Jean's second album, "Happy To Be With You", is winning friends with R&B and jazz fans alike…and 'happy' also sums up the way she feels about her whole life right now...
SINCE the last time we had the opportunity to rap with the talented and lovely Ms. Jean Carn, quite a few things have happened with the lady's career. Most prominent has been the advent of a new U.S. album, with production credits shared amongst members of the Philly International stable, most notably founders Gamble & Huff and Dexter Wansel — all of whom contributed to Jean's debut with the label last year.
The album, "Happy To Be With You" has received immediate acceptance across the states and seems to have lodged Jean firmly in the winners' circle with r&b and jazz fans everywhere.
Her name is rapidly becoming a household word in American record markets, but as yet, she is yet to break in the U.K. although having have a couple of singles released, "If You Wanna Go Back" released mid 1977 and "Happy To Be With You" released during the Summer of this year.
Of course, those who are familiar with Ms. Carn's career will recall that her musical acceptance originally came via her jazz-oriented recordings with former husband Doug Carn. A spell with Norman Connors led to broader acceptance (she duetted with Michael Henderson on "Valentine Love") and her Philly debut got more than its fair share of American airplay and sales as a result of several strong cuts, notably the single, "Free Love".
Jean's thoughts on the new album are naturally very positive. "I feel that the album is evolutionary step for me," she notes. "I've been striving to broaden my audience base whilst still maintaining a particular concept. Our original intention when I made that move away from the purer form of jazz was to get to more people and that's what seems to be happening.
"What's good about this particular album is that it's given me a chance to keep my jazz audience via two particular cuts as well as increasing the number of people who listen to me through the more commercial material."
The two cuts Jean refers to are "Revelation" and "Infant Eyes", two songs she originally did with Doug. "When I first signed with Philly International, Kenny Gamble understood that I didn't want to forget about my jazz people. He simply asked me which songs were the most requested in my jazz repertoire and those were the ones we recorded again. I didn't expect to be doing it quite so soon in my recording career so I'm vedry grateful that I've been able to."
Bound to invite a certain amount of controversy on the new U.S. album is a cut entitled "Shortage Of Good Men". Now, before all the gentlemen reading rush off angry letters to B&S, please note carefully the contents of the lyric of the song!
"It's basically about the sitution we women find ourselves in. Yes, there is a shortage of good men and the lyric explains why: we have men who've died in wars (like Vietnam) which naturally reduced the population, men in jail all over the place and a lot of men affected by drug addiction, thing like that. Add to that the fact that there are actually more women being born and you'll understand what I'm saying!.'
It seems that Mr. Gamble brought the tune to Jean "and asked if it would be something that I'd want to say. I told him absolutely, yes! It came straight from the heart. So far, we haven't had any negative feedback — indeed, it's been even more positive than we anticipated so obviously a lot of people agree!
But, there's a subtle message in there: if the level of consciousness can be raised and people can see that committing crimes and taking drugs is having a detrimental effect on society in general, then there won't be a need to sing a song like that, right? Music can help bring about changes and I've always tried to do my part although I'm no extremist — I'm more of a peaceful person."
"Shortage" follows in direct line to Jean's other 'message' song, "Free Love". "Now that was a trip! Would you believe that people actually thought it was advocating promiscuity when it was taking the opposite stand! When people came up to me to suggest that, I told them to go right back and listen to the second line — "Don't be a slave to your passions"! It's incredible to think that people could have misunderstood that song.
"But, yes, "Shortage" follows in that tradition and we cut another couple of songs that didn't get on this album in similar vein. I'm sure you'll be hearing some of them in the future because, yes, there definitely will be a continuation of the saga!"
With "Happy" already charting its hit course, Jean is already working on album three and this time, she's doing some tracks with none other than Mr. Stevie Wonder.
"Kenny (Gamble) had asked me to write a couple of songs for the last album but it didn't happen! So I asked Stevie — we've been knowing each other for years now — and he came up with some material for me. When he presented it to Kenny, he asked him to produce it too!
"We actually started doing work on those songs back in January and we had hoped that some of the material would be ready for this last album but I couldn't get back to Los Angeles to finish it all off."
Jean notes that working with Stevie "is incredible. Before he's finished one song, he's already got another one lined up for you. It's real informal too — he'll usually play you a rhythm track over the phone and get your feedback. Naturally, he usually did all the instrumentation himself. But he allows a lot of input — at least that's how I found him to be.
"Kenny and Leon are the same — they basically leave the vocal interpretation up to me and I'm very appreciative of that because I have seen them produce other artists where it's a whole different story — they're in there all the time telling the artist what they want to hear from them."
It's hardly surprising that Messrs. Gamble & Huff give Jean such respect since her musical credentials are very strong. Indeed, aside from her obvious ability in the jazz and r&b areas, she's seriously into classical music ("I'd really like to do a whole opera because I find that much easier than anything else — it's a natural for me whereas I had to learn to deal with audiences when it came to singing jazz; when you sing opera, all you've got to do is sing!") as well as studying voice.
"That's something I still feel very strongly about. Most singers just don't know how to use their voices to their advantage — they don't take time to study. But that's something that I feel is so important." Jean intends to utilize her skills when it comes to working with other people and thus far this year, she's involved herself with work on the Norman Connors' album "This Is Your Life".
Generally, Jean says she's very happy with the way her career is progressing. "I couldn't ask for a better situation, really. The record company — everything — is just the way I'd want it to be at this point. There are other areas I'd like to expand into — most notably maybe doing a musical. Ever since I came to see "The Wiz" one winter when it was real cold and saw the kind of reaction that it got from people who'd obviously come out through all the cold weather just to see it, I knew it was a rewarding area to deal with. So whenever the right role comes along. I'll deal with it.
"Then, I've been offered a part in "Roots — Part Two" for television and if it's right, I'll definitely consider that." In addition, Jean wants to concentrate some more time into doing commercials "because that will enable me to spend more time at home with my family."
Jean says that "eventually I do want to cut back a little on being on the road because of my children and because there are other areas I want to deal with — like producing and so on." But you get the distinct impression that Jean's three children may have quite a bit to do with her thoughts on the subject.
"They were on the road with me when school finished for the summer and it was the first time since they were all little tots. And it was great fun! We had the chance to sight see together, cook — do all the things we can't do when they're at school and I'm at work.
"But I must say they're my greatest critics. They give approval, disapproval on my shows, on the choreography, on my talking betwen songs. And they always choose the right songs too!"
It seems that it's only in the last year or so tht the children have responded to having a 'famous' mother, Jean notes. "Now, they're enjoying it because it means they get special treatment from the other kids at school, stuff like that! But before, they didn't think it was anything special hearing me sing because they'd hear it all the time anyway — in the kitchen, the bathroom — everywhere!"
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.