Magnolia Memoir

Magnolia Memoir


Fashioning a vibe that's traditional yet contemporary, brimming with youthful pop and bits of edgy soul, vibrant and experimental- Imagine Tom Waits meets Billie Holiday at a speakeasy at 3am when ties get loosened and the party begins.Sassy, Sexy and heartbreaking. American Jazz at its finest.



Sometimes it's just a matter of good timing, when one bears witness to a watershed moment and catches a cool glimpse of a stellar future. It's an exclusive, exciting and unexpected "I was there" experience. For a few hundred hip, progressive and open-minded pop, R&B and jazz fans in Los Angeles, that moment came in early June 2009 when Magnolia Memoir made their truly unforgettable live debut at one of the city's hottest venues, Largo at the Coronet, and opened the door to a realm that lead singer and songwriter Mela Lee playfully dubs "jazz for a new generation".

Fashioning a vibe that is both traditional and contemporary, brimming with youthful pop and bits of blues and edgy soul, coolly structured, yet vibrant and experimental, Magnolia Memoir features the exceptional talents of Alexander Burke (piano, vibes, organ), Gordon Bash (upright bass, ukulele), Marcus Graf (trumpet, flugelhorn, clave) and Steve Hass (drums)-who join Lee for a journey to a sacred but gritty joint. Imagine an old speakeasy, where Billie Holiday meets Tom Waits at 3 a.m. Conversation and bootleg liquor flows, the lights die down and only the coolest cats are still hanging out.

The sultry, charismatic Lee takes the stage, her ethereal, powerfully emotional voice that covers a five-octave range, brings a hush to the room and leaves the audience spellbound. Fans like Grant-Lee Phillips and Margaret Cho are regulars here, referring to Lee as "Baby Holiday", what Billie would be if her life went right or a "sober Amy Winehouse". She exudes the soulful honesty and frailty of Lady Day, the rawness of Etta James and the sweetness of Judy Garland. The band, led by musical director and arranger Burke, brings the joint to its feet, playing with cool abandon.

This is Magnolia Memoir.

For Lee, whose influences include Helen Merrill and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as Annie Lennox and k.d. lang, it harkens back to a time when jazz was relevant, accessible, fresh and of the moment, when ties get loosened and the party begins."

Burke, a film and TV composer, co-wrote two vocal tracks on the band's self-titled debut album ("Unexpected Bliss", "Broken Cup") and composed the disc's lone instrumental, the moody, trumpet-laced ballad "Last Night In New York". In 2002 he became one of the youngest music directors in the history of Second City Chicago and continues to tour with the national company when time permits. His musical repertoire spans jazz to punk, pop and rock and his influences are equally diverse including Thelonious Monk, Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel and David Byrne. He brings a definitive energy to the mix reminding Magnolia Memoir's growing fan base: "Jazz was the punk music of its time. It was bold and 'out there' taking chances long before it was a conservative, suit-and-tie affair. Combine that with the wonderful musicianship of the rest of the band and Mela, who is the most interesting and tasteful singer I have ever had the pleasure to work with, and you have Magnolia Memoir". To borrow a song title from the album, it's"Unexpected Bliss".

Magnolia Memoir opens with "Not with Me Now",a dreamy, chill jazz exploration punctuated with a vibes and trumpet interlude that gives way to "Unexpected Bliss". a soaring, funky jazz/blues exultation. The disc's lone cover, is a sparse, elegant arrangement of "Don't Explain", an obscure Holiday track recorded by Helen Merrill in 1954, with Clifford Brown, and arranged by Quincy Jones. It is a nod to the first jazz LP Lee received from her mother, and one she still listens to regularly. One of the 11-track collection's most lovely cuts is the subtly swinging "Broken Cup", a song about accepting love for the moment even if it may not last. "When I Think of You" is an intimate expression of passion that's haunting and bittersweet while "Dangerous Kiss" is all brass and sass, a spunky and rollicking blues jam.

Lee taps into her Southern roots with the New Orleans-flavored "Every Song Begins with You", a dedication to her to her father, who died when she was a child. It's an uplifting declaration of the endurance of a loved one's spirit in our lives. The set closes with the intimate "My Heart", a brief but memorable tune that captures the complexities of the romantic human soul.

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Magnolia Memoir came together when Lee and Burke met through a mutual friend. Though Burke was not interested in working with a vocalist initially, he had an immediate change of heart the moment he heard Lee sing.

"Most musicians don't like to work with singers because they tend to sing at you or around you," he explains, "but Mela plays and interplays with the band and the audience beautifully. I loved her mix of traditional and experimental sensibilities. After that first meeting I had to work with her."

Lee had already penned most of the material for Magnolia Memoir and was looking to create an ensemble rather than simply have a backup band. She and Burke had


Magnolia Memoir

Set List

With songs from the debut album, the upcoming release , "The Sweet Life" and over 300 standards under our belt - Magnolia Memoir is the perfect band for a venue looking to create a modern jazz/ pop and experimental vibe - Our sets often include arrangements of modern rock/pop songs and an improvised tune - complete with on the spot lyrics.