Sweet Baby J'ai
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|Sweet Baby J'ai|
|Birth name||J'ai Janett Michel|
|Also known as||Sweet Baby|
|Genres||Jazz, R&B, pop and soul|
|Occupation(s)||Singer, songwriter, actress|
|Instruments||Vocals, Washboard, Spoons|
|Years active||1985 — present|
Sweet Baby J'ai is an American contemporary jazz singer, songwriter, producer, arranger, playwright, and actress. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.
J'ai Janett Michel was first called Sweet Baby by her mother, who claimed she was the sweetest child ever born. The nickname stuck. Born to Helen and John T., J'ai grew up in Kansas City. At only five years old, she was already writing songs and by the age of eight, sneaking in the backdoors of clubs on 18th & Vine to watch her father play with top jazz musicians. Her uncle, Vernon Gower was a bassist with Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton and her cousin Michael Howell, was the guitarist with Dizzie Gillespie.
By age ten she had started classical piano studies and by twelve she had switched to violin. She played bass in high school and some guitar in college until she got her hands on a 12 string and couldn't figure it out. When she spent some time in Louisiana with relatives she came across an old back porch band playing washboard, spoons, tubs, and combs. According to J'ai, "All sorts of wonderful sounds were coming out of them. They were playing jug or Zydeco music, but I heard the transition to jazz!” As one critic pointed out, “This ain't no backyard hoe down…she will have you swooning before the concert is over.”
Sweet Baby J'ai got her start under the guidance of her mentor, the legendary Phil Moore. Shortly thereafter she could be found performing in jazz clubs in Paris. Back home in the U.S., she benefited early on in her career from the support and direction of working with the legendary, saxophonist Teddy Edwards. For many years she worked with the gifted musicians, pianist, Nate Morgan, late greats, guitarist Ronald Muldrow and drummer Sherman Ferguson.
She has been heard on radio and television both nationally and internationally. She has performed extensively in the U.S., Europe and Asia and has been featured at numerous concert halls, festivals, clubs and benefits, from the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Ford Amphitheater, Playboy Jazz Festival to Tokyo Concert Hall, Casablanca's Super Dome and more. Sweet Baby J'ai has won awards and been recognized as “Best Entertainer”, “Pick of the Week” and “Pick of the Month”, many times (LA Times, NY Times, LA Weekly, Music Connection Magazine).
Past projects include her debut 1998 release, “The Art of Blue”, followed in 2003 by “Evolution” both featuring pianist Nate Morgan and saxophonist, Teddy Edwards. In 2005 came, “Jazz Baby” where Sweet Baby J’ai worked with Janis Siegel, Freddie Cole, Rosemary Clooney and others for a children’s compilation jazz album. “Prove It On Me” released in January 2008 is a soundtrack from Dee Jae Cox’s play of the same name in which Sweet Baby J’ai starred.
Her theatrical background includes the award-winning roles of Mary, in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Josephine Baker in C’est Bon, and Blues Speak Woman in George C. Wolfe’s Spunk. She has received critical acclaim for her role as Billie Holiday in the musicals, Sang Sista’ Sang and Voices, and Beneatha, in A Raisin in the Sun. Her play, 3 Women: A Dramatic Tribute to the Divas of Jazz and Blues, which she co-wrote and starred in, has toured theaters both nationally and internationally. Bessie, Billie & Ruth, the film she wrote, was chosen as the official selection at the Pan African Film Festival, and has been viewed on PBS stations across the nation.
Sweet Baby J’ai’s latest album, “Introducing J’ai Michel”, released August 2008, produced by renowned producer, arranger, pianist Jane Getz and Grammy Award winner, Bob Tucker have a mix of R&B, pop, jazz, rock, blues, and spoken word. It features percussionist, Perico Hernandez.
- 2008: Introducing J'ai Michel
- 2007: Prove It On Me
- 2005: Jazz Baby
- 2003: Evolution
- 1998: The Art of Blue
DVDS / Films
- 2008: World Stage Stories (Haikeem Productions)
- 2003: Bessie, Billie Ruth (Traipsing Thru Films)
- 2002: Divas Breaking Taboos (Traipsing Thru Films)
- 2001: Yo Alien (Daughters to Feed Productions)