"Straight From the Soul" is no random title for Hannah Baiardi's second release.
The pianist, singer and songwriter from South Lyon, who holds degrees in music and communications from the University of Michigan, considers the diverse eight-track set to be the most representative music she's put on record to date.
"I look at this as my debut," says Baiardi, 26, who recorded the album with producers Eric Wojahn and Josh Weichemann at Solid Sound Studios in Ann Arbor. "This is me. This is my unique sound -- completely my own sound." Jazz is at "Straight From the Soul's" heart, but it also showcases elements of pop and soul from influences such as Diane Krall, Sade, Seal and salsa -- and even a bit of rap on the track "Distant Land."
She's also joined by Detroit singer David Magumba on the smooth dance floor groove of "Let Go."
Hannah Baiardi's utopian song "Distant Land" gets your toe tapping and your groove on. Filmed in her native college town of Ann Arbor, MI, her quirky video conjures a nostalgia for childhood innocence and creative escape.
Original Music Composed by Hannah Baiardi 2020
Directed/Produced by Hannah Baiardi
Co-Directed/Cinematography by Santiago Bukovsky
Animation/Visual Leaf Effect by Alec Richker
"I intestinally wanted to create a smattering of songs that didn't sound like they belonged on the same album," Baiardi explains. "There's a smattering of different influences, all put on album -- R&B and soul, a little bit of New Age, some jazz. I think it still sounds like one artist, though."
The only child of parents with "fantastic taste in music" but who do not play themselves, Baiardi's musical path started "from the moment I sat down at the piano" when she was three years old. "I kept begging my parents to get me a piano because I saw some friends playing it," Baiardi remembers. "I was transfixed." She began studying with a University of Michigan-Flint professor when she was seven, learning mostly by ear and listening to all the great jazz pianists she could find. "I shunned the classical route," Baiardi says. "That didn't feel like home...And as soon as I started singing and playing together I found it hard to separate the two."
Her teenage years were "not normal -- I was very driven," including tenures with the Michigan Youth jazz Ensemble and the Wayne State University All-Star Jazz, as well as at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. At U-M, Baiardi studied with Geri Allen, Ellen Rowe and Benny Green in the music school's jazz department. "Their mentorship meant so much to me in seeing where I differ from the straight jazz world," Baiardi notes. "It was like, 'Hey, there's this other side of my musicality' that I didnt get to explore until after university," including the likes of George Winston, Michael Franks and Quiet Storm R&B artists.
But her U-M studies did help Baiardi develop her improvisational skills, which served her well on her EP, "The Quietest Place," and even moreso on "Straight From the Soul."
"Improvisation is at the center of my composition," she explains. "Getting to work with instructors, other artists and really explore the idiom of jazz really opened my voice."
The new album -- which features contributions from Marion Hayden, Bill Lucas, Ryan King, Pete Siers and others -- includes Baiardi's 2019 single "Who Can Relate" as well as rearranged versions of a pair of Michel Legrand compositions, "The Windmills of Your Mind" from "The Thomas Crown Affair" and "The Summer Knows" from "Summer of '42." "Film music has always played a large role in my composition and arranging voice," Baiardi says. "I wanted to do my own arrangement of those, kind of unique that I hadn't heard before. The melodies are timeless. It's just beautiful music that can be made fresh, working with the arrangements."
Baiardi recorded "Straight From the Soul" under a variety of pandemic conditions, including virtual rehearsals with the other musicians. With the album's release, meanwhile, she has "just started getting back into my creative mode," and if Baiardi has her way there will be more music coming, and sooner rather than later.
"I have a while stockpile," she says with a laugh. "I have a folder called 'contenders' with a tremendous amount of material in there -- some more piano tunes, some with violin. I have songs coming up about social change and everything that's going on now. There's a lot of introspection going on. I wasn't feeling super-creative for awhile, but it's really coming back to me now."
Hannah Baiardi performs a virtual concert for the Ark Family Room Series at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 15 via Facebook Live. Donations go to the artist and venue. More information via theark.org.
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