Chantae Cann: A Brief Improvisation with the Artist and the Person

Chantae Cann’s music isn’t just art for art’s sake. It’s art for the sake of living. The jazz and soul vocalist brings her unique blend of sound and personal story to the Blue Whale in Little Tokyo on June 15th.

Downtown Weekly had an opportunity to catch up with her during a free moment from promoting her new album, “Journey to Golden,” at her home in Atlanta.

Downtown Weekly: I just want to start out by saying your voice is so beautiful.

Chantae Cann: Thank you!

How did you start as a musician?

I was always into music as a young girl. My mom was a music teacher, and she encouraged me to be in band and chorus, piano lessons, things like that. But I was super shy, and I didn’t want to sing in front of anybody. In my late teens, I started to sing in church, which helped me to be more comfortable and, as I got older, I would go to open mic spots. I loved it. The more I went,  and the more I’d get this crazy response, I’d just keep going back for the fun. I just wanted to be around live music all the time. Soon, I started singing backup for some Atlanta gospel artists, which introduced me to a lot of other musicians and producers.

And how was it you started touring with India Arie?

I started with India because of my musical mentor. She had been singing with her for about three to four years when one of the other background singers was going be leaving temporarily to be on tour with a play. My friend asked me if I wanted to fill in for one month. I said no because of school and work. Then, when the opportunity ended up coming back around later on, I told myself, “Okay, you have to do this.” I didn’t even have to audition. India asked me to come out for a month and then, years later, I was still there. (laughs)

What was the journey to developing your sound now?

Well, with my mom being a music teacher, music was flowing in the veins. She was a singer, a saxophone player, she travelled with philharmonic society in college. And my dad was the one who exposed me to the versatility of music. We would listen to everything from P-Funk to Tupac to Mozart. Between the two of them, it’s where talent and exposure has led me.

What do you love about jazz and soul music?

I love the freedom. I didn’t necessarily plan on being an artist, I just knew that I wanted to do something attached to music, whether it was teaching or something else. I had no idea I’d be an artist and an advocate. When I was discovering my sound and the way I like to flow in music, jazz and soul were more lenient with how I could express myself. I mean, I was still inspired by old school R&B and gospel, but improv and jam sessions just appealed to me more.

Who was your favorite person to tour with?

Definitely India. That was my first time seeing the world. I was 22 when I first started with her. I learned how to be quick on my feet. Like, if India doesn’t want to sing alto or soprano or whatever today, you have to be able to fill that. That was fun, it was like playing a game. And it also taught me about what I wanted to do with my own career. That was an honor for me. So many lessons learned.

Tell me about the URBrave Campaign.

It’s called the “URBrave is Beautiful” campaign. It has to do with a documentary I made a year ago. I wanted to give people more of an inside look at my story. A lot of people know the artist Chantae or what they see on YouTube, but not a lot of people know my life story. The campaign is awareness for Huntington’s Disease, something that runs in my family and not a lot of people know about it. I wanted to share how it plays a part in my life and the life of my family. I plan on doing a tour revolving around the campaign after the documentary is released.

What should we expect to hear from you when you’re in LA?

Lots of songs from the new album, “Journey to Gold.” I’m treating this as a West Coast album release. I’ve hooked up with an awesome band out there. There will be some tunes you guys probably have never heard before. And, of course, I like to bring in some of the familiar songs people request all the time.

Who are a couple of artists that have really inspired you?

Stevie Wonder, period, has inspired me. I love old school soul music. It’s pretty much the reason why I’m doing anything. Also Bobbie McFerrin, Michael Jackson, Michael Franks, Earth Wind and Fire, PJ Morton, James Taylor, India Arie, obviously, Natasha Bedingfield –

That’s a pretty thorough list.

Good! (laughs)

What is your hope for people coming to see you downtown?

My hope for people, as always, is to be encouraging. Always uplifting, always creatively vast. I want people to know there is no right or wrong answer, there is no genre defying the be-all end-all. Be uniquely you. People are going to be drawn to that. We all have a story. You may not think you do, but if you’ve experienced life in general, you have a story someone can relate to somewhere in this world.

Zach Bandler

ZACH BANDLER - FOOD AND WINE Zach is a columnist, screenwriter and epicurean who made his way to Los Angeles from Southern Oregon, by way of Chicago and New York City. He is of the firm belief that there has never been a more exciting time for food in LA than right now. While in New York, he ran “The Not-So-Starving Artist,” an online editorial for gourmands dining on a bohemian budget, and has travelled extensively in the wine country of Italy, South Africa, California, Oregon and Washington. Graduate from Northwestern University.