WHY NO LOVE FOR TAMECA?
For most readers, the first question would probably be “Tameca who?”…followed closely by “Why should I care ?” And it’s those two questions that point out the underlying problem for Tameca, plus an even bigger question. That being, “Why is an obviously talented, hard working artist in a musical town such as Austin so far under the radar?”
Tameca is Tameca Jones, an Austin native now living in New Braunfels. She’s a single mother raising twins and also one of the hardest working artists in Central Texas. She has been performing as a singer here since 2007, either as a solo artist or as a vocalist with such groups as Flyjack and Will Taylor & Strings Attached. She has a long running residency at the Continental Gallery every Thursday night and plays at Z Tejas on a regular basis. Her shows at The Elephant Room draw sellout crowds with lines up the stairs and down the street. She’s headlined at Threadgills and opened for Smokey Robinson, David Sanborn, Robert Cray, and The Blind Boys of Alabama to name just a few. Her shows feature some jazz standards but also her own renditions of songs by such diverse artists as Nirvana, Soundgarden and Stevie Wonder. Her cover of the classic “Caravan” includes parts of Beyoncé’s “Naughty Girl” and she absolutely owns “Mad World,” the theme from Donnie Darko. Comparisons to Tina Turner are inevitable, and not just due to the miles and miles of legs and her incredible Afro, this gal can really belt ’em out. Tameca also has a wonderful and unique fashion sense, part of the fun of her shows is in seeing just what outfit she will show up in. Plus she sometimes brings decorated cupcakes for the audience and does her mic checks singing the old “Reading Rainbow” song, so what’s not to love ?
She has the drive, she has the chops and she has the personality to win over her audience, so why is she still unknown to so many music fans in Austin? I’ve been trying to figure that out myself for months now. To try and track it down I started by doing a little checking on our local press. At Austin 360, the top search result for Tameca Jones is a mention of her work with Flyjack back in 2010. Which would make sense if there had been nothing happening in her career since then, but in 2011 alone she received a callback on her audition for NBC’s The Voice, and she released her first EP, The Brown Sugar Express. But there’s not a mention of either event there.
Over at the Austin Chronicle the search results are even stranger. The only search result there is a nice, though short, mention of her Continental Gallery shows on the “ChronTourage” Blog. I say the results are strange because Tameca came in 6th in this past years Austin Music Poll for Best Jazz, finishing right behind Kat Edmonson. And considering that Kat Edmonson has been one of Austin’s big break out artists of the past year or so you would think that someone would take a closer look at Tameca. Kat came out of the same club background as Tameca, notably both had long running stands at The Elephant Room as well as other small rooms around town. And while I enjoy Ms. Edmonson’s shows and music I think the differences in them really stand out. Kat is a tiny little white girl with a tiny little white voice. She sings beautifully and she is very good at choosing and writing songs to accent her strengths, but to me her songs all tend to sound the same after a while. Tameca is, well,”The Tina Turner of Jazz”, (not my phrase). She can croon with the best and break your heart on the ballads, then turn around and belt one out in a style that would make Big Momma Thornton proud. As far as range of style I think Tameca has few peers in Austin today.
And it’s the comparison with Kat Edmonson that takes me down the road to what might possibly be one of the underlying reasons for Tameca’s relative obscurity, though it’s not one that’s fun to think of, that being a matter of race. As I said above, Kat Edmonson is a small white woman, Tameca is a large as life black woman. Could it be that it is still harder for a black woman to be noticed in the Austin music scene? I have a good friend, Miss Lavelle White, who is pretty much a living legend in the R&B world, she has been performing worldwide since the 50’s and living here in Austin since the early 90’s. Lavelle has been telling me for some time now that it is almost impossible for a black woman to get steady, headlining gigs in Austin. And she believes this to the point that she is seriously considering moving back to New Orleans where she feels that black artists are better received and given the respect that they deserve. I have to say that as a dumb-ass white boy that I really have not ever noticed such a problem, but then again I probably wouldn’t. But most club owners and booking agents that I have run across have always seemed more interested in the ole’ bottom line than in any personal prejudices. Their main concern is filling the room and it just doesn’t make economic sense to turn any artist away who is capable of doing that no matter what their race.
But the problem of filling those rooms is what brings us to the second possibility, that of the jazz demographic itself. And I think that there are some artists out there who would rather chew on broken glass than have “jazz” associated with their name. It would be hard to blame them, being pigeon-holed as a jazz artist can limit the scope of your appeal. To some people the very term “jazz” brings to mind beatniks and bongos, bohemian characters in berets snapping their fingers and starting every sentence with “Yeah man!” or something like that. But there is no doubt that if you become known as a jazz artist then there are few places in town who might want to book you. Out of all the dozens and dozens of live music venues in Austin there is only one club devoted strictly to jazz, the venerable Elephant Room. And, wonderful though the place may be, you can’t really support yourself on the five dollar cover charges and tip jar down there. Tameca also plays Antones, Threadgills and the main Continental Club, but she is still usually referred to as a jazz artist, even when meant as a compliment. So if you are booking the acts for any of the major clubs in town and trying to attract that ever elusive UT crowd you might hesitate to book someone known for playing “jazz”. And the same with the local press, the thinking could be that jazz artists are more fringe than mainstream and always will be, so why waste coverage space on someone who is already known to the few fans of that particular genre?
So maybe Tameca is missing out on that love for reasons that are beyond her control, just a matter of human nature and our tendency to stereotype people, whether for race or for musical styles. At one time there were club owners and booking agents in town who prided themselves on breaking those barriers, but those are mainly gone now. When Clifford Antone was booking artists into his club he was known for bringing in people acclaimed for their shows and their artistry, not their record sales. He was responsible for bringing Miss Lavelle to Austin, booking her into his club and then signing her to his label to record her first solo albums. When Justin McCoy was booking acts for the original Emo’s on 6th he was known for bringing in acts that stretched the clubs boundaries beyond the usual punk /alternative shows, bringing in such diverse artists as Dale Watson and The Asylum Street Spankers. Hopefully some of the current booking agents will eventually defy the stereotypes and give Tameca the exposure that she is so deserving of.
And then of course there are the things that Tameca herself can control, those being what she brings to the table, wherever it might be set up. I had noted above that she came out with an EP last year, and currently she is working on putting together a full length release, this time of original music. Recording has not started yet, but she is following Kat Edmonson’s proven path of trying to get the needed finances together through Kickstarter. Hopefully the word will continue to spread about her and that album will soon see the light of day. And the added luster of doing her own songs may well be enough to push her over the top here in Austin, and then on to the wider love and acclaim that she so richly deserves. So why no love for Tameca? Just wait girl, it’s out there waiting for you.