Sweet Baby J’ai (pronounced Jay) is one of the most respected and multi-faceted performers today. She is an award winning, critically acclaimed singer, songwriter, producer, arranger, actress and the Artistic Director for the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival.
Few entertainers can command a stage like the indefatigable, Sweet Baby J'ai. She has toured the world with her genre-defying work, which both embraces and expands jazz tradition. She has headlined concerts and festivals across the globe from New York to London, Moscow and Casablanca to Paris, Tokyo, Jakarta and many cities and countries beyond. Known for her sensual and powerful vocals, some critics describe her as a "jazz singer", others as a "blues singer” but all agree that this versatile singer-songwriter is a "storyteller". J’ai has won three Bravo “Entertainer of the Year” awards, two Blues and Soul Magazine “Best Jazz Vocal Performance” awards, three nominations for Jazz Now awards for “Best Vocal Jazz”, LA Women’s Theatre Project and ETI “Best Actress in a Leading Role” awards, and was recently honored as a Living Jazz Legend by the Los Angeles City Council. She has received rave reviews both domestically and internationally and has successfully sold her albums worldwide, including her latest, Straight To That Place.
In early life J'ai Michel was first called Sweet Baby by her mother, claiming she was the sweetest child ever born, the name stuck. Music was an integral part of her life since childhood, often being serenaded by Miles, Bird, Ella or Billie, albums her father would put on to lull her to sleep. J'ai grew up in a city rich with musical history, Kansas City, home to legends like Big Joe Turner, Charlie “Bird” Parker and Count Basie. At only five years old, she was already writing songs and by the age of eight, sneaking in the backdoors of clubs on 18th & Vine to watch her father play with top jazz and blues musicians. Her uncle, Vernon Gower was a bassist with Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton and her cousin Michael Howell, was the guitarist with Dizzie Gillespie. By age ten she had started classical piano studies, by twelve she had switched to violin. “I played a little bass in high school, some guitar in college until I got my hands on a 12 string and couldn't figure it out. It wasn't until I spent some time in Louisiana with relatives, and came across an old back porch band playing washboard, spoons, tubs, and combs, that I felt I had found home. All sorts of wonderful sounds were coming out of them. They were playing jug or Zydeco music, but I heard the transition to jazz,” says J’ai. Talented both as a vocalist and musician, she takes unconventional instruments, the washboard and spoons, and claims them as her own special sound. As one critic pointed out, “This ain't no backyard hoe down...she will have you swooning before the concert is over.” Whether singing a soulful ballad or a rocking original, she weaves her special magic through songs seemingly tailor-made for her intimate style.
Sweet Baby J’ai has shared the stage with such luminaries as, Herbie Hancock, Diane Schuur, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Joe Sample, Melissa Etheridge, Etta James, Jill Scott, Tom Waits, Koko Taylor, Patrice Rushen, Sheila E., Tramaine Hawkins, Stanley Turrentine, Eddie Harris, and many more.
As Artistic Director of the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival, Sweet Baby J’ai brings a wealth of experience and focus to the Festival. She has worked in various capacities, including talent buyer for the LA Summer Festival, Juneteenth Festival, Concerts in the Park and other major music events throughout the country. She brings a new perspective to programming choices by featuring some of the world’s most visible, high-level jazz performers with cutting edge, emerging artists. Her drive and vision; introducing her Women in Jazz All-Stars recipe, fosters appreciation and understanding of the contribution that women have played in jazz.
Past projects include her chart climbing albums: debut 1997 release, THE ART OF BLUE, followed in 2003 by EVOLUTION both featuring the genius of pianist Nate Morgan and saxophonist, Teddy Edwards. In 2005 came, JAZZ BABY where Sweet Baby J’ai joined forces with Janis Siegel, Freddie Cole, Rosemary Clooney and others for a fun filled children’s compilation jazz album. PROVE IT ON ME released in 2008 is a soundtrack from Dee Jae Cox’s play of the same name in which Sweet Baby J’ai starred. This roaring 1920’s romp allows J’ai to do what she does so well - take the listener on a journey through time and space. Also in 2008 INTRODUCING J’AI MICHEL was released to wide acclaim, an eclectic mix of jazz pop and blues and featured legendary percussionist Perico Hernandez. The 2013 single release of BLACK MAGIC WOMAN sold out the first week of it’s release, and the 2015 DIW release of FOR VOCAL JAZZ FANS ONLY hit the air waves in Japan before going worldwide.
Sweet Baby J’ai’s latest album, STRAIGHT TO THAT PLACE, showcases sublime offerings melding jazz, blues, pop and Latin. There are incredible nuances and bold statements happening simultaneously - respected for her considerable gifts as a vocalist and songwriter, J’ai’s original compositions draw us in with their openhearted lyrics, working into our consciousness and taking us to wondrous places. She breathes new life into classics with great reinterpretations giving us a new scope to appreciate timeless songs with a different perspective. Her deeply soulful vocals are infectious, and the stellar support by musicians Mimi Fox, Nolan Shaheed, Jane Getz, Karen Hammack, Chris Colangelo, Peter Buck, Carol Chaikin, Bob Tucker and others are electrifying. Straight To That Place delivers on what it promises, taking its listeners straight to wonderland!
"5 out of 5 stars!"
— Arts and Entertainment
"...extraordinary...a stunning performer."
— Jazz Now
“echoes the great talent of Billie Holiday and Etta James”
– LN Magazine
— Los Angeles Times
"...show-stopper...a sensational performer."
— Durango Herald