Jamison, who lives with her family in the heart of downtown Mill Valley, grew up listening to jazz music; the Kingston Trio and June Christy are two early favorites. A self-described “Army brat,” she’s lived everywhere from the Marshall Islands (in the South Pacific) to West Point, NY, but considers Virginia more of a home than anywhere else.
Along the way, her love of music grew to include Dixieland, Be-bop and other American musical forms, but the cool jazz sounds of Carmichael and Christy are where she found her passion.
Jamison caught the performing bug midway through high school and pursued musical theater in college in Indiana. But after getting married, she felt a desire to move away from the unpredictable and notoriously competitive nature of the theater world.
“I wanted more control over my lifestyle and schedule, and at the same time I wanted more musical autonomy," she says. "I felt a deeper instinct to do my own interpretation of the American popular songbook, and to get rid of that third wall [between the artist and the audience].”
That instinct led her to cabaret and nightclub performance, where she has now comfortably found her niche reinterpreting popular, and in some cases forgotten, American music.
“ Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael – our generation knows their songs but they don’t necessarily realize they know them,” she said. “The American popular songbook sounds like something out of a different time… But it’s really anything you want to make of it. I’ve heard people include The Carpenters, even the Beatles, in there.”
Jamison has been recording and performing the American popular songbook for over a decade now, and one of the misconceptions she often runs into is about the nature of cabaret itself.
“It’s not Liza Minelli!” she laughs. “So many people have that image in mind, but really cabaret means an intimate, one-on-one interaction with the audience; you’re meant to be face-to-face in a very personal way.”
“It’s the ultimate experience for a performer. It’s about that personal connection. I think that people are clinging to the intimacy; maybe they’re craving it now more than they ever did.”
Breaking down that “third wall” between the artist and the audience allows Jamison to engage her audience in between songs, and to address them as though they’re friends sharing an evening rather than nameless faces in a crowd, a dynamic on which she thrives.
And that’s something that audiences will appreciate, too, considering Jamison is not only a leading young performer of American classics, but also something of an expert on its history. As passionate as she is about interpreting the music onstage, she is equally interested in sharing her wealth of knowledge on this country’s rich musical legacy, and to honoring some of its greatest artists. Her two recordings do just that, paying tribute to Carmichael (“ Here’s to Hoagy,” released in 2000) and June Christy, Chris Connor and Anita O’Day (“ Kenton’s Cool School,” released in 2008).
No doubt her two children are already discovering musical passions of their own, though they may still be a bit too young to enjoy Sunday evening’s performance. She admits it is “super-challenging” to set aside time to record and perform while raising her son and daughter (and teaching a weekly Music Together class), but she has no plans to slow down, and hopes to record a third album in the near future.
She has also found a place to call home here in Mill Valley, and as part of her quest to bring the American popular songbook to her friends and neighbors, is offering half-price tickets to Mill Valley firemen, employees of , and to residents of the . In addition, a portion of Sunday evening’s proceeds will benefit Kiddo!.
The 411: “An Evening with Cory Jamison, joined by Art Khu on piano and Sam Bevan on bass,” takes place Sunday June 5 at 7pm, 142 Throckmorton Theatre. General admission tickets are $25. Click here to buy tickets or for more information.