Q&A With Singer/Songwriter Kat Edmonson

By Fred Cummings

From the Autumn 2015 Issue of Clef Notes Journal

Texas native Kat Edmonson is not afraid to blaze her own trail. After her second-season advance to multiple rounds of American Idol ended, the self-taught artist returned from Hollywood to Houston, rolled up her sleeves and got to work making the rounds at local clubs, building a following from the ground up until her 2009 self-released title Take To the Sky hit the top 20 on Billboard’s jazz charts. Soon movers like Lyle Lovett and shakers like Willie Nelson took fast notice, and she was playing gigs and recording albums with music’s biggest icons.

Only her second title, Way Down Low offered up an opportunity to record her own original material, doing so at the historic Avatar and Capitol Studios. A Boston Globe writer called the effort “one of the greatest vocal albums I’ve ever heard.”

Whether she’s innovatively re-imainging jazz standards or forging her own compositional growth, Edmonson’s verve and musical drive have created a path that is anything but worn. Her fresh approach to her art has left her with no compunction for letting grass grown under her feet. And anticipation has been brewing for some time over the growing arc of her exciting career. One thing’s certain: audiences will have a fantastic ride following it.

I had the pleasure of chatting with the artist and got her take on where she’s been and where she’s going:
When did you first realize you had such a passion for the old jazz standards?

Well, I didn’t necessarily realize that until I went to the Elephant Room (in Austin, TX) one night and heard jazz musicians playing the songs that I had listened to my whole life.  Before that, I never thought of them as old jazz standards as much as just good, old music. 

Who were you biggest musical influences? 

It was the actors in the movies (I watched growing up) that were also singing and dancing like Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Frank Sinatra.

With such a distinct affinity for the genre, did you feel any pressure finding your way through the American Idol system as you did, to shift your focus to more popular genres?

Don’t get me wrong, I like many genres of music, including more contemporary ones, but I feel the older style is what I sing the best.  Having said that, yes, I was not totally in my element on American Idol.

Since American Idol you seem to have found your wings with three successful albums under your belt. How did you come to make the leap from performing to recording?  

I knew eventually I would make a record—it seemed inevitable—I just didn’t know how.  Much of my education came in the format of trial by fire.  One day, after finding someone to arrange songs for me and after finding a good band, I booked a studio and we went in and recorded them.  It wasn’t as simple as that sounds, but it’s essentially what happened.

How did you come to work with Lyle Lovett?

Lyle’s girlfriend, April Kimble, heard me singing in a wine bar one night and introduced my music to him. Lyle liked my music and asked me to come sing with him one night in Austin. It went so well that he asked me to come on the road with him the following summer. He and April really mentored me through that year and the ones to follow.

What is it like working with him?

Working with Lyle is a complete honor. I’m still humbled by the opportunity to work with him.

With writing at the forefront now in your career, from where do you draw your inspiration?  

I am still inspired by old standards, but I also love the pop music of the '50s through the '80s.  Can’t really speak to much of the music after the ‘80s. 

Just in the last five or six years, with invites to such venues as Tanglewood and the New York Jazz Festival, your schedule must have taken quite a jolt. How have you adjusted...or have you? 

I have adjusted now to traveling all the time.  It has never been that difficult for me however, I do relish my time at home. Home is my favorite place.

What do you love to do most away from music? 

I love acting and writing (apart from songs).  I’m ready to begin doing both now that I’ve established myself in the music business. 

Tell me about The Big Picture? Will we hear songs from the album when you take the stage at City Winery this fall?  

The Big Picture showcases my love of music from Henry Mancini, Sergio Leone, Brian Wilson, Ricky Nelson, Fleetwood Mac, Roy Orbison, Harry Nilsson, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and Neal Hefti.  Yes, you’ll hear most of the songs from the album at my show.

You can hear those songs when Kat takes the City Winery stage October 24th this fall.

Singer/songwriter Kat Edmonson will appear at City Winery this October (photo by Robert Ascroft)