Q&A with San Francisco Jazz Chaunteuse, Veronica Klaus on her new album, early influences, meeting Diana Krall and moving beyond the ‘transgendered’ label

Progressive Pulse: First of all congratulations on your new cd, “Something Cool”! I’ve read you’ve tried to capture the spirit of your live shows while trying to reach a larger audience. Are you happy with the final product?

Sample our favorite tracks from “Something Cool” here…

Klaus: Thank you so much!  I’m really happy with this new cd.  It’s the product of many years of performance and work at places like Enrico’s, where I had a two-year residency and had such a great time!  It was a real honor to be able to have a place where I could really work on my craft and my repertoire After those few years we have been singing at The Rrazz Room with the Tammy L. Hall Trio.  These songs are a sort of “best of” collection from these years.

Progressive Pulse: Was it hard to pair the album to this collection of songs with classics like , “Come Back to Me”, “Old Devil Moon”, “Travelin’ Light” and one of my favorite Joni Mitchell’s songs, “For Free”?

Klaus:  Well, you start with the very long list, and little be little you whittle it down to a strategically representative set.  One that hits all the points of the conversation–you know, the whole ROUNDED statement.  And ending with the Joni Mitchell song “For Free” to me is sort of a mission statement. I have been doing this long enough that I can relate to both the Diva and the street musician character in the song, so it’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek to sing “Me, I play for fortunes and those velvet curtain calls.” But a girl can dream right?  And on the other hand, we all know how many of us are really one paycheck away from the corner.

Progressive Pulse: I know you grew up in Illinois and earned a degree in music education at the University of Illinois. How did you get into jazz, and blues originally?

Klaus:  I really started to discover and develop an interest in blues, jazz and soul music in college when I discovered records by people like Etta James, Jimmy Scott, Bettye LaVette, Big Maybelle, Etta Jones and Nancy Wilson and many more.  But if I think back further, I have to say that Bette Midler really planted some seeds too.  Her early albums were such a revelation to me in a small town in Illinois.  She reached back and took songs from The Great American Songbook like Skylark, Am I Blue, and Surabaya Johnny, mixed in dramatic girl group numbers and dirty blues like Doctor Long John with pieces like Annie Ross’ Twisted and Ann Peebles’ Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home!  I treated those albums like a family tree and traced each song back to a wealth of earlier material.

Progressive Pulse: “Something Cool” is a great fusion of torch songs, blues and classic upbeat jazz gems. Does this reflect the diversity of music we can expect from the live shows?

Klaus:  Absolutely!  I always think you need to have a great range of material for a every show!  I do try to mix it up a little–some upbeat, some torch, and a little Something Cool! How long have you worked with Tammy L. Hall and her quartet?

Progressive Pulse: How long have you worked with Tammy L. Hall and her quartet?

Klaus: I’ve been working with Tammy L. Hall for many years now and she is my all-time favorite accompanist and musical director. She ALWAYS knows what you are doing and cares enough to be there with you – in mind and spirit. She has a new CD coming out very soon called Blue Soul – look for it!

Progressive Pulse: I know you’re about to perform in New York at Joe’s Pub and in West Hollywood at the Gardenia Room. For these shows you’ll be performing The Peggy Lee Songbook? Will you be performing any tracks from “Something Cool?

Klaus:  Yes, there are a couple of the pieces from the Peggy Lee Songbook show on this CD, most obviously “Why Don’t You Do Right?”  It was her first big hit and I adore this arrangement we’ve recorded!  But don’t worry, there will be a whole Peggy Lee Songbook CD coming out next year! wink wink

Progressive Pulse: I heard you recently got to meet Diana Krall and she was very impressed with your music? What was that experience like?

Klaus:  It was totally unexpected to meet Diana and her husband Elvis Costello at my workplace one day!  I just happened to be playing my cd at work, because I can, and because a girl has to promote ANY WAY SHE CAN :) and before I really knew what I was doing, I had given them one!  They were quite complimentary and that meant a lot.

Progressive Pulse: I remember years ago in the 90’s I was fortunate to capture some of your early performances in San Francisco. How has your career changed over the years?

Klaus:  Well, I’m not sure….I listen to the earlier cds and hear a big difference, but I think you just keep working and doing the things that inspire you at the time at they will always be your favorites!

Progressive Pulse: What is it about San Francisco that you have made this your home for so many years?

Klaus:  I love San Francisco!  I think that the climate, the laid-back attitudes (for better or worse), and the time people have to really enjoy the moments of life in San Francisco are what charmed me about the city.

Progressive Pulse: As one of the original transgendered singers with a successful career in the arts, have you experienced any friction from audiences, club owners or people in general?

Klaus:  I try to focus on the music and not worry about what people are thinking about me personally….I get a little weary of being called a

transgendered singer, but that’s just a fact of life that many people won’t understand. I’m not trying to explain myself through my singing.

What I try to do is communicate to an audience the same kind of thrill I get when I listen to Nancy Wilson or Jimmy Scott singing “Day

by Day”  If I can give them one moment when time stands still and they feel joy, or pain, or communion, then I’ve done enough.

Progressive Pulse: You are featured in the new documentary, “Transgender Tuesdays”. What was your involvement and will it be released any time soon?

Klaus:  I love that movie and was so pleased to be part of it and to contribute one of my original songs to the soundtrack “Waiting for a Kiss,” which is, by the way, available on itunes!

Progressive Pulse: I’m sorry I missed your one-woman show, “Family Jewels – The Making of Veronica Klaus”. Any chance you’ll have a revival of this show?

Klaus: I do get asked about my autobiographical show often and I am VERY proud of the work Jeffrey Hartgraves and I did on that piece.  It was presented at a time where I felt like I DID want to explain myself, because I wanted to be able to take the time to do it right–and my way.  You see, every listing or review I ever got said “local transgender singer” or something like that and I really felt the need to shatter that buzz phrase that I was always being reduced to.  So we wrote a full length theater piece with songs and stories of my life. I feel like I had my say.

Progressive Pulse: Besides jazz and blues, what do you listen to on your down time?

Klaus:  I’m an avid collector of 78rpm records from the 20’s and 30’s especially to play on my Victor Orthophonic Credenza phonograph!  If the power goes out, bring some scotch and we’ll crank it up!

Progressive Pulse: Now a fun question: If you could invite 5 dream guests to dinner, living or dead, who would they be?

Klaus:  Jazz singer Etta Jones–my friend and pianist Tammy L. Hall knew her well, and if I had known Tammy just a little earlier, I would have gotten to meet Etta.

Diana Vreeland, because I know she would have something FASCINATING to say!

Couturier Charles James–have you seen the beauty he created?

Marlene Dietrich–who wouldn’t?

Tallulah Bankhead–somebody’s got to get naked.

Progressive Pulse: Thank you Veronica for taking the time to chat with us! Again, congrats on the new cd and we wish you much continued success!

Listen to our favorite tracks from  “Something Cool” on our MUSIC page here! 

Veronica Klaus plays The Gardenia Restaurant: 7066 Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood tonight, September 21st and tomorrow, Saturday, September 22nd. 9PM. For tickets: www.therrazzroom.com

Get, “Something Cool” at iTunes: Something Cool - Veronica Klaus & The Tammy L. Hall Quartet