Taking a page from turn-of-last-century entertainers who used humor, pratfalls and jaunty music, today’s Meet the Seavers is a combo of all that plus spice, verve and sting.
Comprised of married couple Jace and Dorothy Seavers, the act is not all shtick. The genuinely gifted musicians – he on upright bass/vocals, she with vocals – set the stage (literally), burn a torch song here and there, and rouse the emotions.
There’s comedy repartee and lots of ribbing. But in a song like “Inertia” when the sax comes out with his fat funk and Dorothy lights the match, the music throbs with attitude.
Where do you both get your Broadway flair from and how does it engage the audience?
When Dorothy and I were dating, I did a boxing themed show in which she was the ring/song girl. Having a love for fashion and wanting my show to be a great memory for all, she dressed in a Vegas showgirl outfit. (After each song, she would walk around the stage holding up a sign that read Song 1, Song 2, etc.) The audience loved it!
After a time, she joined me onstage as a singer. She expressed her desire to sing happy songs, not my brooding existentially themed ones. In light of this, I started writing music and lyrics that would illustrate Dorothy’s larger-than-life stage personality. In the process, I found that I liked writing and performing the theatrical pieces more than the philosophical ones. We both are crazy about clothes and costumes and realized that if we’re going to play out, we’re going to do it with style.
How big is the NON-country music scene in Nashville, and can you discuss the specific jazz buzz there?
It’s struggling. Almost non-existent. We love Nashville, but it is very myopic in nature. It’s country music everywhere, all the time. You cannot escape it. There is a small jazz scene here but you have to look hard for it.
The Nashville Jazz Workshop has classes and recitals but gigs are difficult to come by. In spite of this, Nashville has some of the finest jazz musicians in the world. Unfortunately, most of them have to play for country acts in order to survive. I don’t mean to sound negative, it’s just the reality of living here.
The saying goes: Get your band together in Nashville, then get on the road.
What made you decide to appeal to the non-country fans?
My approach to writing has always been “write what everyone feels, but in a manner that only an artist can express.” It doesn’t matter to me if you like country music or if you are a jazz snob. I want to be able to compose things that resonate with an audience. We actually do a lot of shows at singer-songwriter nights around town. Sometimes, it’s the only way you can get your foot in the door.
In Nashville, this usually means sharing the stage with two or more performers and taking turns playing original songs. Most of the time no one really pays attention… because, well, they are all pretty much playing the same song. When we get up to sing with just upright bass, the room always becomes dead quiet. People really don’t know what to think of us. It’s exciting and frustrating at the same time.
What about your atheist lyrics (Jace) for a Christian band: please share what that was like!
In the 80’s, I was employed at a studio in Chicago. One day the engineer started working on a mix for one of the big Christian rock bands of the era. They would come in regularly and record.
All of a sudden, I start hearing my lyrics come out of the speakers. I was pretty shocked. The lead singer of the group then comes up to me and says, “The band came across your writing and we think that God wants us to use your lyrics. Hope you don’t mind.” I have no doubts that the guy had absolutely zero idea what I was writing. He just thought it sounded cool. It should have been readily apparent by the content that they were written by an atheist. Their label continued to use my lyrics for five releases. I was compensated so I didn’t mind.
And what was it like playing bass in a gospel choir?
It was a great learning experience. I really didn’t know what I was doing when I started playing with the group. Everybody else had gone to school for music or had been playing gigs for years. I had only been playing for a year or so. Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, I was not very familiar with the music either. The first time I did a gig at a church on Chicago’s south side it was an experience. People were screaming and jumping up and down, passing out in the aisles and acting like they had lost their minds.
I never had to deal with stage fright because there were always about 40 people standing in front of me singing. Some gigs were fun like playing for Pres. Jimmy Carter. Other times it wasn’t so great like the time I was cussed out from the pulpit for being white and playing black people’s music. Most of it was good, though, and it gave me a great foundation.
When did you learn bass?
I picked up the bass when I was twenty years old. A local musician looked at my hands and said with hands that big you either should be playing bass or go back to the planet you came from. I’m pretty much self-taught and had to learn as I went along.
Having an appreciation for a wide variety of musical styles was a big help, but I didn’t really begin to understand things until I started playing jazz. There’s still so much I don’t understand but I love learning new things and striving to better one’s self is a great way to live.
Jace, when did you learn to be a vocalist, and how do you sing and perform while playing bass?
I was fortunate to take vocal lessons with world-renowned vocal coach, Ron Browning. When I first met Ron, I was performing in a jazz poetry group and was reciting my lyrics. Ron took me under his wings and convinced me to start singing.
Playing and singing is generally not a problem for me because I write our material and fashion the bass lines in a way that I can syncopate them with my lyrics. If I’m singing a standard, it’s a bit harder because it’s using someone else’s concept of rhythm. My biggest challenge is remembering my lyrics because I’m having to wear multiple hats: singing and band leader. Plus, I’m always trying to gauge the audience reaction to our performance.
Which regions that you both have lived in seem to be very strongly jazz-oriented- from Chicago to Wisconsin to Mississippi, etc.?
None of the places we’ve lived in had a strong jazz presence. They’ve all been pretty much dominated by the rock/blues scene more than anything else. I’ve always been the odd duck among my friends by liking jazz.
Dorothy, on the other hand, liked music but was more influenced by their costumes and stage presentation, although she was a huge Lawrence Welk fan.
Your extremely unique first record “Sugar in the Raw”- what inspired that?
Our first album was called “Sugar in the Raw.” It was a five-song EP with songs arranged for upright bass and vocals only. Nashville is a singer/songwriter town populated by thousands upon thousands of guitarists. We wanted to do something really organic and out of the ordinary.
Our second album is titled “You Don’t Want to Tango with the Inquisition.” That album is the antitheses of “Sugar in the Raw.” We went with a full band for that album. Many of the songs included are from our musical comedy “Throwing Stones at the Sun.” The album and the musical are comprised of many songs written in odd time signatures and styles. We even put a Theremin on one of the tracks.
We tend towards very theatrical in our performances and wanted the album to reflect that. The songs are very diverse but at the same time they sound like Meet The Seavers.
What do you find so natural about pairing comedy and music?
We have so much fun in our relationship that it naturally comes out in our music and performances.
Dorothy, early on, before meeting Jace and getting with a vocal coach, what music did you like and did you play any instruments or sing?
I loved every song they played on Soul Train! Like Ohio Players, Earth Wind & Fire, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan. I played first clarinet in high school but I haven’t played it up since. I’ve tried picking up the ukulele, xaphoon, harmonica and drums until finally deciding that the Theremin is more of my speed. Jace jokingly tells me that I can’t buy anymore instruments unless I try to play them for at least a month. Sidenote: I did get a standing ovation when I did a slide whistle solo!
I never really gave a thought to singing until I met Jace. One day I came home from work frustrated because I didn’t know what to do with my life. It seemed like Jace could do anything. He was an engineer, graphic artist, poet, composer, and he sang and played bass.
He told me to just pick a direction and go. He suggested that I take lessons from Ron Browning. I was extremely terrified at first but found out I really enjoy performing (well, dressing up lol)!
Name some of your favorite jazz musicians, past or present.
If I had to choose a favorite, I would have to say Charles Mingus. I think the man was an absolute genius. His 1964 band including Eric Dolphy, Danny Richmond and Jackie Baird was great. I also like his later material. Black Saint and The Sinner Lady always inspires me. Ellington was amazing, but Mingus’ angry, energetic, discordant music does it for me. Miles Davis’ album “Kind of Blue” is another favorite of mine.
What is it about the two of you that clicked—as musicians working together?
I’m methodical and calculated in my approach to music. Dorothy on the other hand is a free spirit who shoots from the hip. We balance each other out.
Were there any challenges to you being in an undefined musical category; and what about being a bi-racial couple in the industry?
Our motto is: “THEY DON’T FIT IN.” We are not your typical jazz group. Nor are we rock, pop or Americana. We do our own thing. In many ways we are a new genre.
Being so different has a plus and a negative side. Plus, because it’s new and we get to define it. Bad, because this is not the Jazz Age. The masses don’t gravitate to innovation. Most just want something safe, familiar and assume that whatever is mass-marketed is good.
Honestly, we are still trying to figure out a way to make people aware of us. It costs about a million dollars to launch an act nowadays. We don’t have that kind of money.
In order to raise awareness, we have been writing, producing and hosting our own musical/comedy variety television show called “The Meet The Seavers Show.” It runs multiple times a week in Nashville and has been picked up in several cities around the U.S. (it’s also on YouTube). The show is somewhat of a twenty-first century version of the Sonny and Cher show. We act as hosts, perform our music, do short skits and often have a guest musician play a song or two. It’s very homegrown and purposely campy. We are currently shopping the show to a larger cable network.
As for being a bi-racial couple, I think most people just breathe a sigh of relief. They see us as two individuals who genuinely love each other. We don’t have an agenda or desire to preach any sort of social awareness to anyone. We are not black and white. We are Jace and Dorothy.
Is it difficult to work with one another and be a couple? How do you get your own space?
As a composer, I have specific ideas on how I think the melody should be and how the song should flow. Dorothy on the other hand often has her own interpretation of melody and meter. I have learned that it’s best to let Dorothy go for it. It may not be what I’ve written, but it always works and sounds authentic.
Over the years, Dorothy has helped me lighten my lyrical content to make it much more upbeat. In fact, I never wrote humorous music until we started performing together.
In general, we complement each other and allow each other to go the direction we’re most comfortable with. You can’t have fun on stage if you’re constantly fighting with each other. As for space, I go downstairs to the basement and write while Dorothy stays upstairs and watches Zombie movies.
Next CD in the works?
We have several tracks recorded already that we might use for something new. Making a beautiful recording is a great ego boost, but unless you have many thousands of dollars that you can spend on marketing, your CD most likely will not be heard. So, like a lot of artists, we are evaluating the merits of spending money on things that don’t go anywhere. It’s a tough market out there, especially for innovators.
That being said, we really want to put something out on vinyl. Vinyl is AWESOME!
What themes do you like to incorporate in your music?
I love words. I love lyrics. They are the main reason I started doing music. I wanted a vehicle for my writing. I cannot express how much I enjoy the process of phrasing something in a unique manner or playing with metaphors, epiphors and diaphors. Historical and philosophical references are my favorite lyrical subject matter. To me, a clever lyric is better than a cigar (and both Dorothy and I love cigars).
It was a natural progression for us to add costumes and theatrics to our performances to give the audience a visual perspective. This sets us apart, because we don’t want to just stand there and sing.
Comedy is a terrific way to get the audience’s attention. It brings people’s guards down. Once that happens, they give you the opportunity to say more. It’s also a lot of fun being silly with Dorothy.
Talk about your band. Do they tour with you?
We do many gigs with just upright bass and vocals (Dorothy sometimes plays her Theremin). This is for economic reasons. We love a full band with a great horn section, but you can go broke that way. On gigs that actually pay decently, we generally use drums, keys and a sax. On big gigs, we will use a full horn section (trumpet, sax and a trombone or two). Having a full band behind you is an amazing thing and I wish we could do it more.
The upright bass and vocals gigs work because the songs are solid and Dorothy and I are able to play off each other to keep everyone entertained. The problem is that I have scored some interesting parts for other instruments, particularly the horns. You are only getting a partial presentation of our full sound without them.
Originals, covers, or both?
We do almost all original music. We don’t have an interest in doing what someone else does. When we do perform a cover tune, we arrange it in a way that makes it work for us. For instance, when we perform “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof, I’ve taken liberties with the form so it flows more naturally for us.
One of the other tunes we will cover is “My Favorite Things.” I love the Coltrane version. The original lyrics from the musical are cute, but I wanted to have more fun with them so I rewrote the lyrics to rhyming the names of philosophers and changed the title to “My Favorite Thinks.” I’m generally not big on rewriting someone else’s lyrics, but sometimes an opportunity to make a joke is too good to pass up.
Who writes- both of you?
I’m the guilty one, but Dorothy is my main inspiration. I keep telling her that everyone has at least one song in them, but so far, she’s keeping it to herself.
Talk about producing the video for “Intelligent Design.”
We both love black and white movies. That era seems to have so much personality and your mind fills in the color. We thought it would be fun to do our take of the Frankenstein story from the perspective of a woman who wants to get a man so badly that she creates her lover.
Fortunately for us, we know a wonderful filmmaker named Ryan Rehnborg of Surly Urchin Productions. I storyboarded my ideas. We filmed on green screen and then Ryan worked his magic.
Memorable tours or performances in 2017?
We did a gig in Green Bay, Wisconsin, last year that was memorable. The audience was extremely enthusiastic and really appreciated the uniqueness of our sets. They were especially thrilled that a band came dressed for the occasion. They applauded, danced, and purchased CD’s and tee shirts. The sound guy was great and the venue owner was ecstatic. We were well paid and they asked us to return the next time we’re in town.
Biggest challenge for indie artists today?
Exposure. It costs an insane amount of money to compete in today’s music market.
Traditionally, the market was about music and people made up their own minds about what they liked. Today, it’s a market which tells people what to like. This is done through huge ad campaigns which are designed to give the impression of talent and having a large fan base.
It’s very hard to compete in this arena unless you are either wealthy enough to buy into the game or have a backer who is. Artists must think outside of the box and find a way to bypass the system if they want to be successful.
Favorite club, venue or festival?
Our favorite event to perform is the Downtown Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s 1st Saturday Art Crawl. They close down the streets to make room for the stage. The people who attend the event walk from gallery to gallery and the music is at the center of everything.
Our favorite festival without question is the East Nashville Tomato Fest. It draws roughly 40,000 people. Dorothy always leads the parade dressed as a tomato. We look forward to it every year, whether we are on the bill on not.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts has been very good to us. They booked us for several large functions. And we performed at the opening for the Kandinsky and the Nick Cave exhibits. Those have been great opportunities.
A country you have always wanted to play is ________________?
Germany! People are always telling us to go overseas and play. We want to go, plan to go, and it’s on our bucket list. Any suggestions on how to make this happen will be greatly appreciated.
Plans for this year, performance/touring?
I’ve been writing some original Christmas songs with the violinist of the Nashville Symphony. The plan is to get a song or two into a major film. It’s a little different subject matter for me, but the songs will certainly have the Meet The Seavers twist.
We are really trying to push getting our TV show into syndication. We think that will give us our best path for exposure to a larger audience.
We’re also looking into house concerts as a vehicle for touring. House concerts are a great untapped resource and we love the intimate settings you get to perform in. It also gives you a great opportunity to interact with your audience on a personal level.
Thank you so much for the opportunity. We really appreciate your blog and for giving jazz artists and audiences a resource to go to.
For more information, visit www.meettheseavers.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Jace Seavers.
© Debbie Burke 2018