Emma Smith: Meshuga Baby

Former NYJO singer and sometime BBC Radio 3 jazz presenter sings standard and not so standard material, including Bob Dylan


While in her early teens, Emma Smith sang with The String of Pearls Orchestra and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, studied at Purcell School of Music, worked with and was coached by seasoned professionals, and made her first album, The Huntress.

She appeared at several London jazz clubs, at festivals, was with the Puppini Sisters, and in 2013 she won the Musicians’ Company’s Young Jazz Musician Award. More recently, with Soweto Kinch, she co-presented a weekly jazz show on BBC Radio 3. Release of this album, allied as it is to extensive solo touring in the UK, will doubtless bring yet more awareness of her jazz credentials.

Singing in an engagingly commanding manner, Smith draws her material from various sources, generally avoiding material overworked by other singers in or on the edges of jazz. Among the most familiar songs are George and Ira Gershwin’s But Not For Me and Irving Berlin’s There’s No Business Like Show Business, and Smith digs farther back in the Great American Songbook for Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn’s Makin’ Whoopee.

Additionally, Smith has co-composed several songs with pianist Jamie Safir, including My Revelation, Ballad Of A Wayward Woman and Monogamy Blues. Joining Smith and Safir are bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Luke Tomlinson. Collectively, these four musicians are collaborators rather than singer with accompanists and their togetherness contributes greatly to the musical success of the album.

Not only is Smith a forceful aural presence, throughout she intelligently explores and reveals to listeners the messages, implicit and explicit, in the songs she sings. This is particularly noticeable in Bob Dylan’s 1964 song, Hollis Brown, the lyric being uncomfortably relevant in today’s troubling times, and, from the same year, Bob Merrill and Jule Styne’s People, this lyric similarly relevant today if rather more optimistic. For the album title, Emma Smith acknowledges her cultural heritage with a play on the Yiddish word for crazy. Summing up in kind, this release is achla.

I Don’t Care; Where Am I Going?; Sit On My Knee And Tell Me That You Love Me; There’s No Business Like Show Business; Makin’ Whoopee; Think Pink!; My Revelation; Ballad Of A Wayward Woman; Monogamy Blues; Hollis Brown; People; Seventh Son; But Not For Me (57.45)
Smith (v); Jamie Safir (p); Conor Chaplin (b); Luke Tomlinson (d). Cardiff, December 2020 and May 2021.
Wingsor Castle Records