Kandace Springs Motors Forward

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Composer, keyboardist and singer Kandace Springs enlists trumpeter Roy Hargrove to play on her latest album, Indigo.

(Photo: Jeff Forney)

Lessons progressed quickly, with Wooten introducing her to suspended chords and swing on her second visit. “I was like, ‘What is this?’ He’s like, ‘That’s jazz, baby!’ And I went, ‘I want to learn more of this stuff.’”

Scat helped out by broadening her awareness of various types of music. He began by giving his daughter albums by Norah Jones and Diana Krall, and followed that up with some Nina Simone. After that came albums by Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and George Shearing.

When Scat’s friend reclaimed the piano, Kandace’s mother went to a music store and returned with an upright electric piano. Kandace dug into it, playing Chopin and Liszt compositions by ear until she developed her reading skills. At 14, she bought her first sheet music, Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, memorizing it in less than a month and being handed off by Regi to his brother Joe Wooten for more advanced jazz studies.

Kandace began singing in public around that time as well. She had been attending Kids On Stage, a summer camp in Tennessee, on scholarship. For two years she had played piano in the annual showcase. The year after that, she decided to try something different. “I was like, ‘Maybe I ought to sing this time.’ So, I got Norah Jones’ lyric book, learned ‘The Nearness Of You’ and developed my own interpretation of it. I led into it with Oscar Peterson’s ‘Chicago Blues.’ And everybody was like, ‘What? Kandace, you sing, too?’”

Shortly after that, Scat sent a recording of Kandace to Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken, producers who have worked with Rihanna and Christina Aguilera. “Things started to get a little more complicated,” she says. “I had just turned 18 and was working as a valet at the Renaissance Hotel in Nashville, parking cars for country stars like Wynonna Judd, Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts. Evan texted me and talked about wanting to make me a pop star. I texted him back from the bathroom in the Renaissance, like, ‘I’m still trying to figure out what to do!’”

The dilemma for Kandace was whether to accept Rogers and Sturken’s plan to mold her into an r&b star or to be true to her roots in jazz. As she mulled over her options, word about her spread throughout the music industry. David Foster, then chairman of the Verve Music Group, flew her out for an audition and immediately offered to sign her. The day she received the contract from Verve, she heard from producer/executive L.A. Reid and agreed to audition for him as well. This led to a third offer, this time from Epic Records, which similarly promised to target a commercial pop market.

Then came an opportunity she was eager to accept, from Don Was, president of Blue Note Records. With his commitment to allow her to build her identity on a jazz foundation, she gracefully declined the previous offers and signed on with Blue Note. Since then, Kandace’s ascension has been as quick as a cruise in her Corvette. Blue Note released a self-titled EP in 2014 and Soul Eyes, her full-length debut, two years later. Concert promoters and festival organizers booked her for gigs around the globe.

Kadance crafted Soul Eyes to be a work of art that stands on its own, but even as she was recording it, she viewed the album as a deliberate step toward a follow-up.

“With that last album, I was laying down a foundation of who I was growing up,” she reflects. “It wasn’t pure jazz, but I love jazz and Soul Eyes captured that. It’s almost like the feel of Norah Jones’ first album. And that was cool. I stayed in that box because I needed to say, ‘Hey, this is me! I play the piano and sing. I’m Kandace!’”

Indigo was conceived to expand on that statement. “The new album captures that, too, but it’s a little more soulful. I’ve always had this other side, but now it’s out for the world to see. It captures all of my influences, starting with Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Roberta Flack … but also Luther Vandross, Eva Cassidy, Erykah Badu, even D’Angelo. And lots of Chopin.”

This meant following a new, more holistic, approach. Key to this was finding a producer who could help bring them to fruition. By pure chance, she found him, or rather he found her, one night in New York.

On Jan. 6, 2017, Kandace was booked into the Bowery Ballroom as part of Winter Jazzfest. “I was sick with the flu and high on Robitussin,” she says. “I left [the venue] right after I was done, because I was feeling shitty.”

Drummer, producer and composer Karriem Riggins was in the audience, and he didn’t sense that Kandace was ill. “She was incredible,” he recalls. “I didn’t have a chance to meet her, because I had to do a DJ set after her show. So, the next day, I looked her up on Twitter. It turned out we were already following each other! I [contacted her and] told her I thought her show was amazing and that I’d love to work with her. She hit me back with a message that said, ‘That’s great, because I was just talking to my manager about asking you to produce my album.’”

The two artists clicked as soon as they got together. “He talked about how into this project he was,” Kandace says. “But really, all I needed to see was which artists he’d worked with. He said to me, ‘Hey, I’m playing at the Hollywood Bowl with Diana Krall and an orchestra. Why don’t you come down? I’ll give you a special booth.’ I got to meet Diana that night—she’s my idol. I was like, ‘OK, you’re the one! Anybody that plays for her, yeah, that works for me.’”

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March 2020
Pat Metheny
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