Jessy J, Blends Jazz, Latin, Samba & Immigration Politics

Posted September 28th, 2011 at 10:06 pm (UTC+0)

Jessy J at the Sept. 2011 Smooth Jazz Festival in Augsburg, Germany (photo by Peter Boehi)

Jessy J and guitarist Paul Brown at the Sept. 2011 Smooth Jazz Festival in Augsburg, Germany (photo by Peter Boehi)

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Sax sensation Jessy J has just returned from Germany, where she performed at the Smooth Jazz Festival in Augsburg, and grabbed audience attention with her authentic Latin-zing.

The rising star, whose songs zip up the smooth-jazz charts, also promoted her new album Hot Sauce. The CD features a rich, sizzling mix of jazz, hot beats, Latin and samba tunes – among them: “Till You Make Up Your Mind”, “Rio Grande”, “Remember The Night”, and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood”. Eight of the album’s 10 songs are original compositions.


I talked with Jessy J about her trip, her international tour, and her performance at the Dubai Jazz Festival in the United Arab Emirates. She talked about her collaboration with Joe Sample, and her Broadway lifestyle.  Also included are two of her compositions – one of my favorites is the politically-motivated “Rio Grande”.

“The reason I wrote (Rio Grande) is because of the [U.S.] immigration laws that are on the table right now for becoming a U.S. citizen — who is allowed to stay and who has to go home,” Jessy explained. “So, being a fresh generation of a Mexican father, I feel that everyone should have a passageway to the U.S. citizenship because if my father would not have moved as an immigrant, I wouldn’t have been born here in the United States, and I would not have heard Jazz. I feel it’s a way for people to have a new life, a new opportunity to live the American dream.”

The Rio Grande river is known in Mexico as “Río Bravo del Norte.” It flows from the southern Rocky Mountains of southwestern Colorado in the United States to the Gulf of Mexico.  The last 2,400 km of its course stretches along the border between Texas and Mexico.

Jessy J at the Sept. 2011 Smooth Jazz Festival in Augsburg, Germany (photo by Peter Boehi)

American Jessy J at the Sept. 2011 Smooth Jazz Festival in Augsburg, Germany (photo by Peter Boehi)

Jessy was born in Portland, Oregon in 1982, and was raised in California. Her mother is from Texas, and her father is from Sinaloa, Mexico. They both listened to a blend of Mexican and American music at home, giving young Jessy a rich culture that led her to explore music.  It also allowed her to develop an affinity for music from both sides of the border.

“I grew up playing classical music, like George Gershwin, Bernstein, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, I grew up playing all the classical music,” recalled Jessy.  She learned to play the piano at age four. Later on, Jessy listened to jazz greats and Avant-garde artists. She loved improvisation. When she went away to college in Los Angeles, she got into pop music. Drawing on her extensive Mexican-American experience, Jessy found it easy to blend modern jazz with spicy Latin and Samba.

“It is easy because of people like Stan Getz and Sergio Mendes, and people who have been doing it for long, “ the saxophonist noted, “João Gilberto, even now the Brazilian singers that are still doing it, that are still wonderful at it. I feel very inside of the two melt together, such a great blend. And even as a singer, I do listen a lot to the great Brazilian singers because of the way that they phrase and storytell during the song.  I really try to remake that sound from the 1960s. It’s a very soft sound, but it also fits perfectly into the music.”

Here’s a mix of jazz, and samba by two musicians who influenced Jessy J: Julian Cannonball Adderley and Sergio Mendes. This is “Groovy Samba”.

For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site,

3 responses to “Jessy J, Blends Jazz, Latin, Samba & Immigration Politics”


    I like the way present the story. High musical taste.


  2. Ronnie J says:

    Oh yeah! Groovy Samba. This is one of my favorite songs. Jessy J is rapidly making a name for herself. The influences of Julian Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane and Sergio Mendes can be heard in her new CD “Hot Sauce.”

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