Springs, Channeling Prince, Delivers Dynamic Show in Chicago


Kandance Springs’ new Blue Note album is Soul Eyes.

(Photo: Mathieu Bitton)

As if we needed another reason to miss Prince, here’s one more: He was a superb judge of talent.

After spotting a video of Kandace Springs performing Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” online, the Purple One summoned her to perform at a 30th-anniversary “Purple Rain” show.

More significantly, he gave her some sage advice: Be true to who you are. Specifically, he told her to bag the overproduced hip-hop mishmash that marred her debut EP in favor of a stripped-down, jazz-oriented sound.

Springs’ first full-length album for Blue Note, the June 24 release Soul Eyes, is a testament to the prescience of Prince’s counsel. But the real litmus test is how the new approach plays out onstage.

Chicagoans had a chance to find out when Springs performed with her trio at City Winery on Aug. 16, stunning in a black mini-dress emblazoned with Prince’s technicolor image. During the performance, she not only established her unassailable jazz cred, but also served notice that major stardom is just around the bend.

Think artistic purity and music industry success are mutually exclusive? Then you haven’t heard this 27-year-old, third-generation musician from Nashville, who’s as comfortable hanging with the late-night TV hosts as she is bantering with an audience of jazz lovers.

Vocally, she knows when to put the pedal to the metal with her impressive alto; more importantly, she knows when to pull back and give her material a chance to breathe. She can stretch a one-syllable word into a five- or six-syllable tour de force, or she can deliver a poignant narrative without embellishment.

The opening number, the lover’s lament “Novocaine Heart,” which she co-wrote, received a much more spartan treatment live than on her new disc. Then she playfully introduced herself in song, followed by a sensual, inviting reading of Jesse Harris’ “Talk To Me.”

There’s no reason to pigeonhole Springs’ style. Her 75-minute City Winery set ranged from a nuanced “Thought It Would Be Easier,” by Shelby Lynne, to a crowd-pleasing rendition of Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” to the bitterly ironic “Forbidden Fruit” to the Mel Waldron jazz standard “Soul Eyes,” made famous by John Coltrane.

Springs also made room for Bonnie Raitt’s soulful ballad “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and the lone encore, a heartfelt “Stay With Me” sing-along. She can scat, too, likely a gift from her father, Nashville session vocalist and bandleader Scat Springs.

Springs’ mature-beyond-her-years vocal delivery—which reveals influences of Flack and Nina Simone—and warm stage presence are accented by her formidable piano skills (she’ll eagerly share short, impressive flourishes of Oscar Peterson or Chopin between songs).

Sooner or later her handlers may pull her out from behind the keyboard to take fuller advantage of her visual dynamism, but in the meantime, it’s a pleasure to hear her display her instrumental as well as vocal talents.

Springs fronted a youthful trio at City Winery that included Jesse Bielenberg on bass and Dillon Treacy on drums, with veteran Chicago jazz guitarist and educator Bob Palmieri sitting in for several numbers. And when Springs declared it was time for a little energy burst, the group delivered with War’s “The World Is A Ghetto.”

The arrangement was closer to George Benson’s cover than the funk-driven original, and all the accompanists traded solos until Treacy winkingly walked all over Bielenberg’s bass run with his resounding snare. Springs chortled and urged them on. Perhaps one more lesson from Prince: Never let the work of touring and rearranging material get in the way of having fun onstage.

  • 23_Village_Vanguard_Joey_Baron_by_Michael_Jackson_copy.jpg

    “Bill Stewart has nothing to prove,” Baron says. “I aspire to that ethic.”

  • 23_Charles_Lloyd_1_by_Dorothy_Darr.jpg

    “At this point in my life I’m still looking for the note,” Lloyd says. “But I’m a little nearer.”

  • McBride__Kahn_copy.jpg

    ​Christian McBride and writer Ashley Kahn meet for a DownBeat Blindfold Test hosted by New York University’s Jazz Studies program.

  • Samara_Joy_%C2%A92023_Mark_Sheldon-4639.jpg

    Samara Joy brought fans to their feet in the middle of her Newport set!

  • Christian_McBride_by_Ebru_Yildiz.jpeg

    ’You can’t simply book a festival with things that you like,” Christian McBride says of the Newport Jazz Festival. “You have a responsibility to present up-and-coming artists who people don’t know yet. And you have to get people in the seats.”