The album is a love letter to those who paved the way for her!
Artist Melanie Charles is paying homage to Black women jazz architects with the release of her new album, The Washington Post reports.
Charles hails from Brooklyn, the daughter of Haitian immigrants who grew up in a one-bedroom apartment before the family of 10 moved to Bushwick.
“I grew up there in the hood, hearing gunshots at night, but my mom was a jazz lover and a lover of art and performance…Hearing salsa music at the grocery store or my grandma having prayer meetings in the house, then singing like old Haitian church songs – that being in my ear – or gospel and spirituals from church. I feel really blessed that right in my home, I was surrounded by so many different sounds and cultures and different generations of music,” Charles reflected on her younger years.
As a child, she took piano lessons, joining the Brooklyn Youth Chorus in her teens and becoming an expert at playing the flute in high school. Initially, she wanted to pursue a career as an opera singer, but was deterred by a judge during an audition who acknowledged her beautiful voice but thought she should pursue jazz if that’s what she liked.
“At the time, it felt really discouraging and negative, but to be honest, I’m so grateful that I didn’t do that. The skills that I received shaped my instrument in a way where I have the technique, but I still have the freedom vocally that I probably wouldn’t have had if I went straight opera,” Charles said.
She eventually attended the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, honing her skills and exploring how she could make jazz more accessible for young people. Now, she gets to do that, releasing her debut album “Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women,” under label Verve Records. It is a beautiful homage to the Black women who served as the architects of jazz.
The album is a mixtape of sorts, featuring cover songs reimagining the works of jazz pioneers such as Betty Carter, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Abbey Lincoln, and Sarah Vaughan. Carter, one of the first jazz artists to found her own independent record label, was a major inspiration for Charles, the singer and flutist noting the lack of respect Carter gets for the genre shifting work she did to contribute to jazz in general.
“[Betty] created a whole lineage of study of jazz music. I think that her doing ‘Jazz Ain’t Nothin’ But Soul’ was important to add her perspective to the table. That very lyric is at the core of what I’m about – jazz is ‘taters and grits.’ Forget about respectability politics! Even though Betty is the highest evolution of jazz, she was still a full Black woman,” Charles said.
She also drew inspiration for the project from other women figures in her life and Breonna Taylor, whose tragic death helped inform a lot of the direction Charles decided on for the project.
“[When] it was time to start making decisions about the pieces, it was around the time of Breonna Taylor. It was clear to me that if I’m going to do a remix project right now, it needs to be songs sung by women who have always [tried] to communicate our experience in this country. As Black women, it is complicated for us to manifest love and being loved and being in relationships. And I think a lot of it sends out how we sometimes don’t know how to ask for care and consideration because culturally, we’re the backbone…I’m tired of that. The way that no justice has been done for Breonna…It’s just that what is resounding for me is that this Black woman’s life is gone and we are really chill about it,” she explained.
At the core of “Ya’ll Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women,” is the centering of women as the foremothers of jazz music while exploring the totality of who the women were. Charles said it is particularly special to be putting out the album on Verve Records, the same label that Sarah Vaughan was signed to.
“I feel like I’m walking in the path of my ancestors and the people that paved the way for me. Like Sarah Vaughan, being able to put out music on the same label as her – reinterpreting the music that she has done – is a really important thing for me…It’s not a secret that right now, people are waking up to the importance of the value of Black women across industries. Not to sound arrogant, but it’s about time. We’ve been putting in the work, and I appreciate that the label knows that it’s time for that shift, and, hopefully, audiences will support and nurture that to pave the way for other Black and Brown female musicians,” Charles said.
Eventually, Charles will begin working on original music but she hopes that this debut project resonates with audiences and accurately conveys the beauty of Black women everywhere.
“Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women,” by Melanie Charles is available to stream everywhere now.
Congratulations Melanie! Because of you, we can!
Photo Courtesy of Meredith Truax/Melanie Charles/Instagram