“For its’ jaw-dropping chutzpah, Stealing Genius deserves a Juno.” – Peter Goddard, The Toronto Star
“The trumpet work by Mr. Sperandei is exquisite and Ms. McConnell has restored my faith in Canadian female vocalists.” -Jim Gould, CJAI 92.1FM
“One of the top jazz albums of 2012.” -Jaymz Bee, JAZZ FM 91.1
Behind Stealing Genius
Sometimes the stars align, the people who should meet, do meet, at the right time and in the right place. Other times, fate needs a helping hand. Amy & William fall into the latter category.
“Stealing Genius” executive producer Feisal Patel had been wanting to make an album with jazz trumpet player William Sperandei for years. “William is actually the best trumpet player I’ve ever heard. And I’ve heard some of the best. I couldn’t believe he was playing in this small club in Toronto and not onstage at Lincoln Centre. I immediately wanted to do a recording project with him.”
As it turns out, William, who studied jazz with Marsalis clan patriarch Ellis Marsalis in New Orleans, has played with some of the best, including Wynton Marsalis, Andrea Bocelli, David Foster and more. William and Feisal both wanted to work with a singer, but they had a very specific idea of what they were looking for and no one ever seemed quite right. They wanted someone with a beautiful, dramatic voice, who loved melody and who shared William’s commitment to excellence.
“Ellis always said that my job as a trumpet player was to support the singer and what she was doing with the song. And I love doing that. There is an art to doing it well.”
About five years had gone by when Feisal dropped in on a Toronto jazz jam one night and heard Amy McConnell joyfully making her way through a Cole Porter song. Her voice was what caught his attention first. “It was warm and rich. Her tone was exquisite. On top of that she was really feeling the lyrics, respecting the melody and making the song her own. The audience loved her.” He knew he had found their singer.
It took six months to work around Amy and William’s schedules to get them to perform together, but when they did it was magical. Amy’s singing background is both jazz and musical theatre so “she really understands the art of singing as an expression of words,” William says. “Also, her technique is polished and she has incredible intonation.”
Amy is just as big a fan of William’s. “William is amazing. He stands there and music just pours out of him. And it’s different every time and it’s brilliant every time. He plays with so much imagination and fire.”
“When I first heard him play, what really struck me was his tone. It was so pure, so beautiful. Almost more like a classical player than a jazz player. It’s something I work at as a vocalist and I really appreciate a musician dedicated to getting the best sound possible out of his instrument. Also, his solos are amazing, but he’s not all about the solo, he’s thinking about the whole song. He gets that a song is a story. I feel that I sing the lyrics and William plays the lyrics.”
Our Album Concept
Choose the best songs. Then, SERVE THE SONG. Before we interpret a song, we ask ourselves what it’s about, what’s the best way to express it? Is there something there that hasn’t been brought out before? We never change a tempo or arrangement just to be cool and different. It has to work with what the song is about. Then, when it comes down to execution, Amy is melody & lyrics, William is harmony and improvisation and it’s all set to Mark Kieswetter’s inspired jazz arrangements. Old fashioned idea, but it works.
Michael Kaeshammer Duet
William is in Michael Kaeshammer’s band and Amy is a huge fan of his, so the duet was a concept everyone embraced. ”I love Michael’s sound and I wanted a song that I thought would suit him and I remember the Ink Spots’ I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire. I first heard it in a Chanel commercial directed by Ridley Scott and it stayed with me. I thought it would suit Michael’s voice and his style perfectly.”
No limits. Songs we love, there is so much to choose from! So we have Edith Piaf, Led Zeppelin, Elivs, some 1950s R&B, the Beatles, as well as some 1930s and 1940s songs that are more traditionally jazz. We are the unifying thread.
We can’t talk about our album without mentioning music director and pianist Mark Kieswetter. He’s brilliant, so let’s get that out of the way. His presence on this album is huge. William says “There are a lot of jazz pianists who can play a great solo. There aren’t very many who can play a great solo AND accompany a singer the way Mark can. It’s those little moments in between where you see his genius.” Amy says “His arrangements are always right for me. It’s a joy to sing with Mark too. He’s elegant, passionate, sensitive… Everything he touches he makes beautiful.”