Jazz stylist Sony Holland and hubby/guitarist Jerry Holland return to Left Coast Wine Bar
When the going gets tough, the tough get creative — and mobile. Consider jazz singer Sony Holland, who’s pulled up stakes several times in pursuit of her muse. The native Minnesotan logged time in the upper Midwest, Nashville, Paris and the Bay Area before relocating to LA last year with songwriter husband Jerry Holland. Unexpectedly, what boosted her career was busking for tourists at San Francisco’s Pier 39 and Ghiardelli Square.
Holland’s silky, refined style isn’t what springs to mind when envisioning roughened street singers. Yet she hung onto the seemingly humble gig, which eventually helped her score work at higher-profile clubs, throughout her seven-year stay in San Francisco.
“I kept meeting new people, and I met so many people from around the world,” she recalls. “When they’d come back to visit the United States, they’d ask, ‘Are you playing anywhere?’ Eventually they’d get to see me in more of a small concert type setting. I loved it. It worked really well, because I sold CDs and developed a fan base, and you can make a little bit of money out there.”
It was a heartening development after her eight-year dry spell in Nashville (and, prior to that, paying dues touring the upper Midwest in rock and funk cover bands). While Holland’s pop dreams ran aground in Music City, that’s where she met her husband, who was penning country hits for the likes of John Michael Montgomery. During a 10-month sojourn to Paris with him, she fell in love with jazz.
“I had gotten a little more experience and decided that maybe pop wasn’t really what I wanted to do, because as you get older with pop careers, you know, you have to be 17,” she says with a laugh. “I was really drawn to the sophistication of [jazz] lyrics and melodies … I rented a rehearsal space, and just worked my voice a lot. I listened to Julie London, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, all the song stylists — Nancy Wilson — and basically tried to learn from all of their phrasing and all of their passion.”
She cites Wilson as her “No. 1 female favorite, because she did everything — R&B, pop, Broadway tunes, jazz — and she did it all so well, and she still does.” Like Wilson, Holland describes herself as a stylist, and considers her audience when selecting material. Her new album “Sanssouci” smoothly combines her personal taste for haunting material with Jerry Holland originals and melodic standards. She’s been surprised by response to the title track, a lilting Rufus Wainwright cut.
“When we started doing ‘Sanssouci,’ people were just knocked over,” she says. “It’s a really special tune.”