First Impressions: Linger Awhile by Samara Joy

Samara Joy’s buttery vocals melt across the warm grooves of whatever song she’s singing, conjuring the greats of yore while simultaneously forging her own effervescent style. Small wonder, then, that in 2019 at age 20, she won the esteemed Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Linger Awhile, her sumptuous sophomore set and Verve debut, should hopefully introduce her to an even wider audience than jazz aficionados. It features a mix of old and slightly new tunes, with the latter the result of “vocalese”—aka adding lyrics to a jazz improvisation. 

Here she is—direct from Italy, no less—sharing her story.

One of my favorite new-old songs from the 10-track set is “Nostalgia (The Day I Knew),” in which she turns a 1947 improv from trumpeter Fats Navarro into a love song inspired by her parents’ upcoming 31-year wedding anniversary. (Full disclosure: My opinion may be colored by the fact that Diane and I will soon be celebrating our own 31-year anniversary.) Here’s a live version:

Aside from her velvety vocal stylings, what ups the album from a fine outing to a wondrous one is Samara’s willingness to inject something new to the proceedings, whether it’s adding lyrics to old improvisations, rejuvenating such classics as “Misty,” “Linger Awhile” and “Someone To Watch Over Me” with her distinctive vocals, or digging up such lost treasures as Ronnell Bright’s sparsely covered “Sweet Pumpkin” and “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” which she discovered in a collection of Sarah Vaughan rarities. The latter song, for those not in the know, was written by Jimmy McHugh and Frank Loesser for the long-forgotten 1942 musical comedy Seven Days Leave and covered by Vaughan on her 1950 solo debut. (It was later covered by Johnny Mathis, Nina Simone and Julie London, among others.) Her rendition is a sonic tonic for the soul.

Throughout, Samara Joy is surrounded by a talented supporting cast, including guitarist Pasquale Grasso, drummer Kenny Washington, bassist David Wong and pianist Ben Paterson. One of the things I like most about the album, aside from the graceful jazz swing, is the space left between the notes. In today’s age, it sometimes seems that songs are created to placate short-attention spans—solos are truncated, instrumental passages shortened, etc. Here, however, chords linger like a fine mist in the air.

More importantly, there’s this: When she commands the microphone, such as on the downbeat “Guess Who I Saw Today,” about spying a lover with another woman, or the torchy “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You),” time all but stops. The moment on the latter when she’s left alone at the mic, for example, and her voice swoops low, is mesmerizing. Likewise on her spin on “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which is as sparse as it is spellbinding. Which is all to say, Linger Awhile is an album well worth your attention. Give it a go.

The track list:

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