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The Power of Song: Emily Elbert uses her jazz/folk fusion to connect with audiences and explore her inner spiritual side

BY DANNY MOGLE // July/August 2017

To begin to understand Emily Elbert’s faith in the power of music to touch lives and fuel introspection, just listen to some of the songs she sings in videos on YouTube.
She offers a relaxed jazzy interpretation of Michael Jackson’s 1982 monster pop hit “Thriller.” She covers Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” a song from 1971 drawing attention to the hardship Vietnam veterans were facing after returning home from the war. And you’ll find her singing “Turn, Turn, Turn,” a 1965 hit by The Byrds pleading for the world to give peace a try.
On Elbert’s Facebook page she describes herself as a progressive musician with an old-soul voice and global spirit who weaves “a rhythmic soul-folk blend that is equal parts introspection and celebration … while paying tribute to the timeless.”
“Many of these (older) songs feel really connected to right now,” says the 28-year-old singer/songwriter during an interview. “They are very relevant today. … They make sense to me.”
Elbert says songs with strong messages allow her to “connect the dots in a new way” and establish an “authentic connection” with her audiences.
“I want us (me and the audience) to be in this together. I want to be able to make eye contact, to get to the heart of the music. When you do that, it’s pretty intangible.”

INTERNATIONAL INFLUENCES

Elbert was raised in the Dallas suburb of Coppell. Her mother was a teacher and her father a professional piano player. She began taking piano lessons as a child and at age 14 received her first guitar.
She credits her dad as being her first and greatest musical influence and has said that while growing up she was exposed to a wide variety of music, including that of influential Brazilian jazz singer/songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim, the smooth sounds James Taylor and folk music from the 1960s.
By the time she was in her mid-teens, Elbert was an accomplished musician and had made up her mind that she was going to spend the rest of her life singing, writing songs and playing guitar.
To pay for classes at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Elbert began selling her music on line and performing jazz/blues/folk interpretations of classic and current hits in as many gigs as she could.
She put out her first album, “Bright Side,” in 2006. Three other self-released albums followed: “Proof” in 2010, “Alive in Love” in 2011” and “Evolve” in 2013.
The website Gigmasters says of Elbert: “From soothing, mellow bossa novas, jazz and folk, to groove-laden funk soul, and rock and roll, Emily Elbert plays a unique hybrid of styles woven together by a sweet spirit and a captivating voice. With a wide-ranging repertoire of both covers and original music, Emily’s sets are both soothing and uplifting.”
 While in Berklee, Elbert was exposed to musicians from all over the world and it led to opportunities for her to perform abroad. She has played more than 1,000 shows overseas at venues ranging from the Mideast to South America.
Now based in Los Angeles, she often collaborates with others. Elbert spent most of last year touring with Esperanza Spalding, the Grammy winning jazz musician known for live shows that creatively blend music, theater and performance art. Spalding’s “Emily’s D+Evolution” tour included stops at the historic Apollo Theater in New York City and the Sydney Opera House in Australia and a performance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
As a soloist, Elbert has opened for G. Love & Special Sauce, an alternative hip hop band; Grammy Award winning bass guitar player Victor Wooten; and jazz guitarist Kaki King.

SPIRITUAL SIDE

Sitting in a Tyler, Texas, restaurant a few hours before an acoustic show at a music venue in nearby Edom, Elbert speaks of performing in terms of it being a spiritual experience. She says that for her, music is part of a process of “seeking and searching” that has “a special place in my heart emotionally and spiritually.”
Her concerts have been billed as music for the soul at which she strives for a deepening sense of human and spiritual connection.
Last year, Elbert teamed with fellow singer/songwriter Seema Seraj on “Sage & Sun,” a collaboration described as “offering up musical prayers for healing and harmony, born from folkloric and mystic traditions around the world.”
On her Facebook page, she says her lyrics touch on personal journeys and the divine.
Her most recent music includes the introspective song “Letting Go.” In it she sings:  
Our darkness is important, to be treated with respect/
For us to be reborn, then we must also honor death/
Only illusion keeps us separate, moon in east and sun in west/
Soon we’ll leave these bodies, releasing all that we thought we possessed/
Letting go, letting go/
A return to what the soul already knows.
Before taking the stage, Elbert says she “purifies” herself by spending time alone to clear her mind and center her thoughts.
“It’s a time I get connected to my breath and body. It’s such a spiritual thing to me. It’s like a prayer.”
 

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