Kandace Springs Ascends as Proud Dad Applauds


Scat Springs (left) and his daughter, Kandace Springs, whose Blue Note album Soul Eyes will be released on June 24.

(Photo: Donn Jones Photography)

One evening in May, Kandace Springs walked onto the stage at Nashville’s elegant Tennessee Performing Arts Center. She slid onto the piano bench behind a concert grand, nodded toward bassist Jerry Navarro and drummer David “Smitty” Smith, and eased into a set of ballads and medium-tempo tunes.

Her voice purred and whispered as she caressed the lyrics and melody on the opener, the original tune “Novocaine Heart,” as well as the jazz standard “Soul Eyes” and the classic “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” She cast a similarly soft but ominous spell with “Strange Fruit” that coaxed murmurs of “yes” and “mmm-hmm” from throughout the audience.

Two blocks away, at the Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar, servers whisked drinks to customers crowded around the dance floor and jammed into the balcony. Neon beer lights glared. Mardi Gras beads rattled. Then a band filed onto the stage and kicked off a searing one-chord jam. Trumpet, saxophone and B-3 solos pumped up the funk. One of the musicians grabbed a microphone.

“Ladies and gentleman, please welcome The Master himself, the man you cannot resist … Mr. Scat Springs!” And the star of the show bounded into the spotlight, in short sleeves and pork pie hat, shouting, “Everybody say, Hey! Everybody say, Ho!” over the band’s sizzling groove. The crowd obliged and helped the big man slam into Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You.”

It was a rare night in Nashville, marking the convergence of two Springs—father Scat, a fixture in the city’s r&b community, and daughter Kandace, who has already performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and been heralded as a “suave songstress” by The Wall Street Journal.

No less than Prince caught a video of her covering Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” on the website Okayplayer; four days after that, he flew her to Paisley Park and invited her to perform with him on the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain.

The June 24 release of her album Soul Eyes (Blue Note Records), will raise her profile considerably. Guests on the album include trumpeter Terence Blanchard, guitarists Dean Parks and Jesse Harris, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and organist Pete Kuzma.

Hints of Norah Jones and Roberta Flack waft through Kandace’s intimate phrasing and smoky timbre, with production by Larry Klein, whose work with Lizz Wright, Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell put him on the right wavelength for this project.

The empathetic production masterfully cushions her every turn of phrase: Kuzma’s tactile drawbar manipulations, Colaiuta’s understated rhythm bed, and Blanchard’s evocative obligatos on “Soul Eyes” and “Too Good To Last,” one of four tracks that showcase her sophistication as a songwriter.

A few days after their Nashville shows, Kandace and Scat met up with DownBeat at Skull’s Rainbow Room, located next door to Bourbon Street.

Scat turned to his daughter and asked, “If there was one thing you got from Prince, what would that be?”

Kandace answered, “Be true to who you are.”

Scat slapped his hand on the table and laughed. “Man, that’s a lesson for everyone!”

Ever since he heard his daughter picking out the melody for Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata at age 10, Scat has tried to pass along lessons. “She was just using one finger,” he recalled. “Now, I play a terrible version of it, but I use 10 fingers. So I went down and played it for her, like, ‘Yeah, Dad’s cool, ain’t he?’ I was showing off! She just watched, put her little fingers up there and played it back to me after seeing me do it just that one time. I was impressed. So I said, ‘Go ahead and practice that a little more. Maybe you can catch up with Dad.’

“I went back upstairs, and 10 minutes later I heard her playing it faster than I could! I went back downstairs and said, ‘You want to take piano lessons?’ She said, ‘Yes, Daddy.’”

Lessons did follow, but father and daughter agree that something in the family genes made both of their successes inevitable. Scat’s father, Kenny, recorded with his band, the Scat Cats, for Columbia and Dot in the 1960s and ’70s. Kandace’s aunts and uncles sang, as did two great-grandfathers.

One can see in Scat’s eyes that he feels something special when talking about Kandace. When asked if he’d like to record a duet with his favorite future superstar, he replied immediately, “I would love to.”

“Maybe,” she teased. “Maybe on the next record.”

“Oh, really?” he answered, eyebrows raised in surprise. “Remember, you don’t have to—but I’ll be mad if you don’t.” And they both laughed, knowing it didn’t really matter if they ever did.

Kandace is promoting the new album by opening shows for singer Gregory Porter, including concerts at Seattle’s Moore Theater (June 17), Oakland’s Fox Theater (June 18) and the Harris Center in Folsom, California (June 19).

Kandace will headline club shows at the Hotel Café in Los Angeles (June 23) and Joe’s Pub in New York City (June 28).

(Note: To see a video Kandace Springs singing “Soul Eyes” and accompanying herself on piano at Capitol Studios, click here.)

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