Emmaline’s New Turn on Jazz Takes Its Turn in a New Jazz Series

Emmaline Photo by Brian Girton, courtesy of Emmaline
A good way to meet an emerging artist in 2022 is through social media and that’s one way jazz singer Emmaline has built her growing fanbase. The 24-year old vocalist and violinist from Cincinnati is an Instagram sensation, showcasing the old school sensibilities of jazz with a fresh, new approach. She’s headed to Houston for an August 24 show in the upstart Live at The Astorian jazz series.

Since she’s got a voice which recalls the greats of her chosen genre and more than a half-million followers across various social media platforms, we asked Emmaline which jazz great might have been a good follow had Instagram or TikTok existed in their day.

“I would have really loved to have been able to follow along with Ella (Fitzgerald),” she said and noted “she had such an amazing instrument and such an amazing way in which she used it at the time, which was incredibly groundbreaking because she was a horn, she was using her voice in a way that horn players would use their instrument and she was using it in so many unique ways. That, I think, really has always drawn me to her sound. And, I think also everything that everybody says is that Ella was like this sweetheart, so I would have loved to follow along in that time with her career.”

Maybe it’s too soon to dub Emmaline jazz’s next sweetheart, but she’s built a solid fan base since beginning her career in earnest in 2018. She’s the daughter of a jazz pianist and singer and pursued music at university, so she’s rooted to the genre. We tell her it’s exciting to think she’s introducing young music fans to a traditional American music form.

“It’s actually super crazy how vast the age range of my audience is and if I literally look at the metrics on social media or on music streaming platforms like Apple Music or Spotify, it will say the age groups of the people that listen to you and across the board it’s from 19- and 20-year olds all the way up to 70-year olds that listen to my music,” she shared. “I think it’s bringing in new listeners that don’t listen to jazz or don’t have much familiarity with the music but then it’s also connecting with people who really love jazz and its history. It’s kind of a marriage of both young audiences and older audiences as well.”

Though she delivers them with exciting interpretations, Emmaline isn’t stuck on standards. She’s interested in songwriting and moving the genre along with new classics. Her albums feature original material she's written, she’s been interviewed by American Songwriter and on occasion she's written new songs from challenges issued by her social media followers. She features those songs and her takes on all sorts of music (check out her cover of the 2006 Cherish hit “Do It To It”) on her Instagram page where nearly 200,000 followers tune in to hear her and her frequent collaborator, guitarist Ryan Mondak.

“I would say I have had a real passion for songwriting for most of my life and it really wasn’t until I was in college that I really started writing my own songs,” she said. “I have a cool job of being able to really unpack those experiences that we all share and put words and melodies to them that people can really connect to.

“I really love pop music and I love R&B, but I also love jazz. So, with my songwriting, I love to make melodies and lyrics that are really accessible, that a lot of people can relate to, and kind of sneak in some more advanced harmony and melodies that are a little bit more inspired by the jazz realm to kind of meld all those worlds together.”

There’s buzz that Emmaline could be jazz’s next big thing. She’s already worked with artists like Chaka Khan and Bootsy Collins. Expectations are building for greatness.

“I think as artists we have a really difficult job of staying true to ourselves and our art and what truly inspires us,” she said. “With social media, we’ve opened ourselves up to being able to hear everybody’s opinions about us at any second, any Tweet, any comment, so I think it’s incredibly important to be able to tune that out and to realize that as artists the only expectation that we really have to hold up to is our own expectation of ourselves and the kind of art we want to hold ourselves up to creating.

click to enlarge
The Astorian seeks to be Houston's new hub for national jazz acts
Photo by Raul Casares, courtesy of WOND3R

“It’s incredibly difficult to not get caught up in, ‘Oh, what do people want to hear from me?’ It’s hard to tune that out but I think it’s incredibly necessary in order to create music that is truly inspiring and truly yourself.”

If Emmaline is truly jazz’s next big thing, that makes anyone at her August 24 show in Houston a potential witness to history. The show is part of a new-ish music series held in the posh digs of The Astorian and curated by Houstonian and jazz great Eric Harland.

“Houston has given birth to these great jazz artists and this great foundation of jazz but rarely do they come back. And, if they do come back, they don’t really have a place to play,” said Kerry Chrapliwy, founding partner of Live at The Astorian. “The main goal is to get national acts to come through. They’re going to Austin, they’re going to Dallas, they might be going other places. Houston is the most diverse city in America by 20 years, we need to be supporting the arts and music, especially jazz and the rich history that we have with all these jazz musicians. It’s time we bring it back and have a venue that’s kind of bringing these national acts back to Houston.”

Harland has drummed on hundreds of recordings, runs his own record label and is a member of Charles Lloyd’s band, which recently was named DownBeat’s Jazz Group of the Year. His involvement in the series, along with the efforts of notable Houston musicians and jazz enthusiasts, combine nicely with the venue itself. The Heights-area space, which is a wedding venue on weekends, was designed to recall Grand Central Station, Chrapliwy said. It boasts an urban, upscale vibe with chandeliers, mosaics and a panoramic view of the skyline. And, it can hold as many as 500 jazz aficionados. Chrapliwy said the series plans to bring national jazz acts through its doors every couple of months.

Including Emmaline, who is on tour this summer and will play Houston for the first time. Her band includes Mondak on guitar, Jenna Reel on keys, drummer Isaiah Cook and Trey Campbell, Emmaline’s brother, on bass. She acknowledged she’s learned a lot from music veterans around her but said, “my peers are maybe even more so inspiring to me than anybody else because we’re all in the same place and we’re all trying to get our foot in the door in this industry and we’re working really hard.

click to enlarge
Emmaline has more than 500,000 followers across the social media spectrum
Photo by Brian Girton, courtesy of Emmaline

“Basically, since I’m an independent artist I’m working on doing all my own touring advancing and doing all the small details myself because that’s what we have to do in this industry now, unless we’re on major labels. It’s hard work. It’s every day dealing with business and dealing with money, but also trying to be an artist. To see other people out there doing that and not giving up, that’s incredibly inspiring to me because it’s hard work.”

Emmaline said a venue like The Astorian, and working with people who understand musicians’ needs, can make a huge difference in a performance.

“We’re always looking for venues that are easy to settle into and feel like we’re comfortable there,” she said. “The easier it is to load in and do a sound check that goes very smoothly, and then sit in a greenroom with a cup of tea and just hang out – since we’re on the road and everything’s so busy and we’re popping in and out of hotels and getting back in the van – just to have a little bit of comfort and chill at the venue, that’s something that we always are excited to experience.”

“I’m incredibly excited because more than 80 percent of the dates I’m performing this summer are cities that I have not yet been able to perform in. So, it’s really exciting for me and it’s a huge milestone to be able to expand,” she said. “I’ve never even been to Texas before, so this is my first time and I’m just super excited. There’s nothing like being able to travel with your friends and make music and be able to meet a bunch of people and share an experience like watching live music together. It’s just not something I take for granted and I’m incredibly looking forward to it.”

Emmaline is this month’s featured artist in the Live at the Astorian jazz series, Wednesday, August 24 at The Astorian, 2500 Summer Street. Doors at 7 p.m. for this all ages show presented by WOND3R and Eric Harland Presents. Tickets available via Prekindle, $40-$95.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.