The title of Jamie Younkin’s debut album Did It Anyway sends a gleefully defiant message to all of the mainstream musical norms she dynamically transcends on an album that is ultimately the perfect soundtrack to a dreamy, romantic evening full of artfully re-imagined standards and sweet gossamer originals. Is she a trumpet player who sings or a vocalist who plays trumpet?
It’s the same question we still ask about Chet Baker, and we ponder a bit in thinking about smooth jazz great Rick Braun’s recent discography. Yet it’s refreshing here because she’s perhaps the first female impactful enough to prompt the question. Here’s one writer’s answer: Jamie’s sensual, ethereal voice is the emotional hook, but it’s her trumpet – used a full collaborative voice, not simply a gimmick or occasional solo instrument – that lingers in the heart long after each tune wraps.
After receiving her Ph.D in musicology from the University of Toronto, her career was committed to teaching and inspiring college students, conducting orchestras, bands and choirs and directing jazz big bands. Yet she still felt a voice was missing. Jamie has a whimsical response to the unique duality she has created with an ensemble of incredible Florida based jazz musicians: “There is something transformative about stepping out as a musician with your first album. It is a risky business. But before it is ever a business, it is a vocation and the voice in your heart will never stay quiet, never stop calling. I know it’s crazy. It might be ill-timed and it is definitely unwise, but…I did it anyway.”
Fans of adventurous vocal jazz that doesn’t sound like everyone and everything else will be grateful Jamie took the risk – and will definitely disagree with the “unwise” assessment! She starts out in familiar territory, doing the Chris Botti thing and offering her gossamer soul vocals over gentle trio arrangement (led by the stunning piano of Paul Tardik) at the start of “When I Fall In Love.” Just as we’re in full seduction mode, her dreamy, lyrical trumpet comes in – not simply as a solo but as that other voice, taking the next verse. It’s a stirring arrangement of a classic that makes it easy to embrace her rich artistic duality. She tackles a torchy, restrained, rock/blues arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun” a bit differently, embedding the trumpet almost as a call and response harmony line behind her vocals.
Jamie takes a stylistically diverse approach to her originals, slinking her way (with both voices) through a sexy Argentine beat on “Tango For One,” stripping down to just her and pianist Brian Gatchell on the wistful and melancholy “April Rain,” and getting back to a jazzy swing mode, lacing her lower toned vocals with sparks of trumpet grace.
She also gamely tackles two other jazz standard, putting her horn on full display for several minutes before the vocals kick in on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and surprising everyone again by singing the original Swedish lyrics on a dramatic romp through “Dear Old Stockholm” - which has been covered well by everyone from Miles Davis to John Coltrane but never with Younkin’s unique elements.