Shoshana Bush / Photo by Annette Lanzarotta
Shoshana Bush needed more than half a year, innumerable hours of the usual blood, sweat and tears, and the fruits of a Kickstarter campaign to put together her debut album, “Shoshana Bush & Friends Live at Catalina Jazz Club,” which she released in early 2013.
And on an Indian summery October day, in the packed upper floor of Vitello’s in Studio City, it took the 26-year-old vocalist (and friends) a little more than 60 minutes to take the whole endeavor apart.
This was, of course, by design. To her friends, fans and family gathered at Vitello’s — one of her performance homes — Bush announced that the songs off her album were about to be reimagined and reassessed for this, her Los Angeles album release show. Her repertoire exceeds 50 numbers and is constantly growing, and to hear the Little Willie John favorite “Fever” laced with a samba beat by Bush and pianist/arranger Isamu McGregor, you get the idea that even the songs Bush considers standards are in a constant state of evolution.
Ditto for the singer herself.
“There are so many singers out there who do standards and they sound fine,” says McGregor, who has worked regularly with Bush on both coasts for the past year and a half. “Shana’s got this nice mix of being adventurous from the standpoint of the way she approaches singing these songs. She’s always trying to come up with a fresh, creative approach to playing them that’s also respectful to source material.”
Even before the release of her album, Bush’s career as a jazz and blues artist had been humming along nicely, with regular engagements throughout New York in such locales as the Flatiron Room, Anyway Café and Petite Abeille. She opened for Jane Monheit at the famed Blue Note on Nov. 20 and has yet another album release party, this one at Birdland, on Dec. 12.
Her side projects, when she can fit them in, include singing with the indie group Blue Green Gray and the hip-hop group Maya Angeles (formerly Ice Age), which is composed of friends from Bush’s high school alma mater, The Oakwood School in North Hollywood. The logistics of band multiplicity get tricky. While Bush says she is “at my best attempt, bicoastal,” and she returns to her Studio City home every three or four months, the singer lives, gigs and exists — full performance slate and all — in New York.
“It’s definitely great that I’m exploring a lot of different avenues and genres,” she says. “I think eventually I’m going to need to funnel a bit, because, as far as audiences go, they’re going to need to know how to place me.”
It’s just over a week before the Vitello’s show, and we’re meeting at Aroma on Tujunga Avenue, across the street from Vitello’s and just blocks away from Bush’s childhood home, where her parents still live and where her room, unlike those formerly occupied by her two older brothers, is unchanged — a perk, she explains, of being the baby of the family. Bush is affable and will tell any story (even those she prefaces as being embarrassing), and is always generous in her acknowledgement of the friends, family and teachers who helped her along the way. She answers questions thoughtfully, almost elliptically, in the same occasionally roundabout riffing manner in which she might tackle a Nina Simone tune.
“I sort of tell stories about the story I’m telling,” she admits. “But if you follow me, I promise there will be a clear point, and a lot of things along the way are great, too. And that’s a jazz novel. That’s a jazz critic. That’s jazz music.”
Music and the arts have been constants in the Bush household since Shoshana and her siblings were young. Their mother, Judy Franklin Bush, was a film and theater actress who channeled her efforts into theater outreach once she became a parent. Judy’s sister — Shoshana’s aunt — was the late Bonnie Franklin (of the sitcom “One Day at a Time”). Dad Michael is an L.A. physician and jazz lover.
“ ‘Gypsy,’ ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ ‘The Pajama Game’ — that was my mom,” Bush says. “Then, listening to Dave Brubeck on the way to Laker games — that was my dad. So infuse that, and you kind of have a little bit of an idea of where it all started.”
Brother Josh helped make his kid sister “the coolest 8-year-old,” introducing her to Sublime — with all the bad words skipped over. Shoshana developed a love for Stone Temple Pilots and the ’90s indie rock scene. “I’m not going to say I didn’t buy the Backstreet Boys CD when I was 10,” she says. “But I also bought No Doubt and Blackstreet. You find a little bit of everything.”
Brother Adam, who, like his sister, studied at Columbia’s Center for Jazz Studies, gave Shoshana a copy of a Billie Holiday biography and inscribed it, “Keep singing, Shoshi. Maybe one day you’ll wear a gardenia behind your ear, too.”
“I’ve always been very proud of and impressed with her,” Adam Bush says. “She’s taken something that could have been a side hobby and made it a very serious part of her life.”
Convinced from an early age that her life would include one or more of her three passions — children, food and music — Bush took steps to ensure that she would experience plenty of all three categories.
“I have friends that are incredibly talented that knew forever that they wanted to do this,” she says. “I don’t have a competitive nature. So I really said at one point when I was far too young to really think this, ‘Shall I sing my children to sleep at night, I shall be so lucky.’ Camp counselor, I did. Baby-sitting, I do.”
Musical outlets, she found. There were little pushes along the way, including gathering residents of her dorm floor to join her at Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village on a Tuesday night; assembling with other musically inclined people in her dorm; finding friends who could actually get her some time at a random club or two in the New York area.
From that small band that convened during her freshman year, to gigs on both coasts, Bush earned her degree at Columbia and ultimately came to a realization that, yes, she wanted to give this jazz business a shot. Then came a somewhat fateful lunch with her father.
“He said, ‘You’re a professional,’ and I thought, ‘Whoa, buddy!’ It freaked me out,” Bush says. “He explained how professional can also mean putting yourself forward in a professional manner, but I hadn’t forced myself to articulate that idea.”
By her second year post-college, Bush realized she needed to move back to New York, which she did in 2011. With first a demo and now an album, Bush is enjoying the ride.
“By the time I’m 30, I hope I’m still doing this. That would be really beautiful, but who knows?” she says. “I really only know what’s going on for the next six months of my life.”