Story by ADRIANNE MURCHISON/Photos by JASON GETZ
Ah, to act out with wild abandon. What joy that would be, yes? Singer Eileen Howard offers some motivation in her rendition of “Wild Women Don’t Have No Blues.”
The jazz and blues performer appears at times during open mic night at The Velvet Note, playfully persuading the crowd with her spirited verve. “You never get nothing by being an angel child. You better change your ways and get real wild,” she sings.
The 1920s tune is also the title of Howard’s music showcase, which she recently performed to a sold-out crowd at the Alpharetta jazz club.
“’Wild Women’ [show] has a lot of songs about empowerment,” Howard says. “People can relate. People think of the blues as being sad, but there’s also a lot of sunny blues and tons of suggestive blues.”
She describes her show as part blues, jazz and jazz funk with a cabaret element.
Howard weaves stories between each song on love, heartache, loss and, oh yeah, those no-good men.
One story recounts how she and her husband, George, moved to Atlanta from New York City just over a year ago with his work organization, Global Ministries of United Methodist Church. The couple has lived all over the world, and while Howard is smitten with Atlanta now, she was heartsick to hear they were leaving New York City, where she had friendships and music connections.
“Atlanta is my 18th move,” she says. “It was hard, the idea of starting over.”
So Howard did what came natural. She wrote a song. Before leaving the Big Apple, the singer debuted “Woe is You,” a tune about packing up and leaving again, at Birdland Jazz Club.
Here in Georgia, she’s made new friends and connected with musicians. Singer and trumpeter Joe Gransden was the first musician who she met during a show at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. “He invited me to sit in and I sang a song,” Howard says. “Through him I met a lot of people. He is a very generous artist in terms of his encouragement of others wherever he can.”
Howard often performs during Gransden’s weekly open mic jam sessions at Venkman’s in Atlanta. “When I was a young musician in New York City there were a couple of guys that really took me under their wing and put me on the right path,” Gransden says. “When someone is new to Atlanta, I always try to do what I can. I remember well when Eileen came to the Ritz Carlton. It’s not really a setting for open mic but I knew by the way she spoke that she was an artist. She sat in and did a couple of songs and the audience loved it.”
Gransden and his big band play to a packed room twice a month at Café 290 in Sandy Springs. Upright bass player Neal Starkey, a musician in the band, was a part of Howard’s trio at The Velvet Note.
Grammy-nominated pianist Kevin Bales and Robert Booth Jr., a new addition to the Count Basie Orchestra, also accompanied Howard in her “Wild Woman Don’t Have No Blues” performance.
Although the Georgia newcomer and her husband live in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, the music scene often brings them to the Northside. In addition to appearances at The Velvet Note, Howard is a vocalist with Atlanta Swing Orchestra, which rehearses at Kingswood United Methodist Church in Dunwoody. Rehearsals are open to the public.
Gigs and open mic jam sessions around the Northside and Atlanta have helped Howard to settle into her new hometown. “The jam sessions have been a great way to meet people,” she says. “Having moved a lot in my life, I learned how to jump in. You are a little uncomfortable for a while.”
Nerves are not apparent from Howard’s sassy stage persona. “A lot of that is the actor side of me,” she says. “Like many artists, I am often a bundle of abject terror. But more than anything, my husband is my biggest fan and my rock. He [calms me down] and assures me that everything is going to be okay.”
More fans are out there. Howard encountered one at Atlantic Station. She recalls how a woman stopped her and said, “My friend and I saw you at The Velvet Note and have been talking about you ever since.”
Although Francine Reed and Lyle Lovett recorded a popular version of “Wild Women Don’t Have No Blues,” slightly changing the title, the song was written in the 1920s by Georgia-born blues singer Ida Cox. In the summertime, the Ida Cox Music Series is held in her hometown of Toccoa on Saturday nights. idacoxmusicseries.com
Eileen Howard’s albums are available on iTunes, Apple Music and CD Baby. She often performs open mic at The Velvet Note in Alpharetta, as well as Venkman’s, Red Light Café and Apres Diem in Atlanta. Thevelvetnote.com, venkmans.com, redlightcafe.com, apresdiem.com
Rehearsals with Atlanta Swing Orchestra are open to the public at Kingswood United Methodist Church. 4896 N. Peachtree Road, Dunwoody. 404-966-9257. atlantaswing.org
Joe Gransden’s Jazz Jam at Venkman’s is held 8-11 p.m., Tuesdays and regularly draws musicians from around Atlanta to the open mic. 740 Ralph McGill Blvd., Atlanta. 470-225-6162. venkmans.com
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