With her warm, lyrical voice and poetic sense for interpreting standards, singer Stacey Kent is the epitome of jazz sophistication. A New York native, the London-based Kent did not initially anticipate a career in jazz music, graduating instead from Sarah Lawrence with a degree in comparative literature. But her childhood days playing piano and singing in school musicals stayed with her. While studying at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the 1990s, she took up jazz singing. Paying her dues at local nightclubs and working alongside her husband, saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, she built a loyal following and drew praise for her 1997 debut Close Your Eyes. Since then, she has picked up more accolades, including winning two BBC Jazz Awards and earning a Grammy nomination for her 2007 album, Breakfast on the Morning Tram. As evidence of her strong international following, Kent was awarded the Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture in 2009, and paired with Brazil's Marcos Valle for 2014's Ao Vivo.
Born in South Orange, New Jersey in 1965, Kent took piano lessons as a child. Blessed with a bright mezzo-soprano voice and a natural gift for melody, she participated in school musicals throughout her adolescence. Despite her love of music, she first embarked on a career in academia, earning a degree in comparative literature while at Sarah Lawrence College. It was only after she graduated that she decided to re-focus her energies on singing. While visiting England in the early '90s, she enrolled for graduate study at London's prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama. It was during this period that she befriended several jazz musicians, including tenor saxophonist, and future husband and creative partner Jim Tomlinson. She began singing and quickly progressed, landing gigs at local clubs. She also found work performing with the Vile Bodies Swing Orchestra at the Ritz Hotel in London, which led to a role in Ian McKellen's 1995 Richard III film, playing a big-band singer.
The following year, Kent inked a deal with Candid Records, and in 1997 debuted with the critically acclaimed Close Your Eyes. A collaboration with husband Tomlinson, the album was a breakthrough, showcasing the singer's warm, emotive take on jazz standards. Two years later, Kent and Tomlinson returned with the equally romantic, standards date Love Is...The Tender Trap. The album garnered Kent increased media attention in the states, including profiles on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR, and helped expand her reach to a global audience. She rounded out her initial burst of acclaim in 2000 with the tribute album Let Yourself Go: Celebrating Fred Astaire.
More accolades followed, and for her fourth studio album, 2001's Dreamsville, Kent earned her first BBC Jazz Award for Jazz Vocalist of the Year. The Richard Rodgers-themed In Love Again followed a year later, after which she achieved gold status with 2003's The Boy Next Door. That same year, she guested on Tomlinson's solo effort Brazilian Sketches. Following her own Shall We Dance, Kent next appeared on Tomlinson's The Lyric, which won Album of the Year at the BBC Jazz Awards. Buoyed by that success, she signed with Blue Note and released 2007's Breakfast on the Morning Tram, earning a Grammy nomination in the process.
Around the same time, Kent was diagnosed with breast cancer, and spent the better part of the next year successfully undergoing treatment. In 2010, she reemerged with the all-French album Raconte-Moi, which achieved gold status in both France and Germany. The live album Dreamer in Concert -- recorded at the La Cigale in Paris -- landed in 2011. Two years later, Kent returned with The Changing Lights. Inspired by her love of Brazilian music, the album saw her working with Portuguese poet Antonio Ladeira and French lyricist Bernie Beaupère. She followed that with 2014's Ao Vivo, a duet album with legendary Brazilian musician Marcos Valle. Tenderly, released in early 2016, marked a return to American standards. The following year she delivered her first fully orchestral album, I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions, featuring arrangements by Tommy Laurence. ~ Matt Collar