WAT’s Proust Questionnaire: Tessa Souter –
A Jazz Singer with Soul and So Much More

Tessa Souter is a jazz vocalist who truly embraces her audience. Come to hear her beautiful voice at Bar 55 in Greenwich Village, or in a larger space (like the Blue Note, above, Joe’s Pub, or Dizzy’s Coca Cola in New York, or at Blues Alley in Georgetown (click on the venue name to read our reviews), and she can often be seen greeting and hugging her longtime fans. That authenticity and warmth embodies each of Tessa’s performances, whether she’s singing one of her own songs (she’s a gifted musician and lyricist), putting a new spin on an old favorite, or sharing thoughts about her remarkable career which now has her traveling all over the globe.

Tessa’s latest CD, Beyond the Blue, won raves from audiences and critics alike. (Go to Tessa’s website to buy the CD and learn about future performances.) Tessa answers our WAT’s Proust Questionnaire written by Jason Veduccio. A former journalist, her answers hit all the right notes.

What was your ideal job before the current situation?
Before I became a singer my dream job would have been to be a full-time staff writer for one of the newspaper magazines that I used to freelance for – the Times, the Independent-on-Sunday, one of those.

What job did you hate?
When I first moved to San Francisco I cleaned houses while I built my freelance writing career. How much I liked (or hated) the job depended on who the client was. One woman had me on my hands and knees cleaning her huge white kitchen floor with one of those small Scotchbrite scratchy cleaners. I used to wash her light bulbs. And she would make tea for friends and step over me saying: “I am having tea on my deck while you are cleaning my floor!” She liked me, she said, because I didn’t “feel like a servant.’ Maybe to her! As soon as I started to support myself as a writer that household was the first to go. But there was one couple I continued to work for even when I no longer needed the money because they were so nice! And they had an amazing stereo which they showed me how to work. I’d play music and sing along at the top of my lungs while I cleaned.

What people inspired you to follow this path?
My mother first of all. I sang all the time. Everywhere. As did she. All my life strangers and friends who heard me would say I should be a singer. But at 16 I got married and had a baby which pretty much took care of that idea. When I was in my late 30s I met a musicologist who, after hearing me, made it his mission to get me singing in public. Everything really led on from there. After that, various people kept the flame alive – including Mark Murphy, who mentored me for four years in exchange for helping him run his workshops, people who came to hear me, friends and fans. These people are still a daily inspiration. Taking the path is easy once you’ve made the first step, it’s staying on it that’s hard, especially when you can’t see the whole way ahead.

When you were sixteen, whom did you want to be when you grew up?
Sandy Denny. She really sings the story. Except by then I was already kind of “grown up” with a baby and a husband. Yikes.

How old would you be if age didn’t matter?
46. A proper woman. The thought makes me feel somehow Italian.

How many people in your life would you call a close friend?
Twenty or so. I moved every year of my childhood and a lot in my adulthood so I have close friends from all those places and all those times – even since I was ten. I always say I have great friends karma and great brothers karma. My Irish twin brother was my first best friend.

Who would get you excited to attend a meeting if you knew they would be there?
Herbie Hancock. “A meeting” implies he’d be taking me on tour or something.

What was the tipping point in getting you into your current professional position?
I had a regular weekly gig in New York’s Greenwich Village. That allowed me to build up a crowd and get confident in front of audiences and I met a lot of musicians.

What is the single most important thing to do to be successful?
Never lose sight of the fact that you are doing whatever you are doing for love. That love is your food.

What is the most over-rated thing about being successful?
I suspect, the idea that if you are successful, you will feel successful.

What could you use right now if someone would invent it for you?
A golden goose.

What should young people know as they leave school?
Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’. That says it all. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175772

What do you do most when together with your family?
Talk on Skype. We live all over the world. But on those rare occasions I see them in person, eat, talk, laugh. In terms of humor we’re all glasses poured from the same bottle of wine. It’s like ESP.

What do you love to do with your free time lately that you rather not admit?
Watch The Dog Whisperer or those British Nanny shows on Netflix. I rarely do it. But whenever I do, I feel guilty. Lately I’ve been watching those TED Talks. They feel as if they’re better for me.

What personal or professional goals do you have for yourself for two years from now?
To make an album which is a totally pure artistic and personal statement with absolutely no caveats or compromises or I-wish-I’d-done-that’s. And to be touring it.

What does your most commonly eaten lunch consist of?
I don’t really notice lunch. My thing is breakfast, which remains unchanged for years at a time. I ate Allbran for about seven years. Before that I ate Oatmeal for about ten years. Before that it was frosted Miniwheats. And I’ve flirted with Raisin Bran. Nowadays I eat homemade organic muesli with fruit and yogurt, which might be it forevermore. Then again, I always think that.

Who is your favorite fashion designer for business clothes?
For my business (music) I wear a lot of vintage or homemade clothes. If I could have my own designer? Vera Wang. I love how womanly her clothes are. Or Dolce and Gabbana. Totally different from Vera, but also womanly. I love women and womanly things. I can’t believe I wanted to be a boy when I was a child!

What do you need to get through the day that you would least like to sacrifice right now?
Not counting people. Music.

What do you need to get through the day that you would most like to sacrifice right now?
The need to budget.

If all of humanity was to stop what they were doing and focus on working together on just one thing through to its completion, what is it we should we all be doing in your opinion?
Stop destroying the environment and stop putting money ahead of taking care of the earth and all the animals and people and plants in it. But there’s no point if we can’t learn to get along.