Tessa Souter

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About this artist

Tessa Souter always had in mind a professional career as a singer, though she ended up getting a much later start. She was interested in music as far back as she can remember. Her mother encouraged her interest at a tender age, treating her like the child star Shirley Temple, having her perform for family and friends. Souter began formal piano studies at the age of eight. Her teacher encouraged her to take up singing as well. At twelve, she taught herself guitar to accompany her vocals, performing pop songs in the company of friends. Souter began writing lyrics to published songs, though not with the goal of getting them recorded. She ran away from home at 16; an early marriage and the birth of her son while she was still in her teens precluded fulfilling her dream career. Soon divorced, she was in dire straits financially. Fortunately, a generous neighbor offered to babysit for a token amount as Souter pursued a college education. She was able to go full-time once he became old enough to attend school, completing her homework while he slept. She continued to play guitar and sing for fun. Once out of college, Souter got a job editing reports and proposals for an engineering firm, then became an editorial assistant at Parents magazine, then chief copy editor after a year. Soon she began freelance writing for various magazines. Following a second marriage and divorce, she decided to travel abroad to visit Lenox, MA, NYC, and San Francisco. She enjoyed the United States so much that after repeatedly postponing her return flight, her plane ticket expired and she was stuck in the country illegally. Still, she was able to find work as a freelance writer for both foreign and American outlets, while cleaning houses to supplement her income. A musicologist boyfriend, who often took her out to hear live music, encouraged her to pursue a singing career. Souter gained confidence as she sat in at jam sessions and open mike nights, becoming interested in jazz, especially after hearing Wayne Shorter's Native Dancer. She made a four-track demo CD to obtain bookings and took a semester of music theory, though she felt that she was learning more on her gigs. Her focus was on hearing instrumentalists rather than vocalists, desiring to sing songs that she really liked with lyrics to which she could relate. Audiences reacted approvingly to her interpretation of the rock super trio Cream’s “White Room,” which she eventually recorded on her CD Obsession. By 1999, Souter's interest in jazz had grown tremendously, though she never discarded her pop roots She penned lyrics to Freddie Hubbard's “Little Sunflower” and other jazz compositions, though the vocalist remained shy about publicly identifying her contributions when performing, though she grew more interested in writing original music to go with her lyrics. Word of mouth about Souter's intriguing vocals and multi-stylistic approach to jazz spread in New York City over the next few years, though she would not release her debut CD, Listen Love, until 2004. She followed up with Nights of Key Largo for Venus in 2008 and Obsession for Motema in 2009. ~ Ken Dryden