You think you were busy before Christmas. Singer Stephanie Haynes, who lives in San Juan Capistrano, says she traveled “about 600 miles” making gigs during one week in December, with a club date in Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday, the grand opening of a Japanese nightclub in Torrance on Tuesday, a stop at Chadney’s in Burbank on Wednesday and a weekend engagement at a new nightspot, Central Park West, in Brentwood.
The following week found her doing three nights in the Sheraton San Pedro’s Stingaree Gulch room with pianist Gildo Mahones. Talk about roadwork. She’s back in Orange County today at El Matador Restaurant in the Huntington Harbour Mall with bassist Luther Hughes, keyboardist David Garfield and drummer Paul Kreibich.
Of course, there’s good reason why she’s in such demand. Her warm tone, smart sense of phrasing and a huge repertoire of jazz standards has won her comparison to singers such as Irene Kral and Sarah Vaughan. “I’ve listened to both of them a lot, but I don’t consciously try to sing in their style,” Haynes said last weekend. “I think people hear certain qualities in my voice that remind them of Kral, but your sound is God given. You can’t really change it.” (And as for Vaughan? “Nobody has a voice like that.”)
Singing came late to Haynes, who originally had designs on being a classical flutist. But while studying the instrument at UC Santa Barbara, she began hanging out with musicians who were into jazz and who played for parties and dances. “They asked me if I could sing,” she recalls, “and before long, I was getting up to sing the only two songs I knew the words to: ‘Misty’ and ‘Satin Doll.’ ”
After moving to Albuquerque in the early ‘70s, she began working the local scene. She returned to Southern California in 1974 and since has appeared in clubs, restaurants and hotels all over the area.
“There was no real effort involved for me to become a singer,” she said. “Having a background in instrumental music made it easy. Singers have a pretty bad reputation as musicians, but I had all the basics, how to count, how to stay in key. . . .” She said she has no desire to return to the flute. “I’ve never had the desire to play jazz on the flute. I’ve tried it and know how it should sound, but I’ve got all that classical training to overcome. I hear myself and say: ‘No, that’s not going to do it.’ ”
Haynes has come a long way from the days when “Misty” and “Satin Doll” were the only songs she knew. The most recent of her two recordings, 1988’s “Here’s That Rainy Day” (on Trend/Discovery with keyboardist Cedar Walton, bassist Al McKibbon and drummer Billy Higgins) is a collection of Jimmy Van Heusen tunes that includes well-known numbers such as “It Could Happen to You” and “Darn That Dream” alongside such lesser known vehicles as “I Could Have Told You.” Live, she mixes familiar warhorses--"I’m Old Fashioned,” Duke Ellington’s “I Didn’t Know About You"--with Brazilian numbers such as Jobim’s “No More Blues.”
Recently, she’s been looking more to the Brazilians for material. “There’s a whole genre of modern Brazilian music that doesn’t have the exposure it should have,” she said, citing composer-performers Ivan Lins, Milton Nascimento and Leny Andrade, a singer who because of her scat skills often is called the Brazilian Ella. “I’m open to any kind of music that sounds good to me. But nothing sounds good to me unless it’s coming out of the jazz tradition or it’s Brazilian. I hear pop music--you can’t avoid it these days--but I don’t hear any that I like.”
She thinks taste in music is a function of age. “The young haven’t been exposed to this kind of music; they don’t have a consciousness of jazz being different from any other form of entertainment. That has to be taught, but where do they get the instruction? They’ll pay attention to rock bands because they are blown away by the volume and can involve themselves by dancing. But everything else remains dressing for socializing, certainly not for listening.”
Haynes will be going into the studio in January with pianist Alan Broadbent, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Kreibich to record more jazz standards. On tap are Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jump Spring,” Sonny Rollins “Pentup House” and Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” (with lyrics by Leonard Feather). She’ll also begin an open-ended, five-day-a-week engagement at Ron’s in Palm Desert on Jan. 3 (a stint at Ron’s in Laguna Beach, with bassist Hughes, lasted 2 1/2 years). It looks like, for Stephanie Haynes, next month will be as busy as this one.
Who: Stephanie Haynes, with Luther Hughes on bass, David Garfield on keyboards and Paul Kreibich on drums.
When: Thursday, Dec. 27 at 8 p.m.
Where: El Matador Restaurant, 16903 Algonquin St., Huntington Beach.
Whereabouts: Take the Valley View Street exit from the San Diego Freeway and head toward the ocean. Valley View will turn into Bolsa Chica Road, which will dead-end at Warner Avenue. Go right onto Warner until the next traffic signal, where it intersects with Algonquin Street. El Matador is in the Huntington Harbour Mall.
Where to Call: (714) 846-5337.