This Happy Accident

After a late start, Albuquerque's Bernadette Seacrest is finding sudden success in the jazz world

Honestly, says up-and-coming chanteuse Bernadette Seacrest, happenstance led her into singing her torchy brand of vintage jazz.

"The whole jazz thing just kind of fell into my lap," Seacrest says by telephone from her home in Albuquerque. "The whole singing thing just kind of fell into my lap. I'm just an old punk-rock girl who used to work in the fashion industry."

Now, Seacrest is about to embark on her first concert tour, promoting her beguiling debut album, No More Music by the Suckers, which was released this past December on ThrillBomb! Records.

Coming through Arizona on the way to the West Coast, she and her backing group, The Yes Men, will play Thursday night, May 19, at Plush. An added bonus: There's no cover charge.

Already, Seacrest's album has sold nearly 2,000 copies in and around Albuquerque and Santa Fe (where she plays weekly) and, thanks to the online music seller CD Baby, well beyond that number. The response has bowled Seacrest over.

"I didn't think anything would happen with this CD. We recorded it in a garage, for chrissakes, and it's been selling like crazy. People buy it from all over the world.

"It was released five months ago, and I just thought it would be something to give away to my friends. I didn't even know if it was that good. I don't know what happened, but it's the coolest thing in the world. It's totally taken on a life of its own."

As has Seacrest's burgeoning music career, which has become the focus of her life these days.

"That's something that's evolved through the last three years. I turned 40 this year, and I have more serious energy to devote to this project than anything else in my life."

This happy accident that is her music career began when Seacrest was invited about four years ago to sing for an Albuquerque rockabilly band, The Long Goners. She had never sung before in her life, she says.

"At first, it was hard and scary, and then it just seemed like it had been waiting for me for all my life. It was totally a fluke; it just kind of happened."

Eventually, Seacrest felt her musical interests pulling her away from rockabilly, which, let's face it, can sometimes seem like a caricature.

"I am really into Americana and more rootsy and more country stuff, which was part of the reason I left the rockabilly band, to spread my wings and do more country styles."

Realizing she needed a little seasoning, Seacrest hooked up with a mentor, upright bass player David Parlato.

"He was teaching me a whole lot about the basics of music. And I kept trying to put together this country thing, and I'm looking for a guitarist and not finding anything that fits. So one day, he and I started talking about, you know, 'What if you and I start fucking around?'"

Parlato and Seacrest then started playing out as a jazz duo, just vocals and bass. She had no idea the challenge in store for her.

"I didn't know any better, because I'm not a musician. But if I had any idea about how hard (playing in a duo) is, I would have never done it. It's really hard when you're so exposed like that. There's not much to hide behind, like there is in a band situation."

Which led Seacrest to form a band--Her Yes Men, which features bassist-songwriter Michael Grimes, drummer Jason Aspeslet and reedman Aaron Cummings, a brand-new addition to the group.

But it's not as if this gal's charm, gorgeous looks and raw talent could be hidden behind any band. Seacrest looks not unlike a cross between Gene Tierney and Myrna Loy, but with a generous assortment of tattoos on her arms and shoulders. About her is the intoxicating aura of a Golden Age starlet and a cool, come-hither song stylist.

Although the originals on No More Music by the Suckers--most of them written by bassist Grimes or Pat Bova, Seacrest's pal from her rockabilly days--are admirable, the CD also includes some ambitious cover tunes, such as "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Dream a Little Dream of Me," "Body and Soul" and the haunting "Strange Fruit," about a lynching in the Deep South.

Seacrest claims ignorance when saying she wasn't intimidated by taking on such iconic tunes.

"I just kind of did them, not knowing any better. As I started to kind of build my chops, I was like 'Oh my god, what was I thinking?' Now, I think that 'Strange Fruit' is probably the only song that I was truly intimidated by.

"It was not only because of the lyrical content, but I wondered, 'As a white woman, can I do this song?' Finally, I was like, 'Shit, you know, I think that's a really important song; it's one of my all-time favorite songs, and I am going to sing it.' I think that the message is universal enough that it can't be limited by race."

Seacrest is having a blast, but she admits the business end of the music business is a little daunting. She's getting a little tired of handling her own publicity, management and booking. But she can't wait to see what the future holds.

"I feel like this record is just kind of a beginning place, It's just where I am at right now. I don't feel that I am a jazz musician. The boys that I play with are--they live jazz--and I feel like I am just a girl who's learning how to sing, I'm just finding my voice. I have a lot of learning to do."

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