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Young performer already has built impressive résumé

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FARMINGTON — Kandace Springs has a habit of rising to the occasion. It seems like every time her music reaches the ears of someone who can help her take her career to the next level, she makes a profound impression.

That trend started when, as a 17-year-old high school student, she cut a demo recording that came to the attention of Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken of the SRP Music Group, the men who discovered Rhianna. The two were so impressed, they tried to sign her to their production company — an offer Springs and her family rejected, deeming it premature.

A year later, finished with school and on her own, Springs found herself auditioning for Don Was, musician and legendary producer who has overseen albums by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Carly Simon, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Bob Seger, Brian Wilson, Lucinda Williams, Van Morrison, Iggy Pop, John Mayer and the B-52s. Springs aced the audition with her cover of Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," and Was — the president of the iconic and venerable music label Blue Note Records — signed the young pianist and vocalist to his roster.

Later, with her debut EP in the can and awaiting release, a video of Springs performing a cover of Sam Smith's "Stay with Me" was posted online, where it was spied by none other than Prince, who tracked the young performer down through her label and called her up to chat.

"The next thing I know, I'm flying to Minneapolis," said Springs, who is part of the Blue Note Records 80th anniversary tour that makes a stop this weekend in Farmington. Springs will be joined here by labelmates James Francies and James Carter.

Springs wound up performing with Prince in 2014 at his estate Paisley Park for the 30th anniversary celebration of the seminal album and film "Purple Rain." The two developed a friendship, and Prince became a trusted adviser to the young artist, with their relationship enduring until his death two years later.

The best advice he ever gave her?

"Don't cover up your voice," Spring said during a telephone interview last week from the road in Wilmington, Delaware, as she recounted the highlights of her relationship with the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer.

What Prince meant by that, she said, was to make sure her sparkling vocals — he once said she had a voice "that could melt snow" — remained out front, never hidden behind or obscured by her instrumental accompaniment.

But that's exactly how Spring approached her music as a child while growing up in Nashville. She took up the piano at age 10 and quickly began working her way through classical and jazz material, developing an affinity for the work of Nina Simone.

Her father Scat Springs — a highly regarded session vocalist who has recorded or performed with artists ranging from Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle and Donna Summer to Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and Vince Gill — tried to convince her that just playing the piano wasn't enough.

"He said, 'Kandace, you need to sing, you need to sing – that's how you start reaching even more people,'" she said.

Springs eventually took her dad's advice and started testing out her pipes. But unsure of her talent, she kept her vocal explorations a secret for many months.

"I started trying it, but I wouldn't tell anybody," she said, laughing.

Springs liked to wait until her parents left the house, then make a beeline for the piano to play and sing. As soon as she heard a car pull into the driveway, "I'd run back upstairs like I wasn't doing anything," she said.

That charade continued until Springs heard Norah Jones' perform the Hoagy Carmichael-Ned Washington classic "The Nearness of You" on her 2001 hit disc "Come Away with Me." Springs fell in love with the tune, learning to play and sing it just as Jones had done, and that provided the spark that led her to finally take her vocalizing public.

Her father, more than happy to indulge his daughter's budding creativity, wound up taking her along on gigs, often bringing her onstage to sing with him. It was during those sessions that Springs honed her chops in styles ranging from soul and R&B to jazz and pop. By the time she signed with Blue Note in her late teens, she was already a seasoned veteran, one who could glide across genres almost effortlessly.

Since that time, she has displayed that versatility over two well-received albums, 2016's "Soul Eyes" and 2018's "Indigo," with her latest recording due for a March 2020 release. The new disc finds Springs reunited with Larry Klein, who also helmed "Soul Eyes." She describes it as a more traditional, straightforward release of jazz standards, a step back from the crossover R&B, soul and pop that was found on "Indigo."

Springs works with a variety of heavy hitters on the disc, including multiple Grammy winners David Sanborn on saxophone and Christian McBride on bass. Best of all, she gets to fulfill a childhood dream by pairing up with Jones on a duet of the Matt Dennis/Earl Brent-penned "Angel Eyes."

But with the recording not slated for release for several more months, Springs is enjoying representing Blue Note on the 80th anniversary tour. At one time or another, artists ranging from John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, the Rev. Al Green and Lena Horne to Norah Jones, Annie Lennox, Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, Thelonious Monk, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson and Aaron Neville have recorded for the label. Springs said she considers herself deeply fortunate to find herself in that kind of company.

"It's awesome," she said. "It's an honor to be a part of Blue Note. There are so many great artists on that list, and I'm proud to help keep jazz alive for a younger generation."

Each artist on the tour will perform a set of approximately 35 minutes, then all three will take the stage for the finale, during which they will perform a classic Blue Note tune.

The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. Tickets are $20 and $28. They can be purchased online at fmtn.org/CivicCenter or at the box office. Call 505-599-1148.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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