Why did the singer Basia spend 10 years away from the recording studio?
When considering the 2005 comeback of the smooth jazz singer known as Basia, it’s difficult not to consider the similar re-emergence of Anita Baker. Like Baker, Basia was extremely popular on the smooth jazz airwaves more than 10 years ago thanks to sophisticated, hummable tunes like “New Day for You” and “Cruising for Bruising.” Like Baker, also, Basia disappeared after 1994 to take a break from the rigors of recording and touring and to tend to family matters.
Basia is back now, touring more than 25 cities in the U.S. this month and in May. She’s also singing lead vocals on a new CD called Matt’s Mood. It’s not technically a solo Basia CD, as she’s reunited with a group called Matt Bianco, a band featuring Danny White and Mark Reilly with which she embarked on her musical career as a backing vocalist in the early 1980s.
More on Matt Bianco and Basia in a minute.
What everyone wants to know right now is the following: What specifically has been Basia been doing with herself over the past 10 years? Well, for one thing she’s been in a healthy and committed relationship. Once divorced, Basia and trumpeter Kevin Robinson have been a couple for 14 years. Robinson played on all of Basia’s solo albums and contributes to Matt’s Mood. Perhaps because she’s experienced divorce, Basia says she’s in no hurry to get married.
“Music is very important to us, and we have so much in common musically,” says Basia over the phone from her home in London. “He lives and breathes music and is involved in a lot of workshops where he shares his skills. Kevin is an amazing jazz musician.”
But while Basia says her relationship with Robinson brings her much happiness, she found herself under a cloud of inconsolable grief a few years ago when her mother, Kazia Trzetrzelewska, died. “I didn’t work for a long time after she died,” Basia says. She eventually tried to focus on a solo album with White, who was instrumental for much of her solo success. “Danny and I tried, but I just couldn’t put my heart into it. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t sing and was in such incredible grief.”
At age 45, Basia is quick to laugh, seems genuinely happy with her life and her new music and the upcoming U.S. tour. But she admits her mother’s passing crippled her artistically for a couple of years. Kazia was a sounding board, Basia says, so much so that she relied on her for what worked on her CDs and what didn’t. “I lost the most incredible force behind my music. She was such a fan. I realized that a lot of music I did for her.”
When Basia was ready to make music again, White and Reilly played her some tunes they’d been working on and asked her if she wanted to be part of it.
Basia’s comeback was officially on, and Matt’s Mood was released in the U.K. last year and on March 1 this year in the U.S. “Matt Bianco’s style is more refined now, and it’s great to be a part of it,” says Basia. “There’s always been elements of jazz, Latin and R&B, which I love.”
Most vocalists show their talents at any early age. That was certainly the case for Basia Trzetrzelewska, who was born in the Polish industrial town of Jaworzno. At the tender age of 15, she won a national talent competition and shortly after joined an all-girl band called Alibabki that toured Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union for two years. She then joined a Top 40 cover band called Perfect after moving to Chicago to live in the Polish community and became inspired by musicians such as Prince, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.
Basia moved to London in 1981, where she wrote commercial jingles for such companies as Kleenex and British Airways. Her musical break came when she teamed up with a keyboardist named Danny White, who had placed an ad in the music magazine Melody Maker for a vocalist to join his band called Bronze. (White just so happened to be the brother of a guitarist whose claim to fame at that point came as a session player on albums by folk-rock singer Al Stewart. That guitarist, as you might have guessed, is Peter White, now one of the biggest stars in smooth jazz.) Danny White and Basia soon joined the British band Matt Bianco, who were part of a sophisticated pop-jazz movement in the UK that also boasted Sade, Swing Out Sister, Everything But the Girl and Simply Red. The duo was instrumental in the success of Matt Bianco’s solo CD called Whose Side Are You On? in 1984, although Basia is modest about her input. “I was just a girl who came to help the record sound good as a backing vocalist,” she recalls.
The next year, Basia left the group to focus on a full-fledged solo career, taking musical partner White with her. “The reason I left is because the music I was writing didn’t seen to fit the band,” Basia says. “I get bored easily, and I wanted to try different things – I like to sing samba, but I also like to have a good scream.”
Matt Bianco continued as a popular group with Reilly and keyboardist Mark Fisher and, while never quite breaking through in the U.S., was extremely popular in the U.K. The band released eight acclaimed CDs over a period of 15 years.
Basia, of course, was able to cross over to success in the U.S. immediately with her debut CD in 1987, Time and Tide. Her sophisticated voice, made even more so by her slight accent, was heard on such hits as “New Day for You” and “Time and Tide.” The CD went to the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart – and stayed there for two months – and her next release three years later, London, Warsaw, New York – also went to No. 1 That project featured such memorable songs as “Cruising for Bruising” and “Baby You’re Mine.”
Basia’s next album, 1994’s The Sweetest Illusion, didn’t have the same success as her first two works. It remains her last solo effort, although she did release a live CD in 1995 called Basia on Broadway.
It’s no wonder, then, that more than 10 years later Basia fans are excited by the release of Matt’s Mood, even though it’s technically not a Basia solo album. It was released in the U.K. as simply by Matt Bianco, but in the U.S. is billed as Matt Bianco Featuring Basia, which speaks of the singer’s enduring popularity here.
Matt Bianco’s sophisticated jazz sound has always been its staple. The band’s name is actually based a character they made up due to the group member’s love of spy movies and theme music. By all accounts, Matt’s Mood – co-written and produced by all three members – has already found its audience. A huge hit in the U.K. and Japan, it has already spawned a couple of hit singles. In the U.S., the first single is called “Ordinary Day,” and it’s not hard to see why this particular song was picked to go to smooth jazz radio. It’s almost a time warp to Basia’s three solo records, with her pop-perfect voice surrounded by an infectious Brazilian-Latin shuffle rhythm.
Basia’s lead vocals are featured on the majority of the songs, but Reilly does get a chance to show his vocal skills as well, such as the charming ballad of regret, “Never Meant To,” and on the Manhattan Transfer-like bop of “Golden Days,” where Basia provides vocal backing. There’s even a funky instrumental chill music tune called “Matt’s Mood III,” which longtime fans will know is a continuation of sorts of the instrumental songs “Matt’s Mood” and “Matt’s Mood II” from the debut Matt Bianco CD.
Also featured on the CD is the late Ronnie Ross, a well-know saxophonist and session player in the U.K. who died at age 58 in 1991. Ross, who performed on the first three Matt Bianco projects, is perhaps best known for his sax solo in Lou Reed’s seminal “Walk on the Wild Side.” Danny White had retained several of Ross’ sax demos, which he used on three songs on Matt’s Mood: “Ronnie’s Samba,” “La Luna” and “Slip & Sliding.”
Will Basia ever record another solo CD? “In a perfect world,” Basia says, “I’d be happy to make another CD with Matt Bianco. At the same time, I’m writing songs that do not suit the band. In an ideal world, I’d make two records – one of my own and one with Matt Bianco.”
Most of the 10 guest musicians will be featured on the upcoming Matt Bianco Featuring Basia tour, with one notable exception – Peter White, who plays guitar and accordion on five tracks. White is, of course, involved in his own tour this year, the new Jazz Attack.
The Matt Bianco Featuring Basia tour was actually to begin earlier, but was postponed after the band have travel problems. “We’re sorry to the fans who missed our first four shows,” Basia says, referring to gigs scheduled for March. “It’s a sign of the times, and none of us had been through this recently. We’re really forward to bringing our music to our fans.”