Jessica Fichot Brings Sounds of the World to Sunrise

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Andy Sheng

Jessica Fichot's first Florida show at Sunrise Civic Center tomorrow promises a tantalizing intermingling of sounds. Fichot, backed a three piece band, marshals a plethora of influences, taking the listener from summer evenings in Parisian cafes, to smoky 1940s Shanghai nightlife palaces.

The American-born, Paris-raised, L.A. based chanteuse fuses her sparklingly unique vocals to a variety of genres such as French chanson, Chinese swing, and gypsy jazz, singing in several different languages. Fichot's live performances effortlessly globe trot and saunter through a spectrum of moods; melancholy, jaunty, complex, child-like.

Jessica Fichot's performance on Saturday should be a refreshingly original tonic to the Top 40 and classic rock radio fodder the area usually draws. Having just touched down in South Florida, Jessica spoke with us at New Times.

New Times: So, tell us a little about your eclectic background and how that has influenced your music.
Jessica Fichot: I was born in upstate New York, I moved to France when I was 3-years-old, so I lived most of my life in France, till I went to college really. When I was growing up, English was the exotic language. Maybe now it's changing, but when I was growing up, it was kind of cool that I could speak English in Paris. I grew up bilingual and went to a school for international students. So I really grew up listening to music in English.

When I moved to the United States, I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, so suddenly the fact I could speak English wasn't cool anymore, because so could all the kids around me! So, I went back and rediscovered some of the music that I had ignored a little bit growing up, the French chanson genre, which is this acoustic lyric vocal based music.

Berklee in Boston was a great experience, first of all because of all the musicians I met. People came from all around the world; there were a lot of international students there, so I think that definitely that it really helped my songwriting craft. People think that it's a bit of a joke, you know people just getting a degree for writing songs all day, but for me it was very interesting because I think that it's more technical than people think.

I read that you began writing children's music. How did that influence your songwriting?
After I graduated, I got my first job as a songwriter working for children's theater. It was really fun. I was really proud at the time for being a songwriter, getting $25 a song! It was a little theater doing after school programs, who used publishing companies to write music for educational programs. That also really helped me with my songwriting.

Though the children's music I did and the projects I do now are different in a lot of ways, it definitely helped. Today I sing in a lot of languages for audiences that don't always understand all of them or most of them, but there' something very simple and accessible about the music that I do that I hope people enjoy. The language is usually exotic, so I don't think I do music that is completely out there -- I think I do accessible music and I think that that's something that I got from writing a lot of children's songs.

Tell us a little bit about the unusual genres of music you play.
Well, I've been getting into Chinese music, in part because my mum is from Shanghai. It's a type of music that comes from the 1940s and it mixes jazz from the time, with Chinese melodies and lyrics. I call it Chinese swing.

This type of music, had its peak right after the end of the war, but then was forbidden by the government, so no music of that style came from China after the late '40s. A lot of the songs that I cover are from '47 right before the ban. If I'm playing a cover song, I will usually talk a little about the history of it, from 1940s Shanghai. But mostly I hope that people enjoy the music without necessarily understanding all the history about it.

In France with the chanson style, there's a sound and an instrumentation that suits my band's style. I have a great clarinet player. All 3 of them, Sylvain Carton (clarinet, sax), Matias Alvear (upright bass), and Alex Miller (guitar), are amazing musicians. We're all from different backgrounds but we're all familiar with the French chanson style. There's something about the sound I really like, and something that just kind of fits.

You have two full album releases Le Chemin (2007) and Le Secret (2012). Is there another release on the horizon?
There is! It's almost finished, and it will probably be released late August early September. The first two albums have songs in four languages, Spanish, French, Chinese and English -- though mostly in French and mostly original music.

The album I'm working on right now is an EP, and it's mostly in Chinese, mostly covers from 1940s Shanghai and then a few originals in Chinese that I wrote to kind of be reminiscent of that era. So it's kind of a project that I wanted to do for myself as I think it's very interesting music and I think that it's music that fits the style I already do and it's not too far away from the French chanson that I do. I'm interested to see if people will be as interested in it as I am.

Jessica Fichot, 8 to 10 p.m., Saturday, June 7, at Sunrise Civic Center, 10610 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Sunrise. Visit jessicasongs.com.

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