she collaborate with some top, established jazz musicians, like Mayfield, and learn the craft on the highest levels. Front some prestigious orchestras/ensembles with guest appearances and recordings, build solid relationships in the jazz world until she's ready to lay down her own tracks with her own musicians.

      Bottom line: Haley needs to be amidst the very best, because she is a jazz prodigy. Casey is talented, and should always be in her world, and they should continue to collaborate, but she shouldn't exclusively hitch her star to his wagon. She needs to branch out, and, quite frankly, so does he.

    2. I understand what you are saying. I meant that right out of the gate from idol--it may have been a cool idea to form some sort of a group with them from a sales perspective. I haven't seen that done on idol. They just promote singular artists and often it doesn't work out that well. If the group thing worked out--they could always do solo stuff. It's easier to get to do what you love in the business if you have more clout. And unfortunately--the clout comes from how much you sell---not how talented you are.

      Would love to see Haley hook up with some of the best jazz artists out there. Imagine seeing her at the Blue Note in NYC or something like that-- would be amazing

      I know you aren't too fond of Casey--but I hope you don't underestimate him. I think he's a brilliant talent. I've seen videos of some student films that he has scored, playing rock and blues in Vegas, doing straight jazz as an instrumentalist etc. Plus--playing stand up bass and singing at the same time is not easy to do Laura

    3. Laura: Not sure why I gave you the impression I'm not too fond of Casey, but it's not the case. I wasn't a huge fan of his on Idol, but I love his album and think he's a very talented musician. He may not be a vocal prodigy like Haley, but he's still a pretty solid singer and has a bright future.

      Haley is just something special, unique, once-in-a-lifetime, and pointing that out shouldn't be mistaken as a slight on Casey. In fact, if you spoke to Casey himself I bet he'd agree with my assessment. :)

    4. I think it was because the other day I was watching a video of Casey from last year (Playboy Jazz Fest) and I saw one of your comments--LOL

      I know Casey would agree that Haley has an unbelievable instrument. I remember him saying that right after he got booted from AI--that people haven't heard everything she can do etc.

      Just as a side note--I was just flipping the channels and there is this special about Ed Sullivan and the sixties. I heard ES say--here are the Animals singing THOTRS. I know the song--but don't recall ever seeing the Animals before. Eric Burden looked like this slight guy and then this deep, booming voice comes out of him. I didn't even know they were from the UK> Fast forward almost 50 yrs and Haley is kicking that song's ass on AI. Laura

    5. Laura: The closest we've come to seeing exactly what Haley is capable of was her GBTC in NOLA with Mayfield. That masterpiece of vocal styling and improvisation could only manifest in jazz music, and is why I say Haley would be cheating her gifts by not giving the genre her full attention. She can always do pop, rock or R&B with her eyes closed, but jazz is the only environment where her innate gifts have the freedom to fully bloom.

  6. Great letter Ken. You are so articulate in expressing your views. I waited to comment because I had to really think on it. No doubt if she devotes herself to jazz she could have a great career, but I don’t know if that would be enough for her (or for me either). She loves so many types of music she may feel stifled. I love the fact that she has so many different styles of music on Listen Up! I love Keep Coming Back, Spiderweb, Hit The Ground Running, the reggae vibe of Let's Run Away and dare I even say, Undone :) After listening to the Ole songs, I really enjoyed the nakedness and purity of some of the tracks where it became abundantly clear that some of Listen Up! ‘s were overproduced and didn’t allow her voice to shine through. I totally agree, she should stay away from doing pop songs though, not because she can’t do them, but it’s really a waste of her talent. That being said, I was blown away with what Haley can do with her voice in the Mayfield video and Hit The Road Jack and Baby It's Cold Outside. I just wouldn't want her to concentrate on jazz to the exclusion of other genres. If she had gone jazz right away Lollapalooza probably wouldn’t have happened, and what a shame that would have been.

    You mentioned the dilemma with marketing her. In my opinion, marketing her as a singer/songwriter with a retro bluesy vibe isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Here is another idea; Interscope, and gosh knows they have the influence, should aggressively market Oh My and the entire Listen Up! album to the producers of the film 50 Shades of Grey. That song is absolutely perfect for that movie. I don’t know if she wrote it with that in mind but a song could not fit a movie more. They are already talking about actors for the parts so they need to get on this stat. Spiderweb, Walking on Heaven and others could easily be used too, as I said, the whole album. If it happens, it would launch her into mega stardom. From there she would be free to do whatever she wanted; a jazz album, a duet album, whatever. If it doesn’t happen, keep marketing Listen Up! to other films and continue to promote her. I think her momentum is building and with a little luck and hard work it will explode.
    Pat @PatAHaleyFan

    1. Thanks for your comment, Granny Poo! ;) As I said in my post, it's the blessing/curse of being multi-talented. I wouldn't suggest she permanently abandon her musical diversity, it's a rare and beautiful gift to possess, but she first needs to establish herself as a world class jazz artist. That's her true calling, and spreading herself out too thin at the expense of maximizing her God given gift for jazz would do more harm than good at this stage of her career.

      Besides, jazz itself is a very diverse genre. Plenty of blues and soul influences could easily be incorporated.

    2. I understand your point Ken and to be fair, I haven't heard an original Haley jazz song. Maybe I'll be blown away and become a total jazz lover by what she writes and records but for right now I would have to say I don't loooooove jazz but I enjoy her covers. I guess whatever makes her happpy and whatever path she takes, I'll be in total support of her.

    3. Patty Poo: The beauty of jazz is that, in addition to composing original songs, you can make covers into originals with your own interpretations. Haley is a remarkable stylist, adding twists and turns to songs that have very little room for individuality, so imagine how amazing an album and concert of Haley styling, phrasing and interpreting with spontaneity would be.

      Remember, Haley always emphasizes how much she values improvisation in her artistry, and no other genre comes close to giving the boundless freedom for this as jazz.