Jazz-pop musician Roxi Copland is a petite powerhouse. Even when hidden behind a Baby Grand, her presence is huge thanks to a voluptuous voice and fierce piano skills. Raised in Aberdeen, Washington, she is unlike her hometown predecessor, Kurt Cobain (there are no Doc Martens nor flannel) except for what may eventually make Copland a household name — innovation, showmanship, and passion.
Copland has released two EPs and another is scheduled for spring 2012. Her Oct. 13 show at Egan’s Ballard Jam House marked the launch of her solo, Pacific Northwest tour and first-ever Seattle show. “I’ve been ridiculously excited to be playing a show in Seattle. It’s a thrill,” says Copland, who moved to the Midwest for college and recently relocated to Vancouver, B.C.
“I probably know 90 percent of the people in the room!” Copland quipped at the beginning of her Egan’s gig. An intimate venue, it was packed with fans both old and new.
Copland’s shorthand description of her sound is jazz-pop, but it is clearly evolving with her career. She grew up listening to jazz thanks to her father, who played trumpet, and was exposed to gospel, blues and country courtesy of her mother. “I was heavily influenced by the American songbook. By my second EP (“Black Out The Blue”), without realizing it, the music started going in a slightly different direction,” says Copland. She cites elements of folk, roots, rock, and Southern blues unfolding in her compositions.
The Seattle set list included songs from her debut EP, “Streetwise,” such as the eponymous title track, “Straightaway,” and “Look Me In the Eyes.” Copland describes the latter song as her quintessential, bluesy breakup song. The beautiful heavy-heartedness makes it the perfect soundtrack for drowning your sorrows.
Copland particularly shines, however, on the slightly cheeky, spirited tracks. “Perfect For Me” has an appealing pop influence (with jazzy scatting) and charming lyrics. An ode to her husband, the song engaged the audience thanks to lyrics such as “I’m happy to report most of his Dockers are gone/For my part, last night I made a passable flan ... You’re perfect for me.”
“In Love With Trouble” is an example of how Copland successfully contemporizes jazz. Both the vibe and devil-may-care lyrics follow the tradition of classics such as Billie Holiday’s “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.” Copland further endeared the audience by explaining that she wrote it after a raucous night with her brothers. “It ain’t no fun for me unless it’s considered a sin, which probably explains the state I’m usually in.” Copland’s bluesy side can wring tears from the piano, but she can also inspire a rip-roaring good time.
Copland’s Seattle show focused on her own work, but a compelling reason to hear her live is for some of her excellent covers. As part of a collaboration effort last summer, she wrote an arrangement of the song “The Kids Aren’t Alright” by punk-rock band The Offspring. “I grew up in the Pacific Northwest listening to Nirvana, The Offspring, and everything else. I wanted to do a tribute to grunge and rock. That particular song just spoke to me as having an interesting arrangement,” says Copland. Whereas the original is infused with rock fury, Copland’s cover brings out the fragility and tragedy of the lyrics.
Copland also played new work from her upcoming release and “Play” is one not to be missed. It is a toe-tapping song that will easily be on your iPod’s constant replay. Her songs, such as “Play,” are often inspired by personal experience and her sharing the background history adds depth to her concerts.
“It’s a truly amazing experience to watch creators of art, musicians, perform it the way they interpret it. You’re getting the whole story, not just what was laid down electronically. Live performances are always ten times better because it’s not detached,” says Copland.
“Play” and the newer songs she previewed at Egan’s indicate a positive direction for her career. Earlier work sometimes blends together due to an occasional feeling of repetitiveness, particularly during mellow songs. Incorporating other genres, a pop beat or slight country twang, adds diversity, establishes a distinct personality, and has broader appeal. After opening for The Manhattan Transfer and Vanessa Carlton, her profile seems to be on the rise.
She plans on a national tour next summer and undoubtedly will return to Seattle, where she visited local clubs as a fan while growing up on the coast. She's already gotten a taste of seeing her own name in the big city lights, posting to her Facebook page a picture of the Egan's marquee with the evening's performers listed and commenting, "Lots of love to Seattle for the packed house tonight! And the sign out front was pretty cool, too."
Upcoming Northwest shows: Friday, Oct. 21, Olympia, WA, The 4th Ave.; Saturday, Oct. 22, Aberdeen, WA, The D&R Theater.