Samara Joy

Hat, worn as top, and leg warmers, worn as sleeves, by Vaquera. Pants, Joy’s own.

Live from New York: Samara Joy

Even with the Covid-19 pandemic, the jazz singer Samara Joy has had an exceptionally busy two years. In July 2021, she released her self-titled début album, offering her eloquent and vivid renditions of several classics to widespread acclaim. Throughout the fall, she performed regularly, everywhere from the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Harlem to the West Village's intimate Mezzrow jazz club and on her first European tour. She also found the time to graduate from college. "It's overwhelming a little bit because we were inside for so long, and now things are bursting," she says. "Music was appreciated before, but the fact that people really value it now and they're supporting the shows and the album is getting a lot of attention and people are vaccinated so they can come out, all of the right elements are lining up and it's perfect. It's overwhelming but it's perfect."

Recorded during the fall of her senior year, Joy's first album was in some ways both a reflection and a rejection of the times. With live performance closed off at the time and the future uncertain, she recognized the widespread hunger for new music in a genre that, more than any other, is grounded in the visceral connection between artist and audience. Finally having the opportunity to perform the songs live again has been, she adds, a true privilege. "People really need music," she says. "It's great that we have the technology to have livestreams and things like that—we needed it being inside—but the fact that things worked out the way they did and I got the chance to play for people and play the music and get more experience being comfortable after not performing for so long was great."

As an artist just embarking on a promising career, many of Joy’s recent firsts have coincided with an industry slowly finding its way back. Already being celebrated as one of jazz's brightest new voices, the 2019 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition winner appears poised for whatever comes her way. In September, she released her second album, Linger Awhile, and this week was nominated for two Grammy Awards, including in the prestigious category of Best New Artist, with previous winners including Amy Winehouse, Bon Iver, Dua Lipa, and Billie Eilish. "It's already been so amazing," she says. "I'm just looking forward to all of the different opportunities that are open now and the doors that could possibly be opened as far as how I can express myself."

Establishing her live persona and building that vital relationship with her audience after so many months of lockdown, she says, is part of the next step in her growth. "The hardest part about returning to live performance has been getting used to being around people and getting the dialogue together and making it feel like it's not me on stage and the audience and you're here to watch me, but that we're here together," she adds. "We're sharing an experience, we're sharing a night of music or however long we have there, so let's do it together. Maybe the hardest part is trying not to be so introverted and welcoming people into enjoying the music just as much as I enjoy sharing it."

Linger Awhile is out now. Joy beings her Big Band Holidays tour with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on November 29 at the Pablo Center at the Confluence, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Read this story and many more in print by ordering our third issue here. See the full Live in New York series here.

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Hair by Tina Outen at Streeters. Makeup by Andrew Colvin at Streeters. Photographer's assistant: Kyrre Kristoffersen. Stylist's assistant: Claire Sullivan. Hairstylist's assistant: Amesha Alston. Makeup artist's assistant: Crisdanil Hidalgo. Set designer's assistant: Casilda Garcia Lopez. Digital technician: Leslie Knott. Production by Heather Robbins at CLM.

As a nonprofit arts and culture publication dedicated to educating, inspiring, and uplifting creatives, Cero Magazine depends on your donations to create stories like these. Please support our work here.