Francesca Esme
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Francesca Esme

Band Jazz Cabaret


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A gifted young jazz singer whose classically trained voice evokes the tradition of great singers of the 1950’s. On the cutting edge of vocal style, Francesca Esmé is one of the most promising figures on the national vocal jazz spectrum. In the great tradition of June Christy and Peggy Lee, Francesca is making her mark on the national stage as a singer of taste and distinction, with a bit of Southern grit thrown in the mix.

Born Francesca Esmé Johnson into music, her father (bassist Marc Johnson) played in Bill Evans' last trio as well as with Stan Getz, John Abercrombie, Eliane Elias, and many others. Francesca’s first words were, literally, "Bill Evans". Her mother (Stephanie Jutt) is a classical flutist and founder of the Wisconsin-based chamber music festival Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society. Francesca grew up absorbing the music that would sculpt her future.

Developing her musical talent at an early age, she studied piano and played cello as a young child. In middle school, she began singing in the Madison Children's Choir in Wisconsin. Right away she knew the stage was her home. She was encouraged to take voice lessons and began classical training when she reached high school. After receiving a significant scholarship and entering the legendary Jazz Studies program at the University of North Texas (Norah Jones, Marc Johnson), she was able to perform with the Downbeat Award-winning Jazz Singers ensemble. She also sang with many of the university's big bands, including an appearance at the International Association of Jazz Educators Conference in Los Angeles.

After graduating and back in Madison, she has sung regularly with an assortment of jazz musicians, gave a series of jazz workshops in area high schools, and has been heard performing at Restaurant Magnus, Café Montmartre, Samba, Brasserie V, Monroe St. Bistro, and the Concourse. Before moving to Chicago in August 2009 she performed at Madison’s Jazz at 5 on the Capitol Square.

Occasionally fronting Texas band Snarky Puppy on their tour stops, or singing with Chicago's Tom Waits tribute band, Big Time, Francesca shows what she does best, pop music in a jazz idiom. Take the time to listen to Johnson’s own spin on the work of Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, and great Motown classics and you’ll be able to see for yourself, she has a musical sense all her own.