by Len Lear
Google the name Andrea Carlson, and you can listen to the extraordinary sounds of the multi-talented guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Andrea Carlson (also a brilliant artist and mother of four), who will be performing with her band, Love Police, in the “Jazz in Cheltenham” series at The Cheltenham Center for the Arts, 439 Ashbourne Rd., Cheltenham, on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m.
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, Carlson moved all around the country growing up. (When asked her age, she said, “Hmmmm … 28; that’s how old I feel.”) A singer and jazz buff, Andrea moonlighted as a vocalist throughout her studies with several different bands, doing music from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. This continued for 10 years, and she was able to perform in many of the top venues and festivals. A highlight was opening for the one and only James Brown!
“I was in a fabulous band called Airflow Deluxe in Chicago,” she explained. “It was a ‘little’ eight-piece Big Band fronted with four vocalists, and I was one of them. We did four-part harmony in music that spanned from the ’20s though the ’40s. The whole band was flown to Forth Worth, Texas, for a private event that featured James Brown. I have never experienced so much electricity from any performer ever. But then, I was standing less that 10 feet away from him!”
After moving to the Philadelphia area in 2008 because her husband, Rich, got a job here, she began to perform solo, using her classical guitar skills to accompany her singing jazz standards. She soon found herself writing extra lyrics to the songs, and through this experience she began composing songs of her own. In 2009, Andrea entered a songwriting contest on a whim and was a winner in the Philadelphia Songwriter’s Project. She also won a songwriting contest for the 2012 Montgomery/Bucks Music Awards with her song, “Mysterious Moon.” (Check it out on YouTube.)
“Winning these contests gave me confidence that I may be on the right path,” she said in an interview last week. “I had only written four songs when I entered the first contest. I also received some high-profile shows at the time, like The Philly Folk Festival and MusikFest. That exposure lead to press and then more work.”
Andrea’s music is retro, jazzy, bluesy and romantic. Her sultry and playful vocals have been described by some reviewers as “quick and witty, in the vein of Cole Porter” and her classically-trained guitar style as “channeling Django Reinhardt!”
Andrea has performed in many venues throughout the Philadelphia area (including Paris Bistro), New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Chicago and L.A. She has also performed throughout Europe since 2013 — in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Edinburgh, etc. As of 2015, she is an official part of the Fringe Festival Edinburgh. (She also teaches three days a week at Settlement Music School in Germantown.)
How did her European musical experiences begin? “For a year I saved all I could. The planning of the trip at first was simple; I would play music on the streets in any city where I might know someone. To help with costs, my first year I stayed with friends or friends of friends. I was in Europe for almost six weeks. To my astonishment (I am still amazed), my experience was far beyond just busking!
“In 2013 I played in venues and house concerts in France, England, Amsterdam, Germany, Brussels, Spain and Scotland! Although I felt no trip could be as magical, I just had to back the next summer. Because of the connections from the first trip, the second was much easier to book, and I stayed almost two months. I revisited some of the same countries but added Austria, Slovakia and Czech Republic. Last year I only went to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival but played 22 shows in 15 days!”
As a singer, Andrea was inspired by her mother, who “had the most beautiful, soulful voice. Growing up, she wanted to be a singer, but her father wouldn’t allow it. I still remember her singing fondly and that she only did it when ironing. She ironed with perfection. I’m sure the singing had everything to do with that. Her singing style was warm and gentle. I loved her dear voice.”
Of all Andrea’s musical experiences, the following just might be the most memorable: “I had just arrived in Bratislava by boat on the Danube from Vienna. I hadn’t reserved a place to stay, so I went to the town center to look around. There, two women were trying to get a picture of them together in front of a fountain. Our eyes met, they waved at me and asked if I would take a picture of them. I said yes. They saw the guitar on my back and asked about it. I told them I played jazz, wrote songs and sang. One of them said she was good friends with a famous Slavic jazz singer/musician and that I should meet him.
“She invited me to go to her friend’s house ‘in the forest’ for a party and said the jazz artist would be there. They picked me up at my hostel that night. After an hour’s drive, we arrived at a cottage that looked like it came out of a 1920s’ story book. There was food and wine but a lot of struggle with the language barrier! They had me sing and play; no longer was language an issue. They had me sing and play song after song. Then the jazz artist, Peter Lipa, who is almost the Tony Bennett of Slovakia, asked me to play with him the next night at a sold-out concert at Theater Malá Scéna in Bratislava. I was stunned, to say the least. And there’s much more to the story.”
Regarding Andrea’s stunning artwork, which can be viewed on her website, she started out as an art major at Columbia College in Chicago before switching to a degree in classical guitar at the American Conservatory of Music. She has had exhibits of her artwork and has worked on private commissions.
Carlson is currently recording a new CD at MorningStar Studios in Ambler and hopes to have it released by March of this year! Tickets for the Feb. 3 concert are $10 general admission/$5 for students and are only available at the door. More info at 856-858-8914, 215-517-8337 or www.andreacarlsonmusic.com/