The Story 

With a smoky, alluring voice and uncannily mature, jazz-infused phrasing brimming with soul, 21-year-old Emmaline is an incredibly gifted chanteuse destined for stardom. Equally comfortable in jazz and neo-R&B settings, the charismatic singer reveals her influences — Anita O’Day and Billie Holiday on the jazz side, Erykah Badu and Lalah Hathaway on the R&B side — in mesmerizing interpretations of classic jazz and soul tunes, along with her startlingly fresh originals. Possessing a voice for the ages and a captivating stage presence, Emmaline is poised to take it to the next level on the strength of her superb six-song EP, All My Sweetest Dreams. After mesmerizing fans in Cincinnati (where she studied jazz at University of Cincinnati’s famed College-Conservatory of Music), Chicago (where she now lives) and New York City, she will make her Exit Zero Jazz Festival debut with her band of accomplished sidemen. 

Already a YouTube sensation, Emmaline Campbell hails from Anderson, Indiana — an hour northeast of Indianapolis — where she grew up in a musical family; her father Russ is a jazz pianist while her mother Julie is a singer and journalist. “From the time I was very young, we would sit at home in the evenings and play music or have listening parties in our room upstairs. My dad had a record player and the majority of what we listened to was mainly jazz, from big band music to solo artists like Chet Baker and Bill Evans. But I also listened to and more modern R&B and soul things like Brian McKnight, Lalah Hathaway and Erykah Badu.” 

Addressing the issue of whether she herself can be categorized as a jazz or R&B singer, Emmaline says, “I have been singing jazz my entire life—I studied it and I think that there is a place for me in the jazz world. Whether my music is strictly jazz I cannot say and in fact, would rather not. To me jazz is art, not a set of rules.” 

Expounding on that idea with a kind of clarity and wisdom that belies her young age, Emmaline adds, “I just think at this point, what is jazz anymore? Robert Glasper is using advanced harmony, improvisation and this great jazz vocabulary while incorporating all of these R& B and hip-hop ideas into his music, and that doesn’t make him any less ‘jazz’ than Miles Davis, in my opinion. Jazz is not only bebop, it’s not only swing. It’s all of that, and also what is happening today. The music is evolving and something new and creative is coming out of that.” 

The Sound 

While she exhibits a profound command of syncopation and swing other renditions of jazz standards like “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “All of Me” and “Blue Skies,” Emmaline can also melt hearts on smoldering rendition of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” or the Ray Charles hit, “Georgia On My Mind.” But she also stakes out her own territory on singular, groove-oriented originals like “All My Sweetest Dreams” and “Shy” or other appealing numbers like “Pick You Up,” “Old Soul Love” and “Sleep Talking.” This is one act you do not want to miss. 

Where & When: Seasalt Stage in the Ocean Club Hotel, Friday; Elaine’s of Cape May, Saturday

Michael Kline