Q&A: singer/trombonist Aubrey Logan
In this 360°Sound exclusive, we spoke with jazz and pop singer/trombonist Aubrey Logan about her music and career. Logan, 32, recently moved to Austin, Texas from Los Angeles. She grew up in the Seattle area and attended Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship. In 2009, she won awards at the Montreux Jazz Festival and was a contestant on American Idol.
Logan has been featured on Postmodern Jukebox, a musical collective known for traditional jazz covers of modern pop songs. Logan’s version of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” has racked up nearly 3 million views on YouTube. Her second and latest album, Where the Sunshine Is Expensive, went to No. 1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. The album, like her 2017 debut Impossible, consists of mostly originals and a few covers.
What drew you to Austin from L.A.?
I was on tour with Dave Koz, and we were doing a collaboration tour with a couple of other horn players. We were here two years in a row, and each time we came I felt like, ‘Man, this place is great. I need to be here.’ I’d say wouldn’t it be funny if I moved here? Because every time I came I kinda had all the feels. The music scene is obviously very vibrant. I just like how Austin feels. That joke then became quite serious [laughs]. I joked with my tour band members, ‘Don’t tell my husband I like it here because he would love it here.’ And sure enough, he did. L.A. served us really well. I love it there. I’ll always have the community that I was able to form there and the support that the people have given me there. I just really fell in love with [Austin].
You moved to L.A. to get your career going and while the record executives thought you were very talented, they didn’t know how to market you. Tell us about the challenges with that and having to carve your own path.
I was rejected so many times, and it’s been a blessing every time. In the early years, I was incredibly young and naïve and incredibly self-conscious, which is how most people are when they’re starting out and don’t know anything about the entertainment industry. The recurring theme I got was, ‘You do so much, what can we narrow down?’ ‘You sing and play trombone, let’s take away the trombone’ or ‘You sing and play trombone, let’s take away the singing.’ In hindsight, it wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world for me to have gone the direction of narrowing. But I had a feeling, somewhere in my heart, even though I was quite young, naïve, and mostly dealing with my own fears, it doesn’t show what I would like to show.
Either they rejected what I wanted to do, or I walked away from what they wanted me to do. They were well-meaning people, and they were trying to do their business the best they knew how, and I didn’t fit in. It turns out that my live show became my playground because that’s where I told the story. It turned it into basically this modern jazz cabaret show. I was able to showcase an arc of a show to an audience, even though I do so many different things that it might sound disjointed. You can see from the 90-minute show that it’s definitely not disjointed. I had to come to terms with that by doing more live shows. That became my love. I’m super blessed by all of that rejection.
Why did you choose trombone? I understand that trombone was more popular as a jazz instrument in the big band/swing era and fell out of favor some with the rise of bop.
If it fell out of favor, I’m none the wiser. I don’t pay much attention. I’ve got my blinders on. The trombone never fell out of favor with me. I was always a fan of Chicago and James Brown. I’m somewhat oblivious to what the historical context is doing sometimes because I can’t keep up. I certainly love it. It truly is 10,000 times more difficult than singing – at least to me. I’m certainly happy I stuck with it. I think it’s a gift and a blessing to play it. The trombone sings. It’s so flexible and can really phrase beautifully.
Mechanically, the trombone has no buttons and you don’t use your fingers. You use your whole entire arm. It does not lend itself well to fast passages like the saxophone, the flute, and even the trumpet does. Saxophone players can practice for like four hours straight or even longer and not even get much lip fatigue. Trombone and trumpet players can’t do that. So, we do have a few things working against us. But the beauty of the instrument is it does lend itself to different styles.
“Airport Codes” is one of my favorites from your latest album. What was the mood you wanted to evoke with that song?
That song is an original of mine, and I wrote it at the airport alone. I wrote it at several airports. Traveling and touring seems glamorous to people if they haven’t done it, but then you find out it’s lonely and difficult and expensive [laughs]. Those emotions are what fueled that song.
I presented it to my band on tour. I hadn’t really written something quite so jazzy. My originals were leaning more toward pop and R&B. It turned in to the band’s favorite song like immediately because they got to really spread their wings and show off on it. I wanted that to happen. The band will quit if I don’t put that song in the set. They will walk out. I keep it in the set so that I have a band [laughs].
What have you learned from working with contemporary jazz star Dave Koz?
Dave Koz is a master of a lot of things, but there are two things he does that really affected me and humbled me. One is collaboration, that’s the biggest one. I think he will always use his peers to his advantage, but it also is to our advantage. He needs it, and he needs to help others and lift other people up.
The other thing he’s a master at is knowing his audience. He cares deeply about what they care about, and it shows, and it helps the business for sure. I’m taking notes because I’m not so great at that. My first instinct is ‘What do I like?’ What do I feel good doing?’ Dave’s first instinct is ‘What does my audience want to hear?’
He loves to introduce people to one another that has no benefit to him. He brings people together. He’s the epitome of an extrovert. I will never be able to keep up naturally with that, but I can still learn some things. He has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met in the music industry. Many of the people that I’m most close to in this business are in my life because of him.
You’ve worked with a lot of big names, including Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Josh Groban, Smokey Robinson, and Pharrell Williams. Is there a story you’d like to share about one of them?
I performed for Burt Bacharach. It was a Burt Bacharach-themed show. We were performing Burt Bacharach’s music for Burt Bacharach. I was nervous. Everyone was. And he was sitting in the front row. There were several singers being featured and each singer did one song. There were a lot of powerhouse R&B/soul singers on that show. I was the only one that was really more on the jazz side. The music director, Ken Zambello, was in charge of putting the show together. Ken asked me if I wanted to sing, and I was like sign me up. There are so many good Burt Bacharach songs, “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” “Walk On By,” I’ll take any Burt Bacharach song, they’re all great. Ken looks at me and goes, ‘You’re gonna do ‘Promises, Promises.’’ I’m thinking that’s the only Bacharach song I can think of that’s in mixed meter, it changes tempo, and it changes key. That is the one song I really would like to avoid. I like the song, it’s sophisticated and Bacharach-y, but I didn’t want to sing it.
Ken had arranged a really nice arrangement of it. It had a scat solo, there were strings. So, I ended up kind of liking it. I did the whole show, and I got through it. The lights were kind of dim, but I think Bacharach was smiling during it. I go backstage and Bacharach was there, he was meeting the performers. He came up to me and grabbed my hand with both of his hands, looked me in the eye with a big smile on his face and said, ‘I am so happy you did that song. That made me so happy. It’s one of my favorite songs to ever write. Nobody ever does that song. It was my favorite part of the whole evening.’ I was like I think next time I’m gonna trust Ken with the song choices. I was happily put in my place.
[Editor’s Note: We don’t have a video of the “Promises, Promises” performance. However, Logan covered Bacharach’s “Alfie” on her latest album.]
What can fans expect from you in the future?
There’s never been a time in our lifetime where we are very certain that nothing is certain. But I will indeed be doing online streaming shows very soon. They will be ticketed, and they will be exclusive to those who participate. The announcements will be mailed out in the coming weeks on my mailing list to anyone who wants to get a ticket to those events. And as soon as I am allowed, I will be doing live shows.
But wait, there’s more! Allow us to leave you with this little gem. It’s a cover of a song by some fella called “MC Hammer.”