Among the many highlights at last weekend’s Newport Jazz Festival was the Festival debut of Samara Joy, a 22-year-old jazz vocalist who played the Harbor Stage Saturday afternoon.
I sat down with the NYC-based singer for a brief chat just before she took the stage. It was her first time at the festival, and Joy, a 2019 winner of the prestigious Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition and a recent graduate of SUNY Purchase, was enjoying every moment.
“We were on the way here and I wasn’t feeling nervous or anything … I was like, OK, we’re going to play Newport, but now being here and seeing the stages and comparing it to behind the scenes and onstage footage that I’ve seen on YouTube… this is actually the place, this is real. It’s surreal and I’m grateful to be here,” said Joy.
“There are so many famous recordings connected to the festival, like (the 1959 documentary) Jazz and a Summer Day and that kind of thing,” she continued. “I had already internalized some of it, but being here is different. I don’t feel separate from it anymore, we’re a part of it now.”
In fact, her visit is long overdue – she won the Vaughan competition back in 2019.
“I have a set that I’ve been developing over the past year of traveling and touring,” she explained. “Originally I was supposed to play here in 2020 as part of winning the Sarah Vaughan competition but it didn’t happen and I’ve kind of grateful for that; now I feel I have something to offer that’s much more developed, more mature than I would have had after the competition.”
Her first album, the self-titled Samara Joy released in 2021, featured her take on a number of jazz standards, including favorites like Vaughan’s “Lover Man” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” She’s working on new music and expects to announce a new release soon.
“All the songs that I chose for my first album were standards that I’d learned in the previous couple of years when I was in school just gathering material. Now I’m experimenting with some new material, it falls under the same vein of standards, just different ones that maybe people haven’t heard of.”
Joy’s voice is remarkable, especially considering she’s only been singing jazz for about five years.
“I grew up in the city, born and raised in the Bronx, I’m from a family of musicians, but I didn’t listen to jazz music,” she explained. “My grandparents had a gospel choir called The Savettes in Philadelphia. My dad plays bass and sings but he wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music growing up. He had to sneak around and learn it on the radio before his parents got home, that kind of thing. It was almost a little embarrassing for me … I mean I’m from New York and my parents are musicians, and music was all around me growing up, but I wasn’t really exposed to jazz until I was about 16-17 years old.”
Samara Joy is an artist to watch. Look for her on tour later this year. For more on Samara Joy, check out her website here.