By Stacia Friedman
The first time I heard Mt. Airy jazz vocalist Anna Cecilia perform two years ago, I couldn’t believe my ears. How is it possible that a sultry Jazz Age voice, with all its nuances and longing, could come from a singer in her 20s? If I closed my eyes, I could even hear the scratchiness of an old 78 rpm record. At the time she was performing at Paris Bistro with the Hot Club of Philadelphia, an ensemble specializing in 1930s’ era jazz.
“I grew up in Valsbro, a small town in Sweden, and both my parents were professional fiddle players,” said Anna, 28, without a trace of an accent. Credit that to her American mother. “My first instrument was the violin, but I was always more interested in singing.”
At the tender age of 13, when most of her peers were listening to pop or folk music, Anna Cecilia got her hands on “For Lovers,” an album of romantic jazz standards featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. “I fell in love with the timelessness of Ella’s voice and wanted to find that voice within myself,” she said.
Find it, she did! Reviewers have compared Anna Cecilia to Billie Holiday and Madeleine Peyroux. Coming first to Washington, D.C., at 18, Anna quickly gravitated to Philadelphia’s rich music scene and settled in Mt. Airy. “I was warmly welcomed by musicians here and soon found venues to perform,” said the singer/songwriter who regularly performs with her quintet at Paris Bistro, South, The Rittenhouse Hotel and jazz clubs up and down the East Coast and Midwest. She has also performed at the Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C.
This Swedish songbird credits the evolution of her style to her vocal instructors at Temple University, where she is currently working towards a degree in music. “Joanne Pascale encouraged me to listen to older jazz recordings, and Sachal Vasandani has been an incredible mentor,” she said.
I asked Anna how she feels about performing in jazz clubs, where the emphasis is often on food and conversation, not the music. “I try to feel the energy of every audience and find a way to relate to them. If they are loud, I sing a quiet, romantic song to pull them closer and draw their attention.”
Anna is also a prolific singer/songwriter who collaborates with two other singer/songwriters to form Ladybird, a trio that performs original material at venues throughout the area, including the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 2015. “I’m the lead vocalist with Ladybird, and I also play guitar, mandolin and violin.”
For her own compositions, which she describes as “dreamy and convoluted,” Anna looks to contemporary influences such as Paul Simon. “I admire his versatility,” she said. “In my writing, I try to blend styles, including Swedish influences in melody and chord changes. Swedish music has a certain melancholy. In winter, we have only four hours of sunlight a day. I love it, but it leads towards introspection.” (Yes, Virginia, there is Swedish jazz!)
When she’s not in school or performing at a jazz club or folk venue, Anna does house concerts. “I did a lot of weddings to pay for college,” she said. Her future plans include recording an album, a mix of original compositions including traditional Swedish tunes, jazz, pop and R&B. “Eventually, I might return to Sweden to earn a masters degree in music,” she said. (Grad school is free there.)
Anna is returning to her Swedish hometown for the holidays to see her 93-year-old grandmother and her father. “I’m looking forward to the tree, the lights and the smorgasbord. I’ll play fiddle with my dad and sing ‘Stardust’ for my grandmother. She’s a big Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett fan.”
On Anna’s Christmas wish list is performing at the highest jazz venue in Philly. “I’m crazy about beautiful views,“ she said. “When the 59-story Comcast Innovation & Technology Center opens in 2017, it will be the tallest building in the city, and the Four Seasons Hotel will be at the very top. I would love to perform at the hotel, above the clouds.”
Anna will be performing at Paris Bistro in January but does not have specific dates scheduled yet. More information at www.annaceciliasings.com. Mt. Airy freelance writer Stacia Friedman is the author of “Tender is the Brisket,” available on Amazon.com.