Photo: Lauren Kim
With 'Bewitched,' Icelandic Singer Laufey Is Leaving Jazz Neophytes Spellbound
On 'Bewitched,' Laufey isn't out to preach or lecture about jazz's importance; the vocalist believes it can ensnare new disciples by its own merits.
Why is jazz so walled off to younger people? Laufey spends a lot of time pondering this question. And part of it comes down to the ways Gen Z might second-guess themselves.
"Like, how do you consume jazz music?" the Icelandic singer asks GRAMMY.com rhetorically. "Do you go to a jazz club? Do you have to be 18? Do you have be 21? When do you clap? How do you dress?
"There are so many barriers to entry," adds the 24-year-old, mononymous artist, whose full name is Laufey Lín Jónsdóttir. "It seems like something that's for an older, more refined, more educated set of society."
Which is something of a tragedy for music — especially given that youngsters made some of its most resonant works, and that much of jazz was meant for everybody. With that in mind, Laufey isn't out to shove the music down people's throats. She wants to leave them Bewitched.
That's the title of Laufey's second album, due out Sept. 8. Characterized by a more laid-back, accessible approach than its predecessor — 2022's Everything I Know About Love — the set is charming and companionable, from "Dreamer" to "From the Start" and its twilit, cinematic title track.
Read on for an interview with Laufey about her approach to Bewitched, the foundational influences of Astrid Gilberto and Chet Baker, and dismantling the wall between the youth generation and America's Music.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Tell me how your creative evolution led to Bewitched.
I like to think it was written between Los Angeles and London — New York too, but mostly between those two places. And I touched a lot on that in the lyrics. This is my second album [and] a return to my musical roots. I'm really leaning deep into my jazz and classical roots.
For my first EP [2021's Typical of Me] and album, I always had this goal and dream of bringing jazz music back to my generation. I hadn't seen many examples of doing that. So, I was just kind of seeing how far I could take it — how far I could go into jazz without scaring off Gen Z.
What I found after my first album was that the fans seem to mostly drift toward the songs that resembled jazz standards — ones that were recorded with a symphony orchestra. So, for this album, I had the confidence to just jump straight into that, with no fear that I would lose Gen Z.
The singles that have come out have been some of my most organic music, in that sense. And it's been the most well-received, which is really wonderful. It's such a great sign that music is moving in a direction where I can just be anything.
It's a love album, and touches on everything between love and heartbreak. My last album was a little bit hopeless romantic: Oh, I'll never fall in love. And this one's kind of like, OK, I'm learning a little more about love.
It's a shame how marginalized, niche and walled-off jazz can be. It's one of my greatest pleasures in life.
I mean, that's the whole reason I'm doing this.
But Gen Z might offer light at the end of the tunnel. Where does jazz sit within your age group?
I think there's been a space via social media, like TikTok. In the past few years, there's been so much more music introduced, because it's kind of introduced to you without you seeking it out.
I think Gen Z is a generation of really, really open-minded individuals, especially when it comes to music. I've found that friends and kids this age will listen to anything, really, as long as they can find some sort of line of relatability. That's what they care about.
Even though I'm writing songs that sometimes sound like old jazz standards, the lyrics are very modern; they're my personal experiences from this day and age. I think that relatability is what connects young listeners.
I started this project during Covid, and I found people wanted to find an escape from this bleak reality. We all had to stay home from high school and college; I graduated online, from Berklee.
I think we just wanted to be reminded of a time that wasn't masks and Zoom and whatever. Our escape was kind of found through music. My brainchild during that time was this kind of cinematic, jazzy landscape of music that felt like it didn't belong to 2020. It belonged to a different time.
*Bewitched* album art. Photo: Gemma Warren
Tell me more about how Bewitched reflects your roots. I'm sure there are all kinds of subliminal reflections of the music you love.
I have a jazz standard on the album, "Misty," that I referenced a couple of times on my first album.I wanted to do it in the most classic way, and we recorded it live in one take with a trio.
I'm a huge Chet Baker fan. Even in the first single off the album, "From the Start," I'm borrowing some Chet Baker licks in the scatting.
I grew up playing cello; my twin sister plays violin on it as well. There are a lot of classical influences that I dug into — a lot of Ravel and Mendelssohn and Ravel and Dvorak, which is really fun to hide in there. Because if you know, you know — and if you don't, it's just a fun, new treat.
Back to the Chet Baker point, the way that he sings is kind of like a trumpet. I really took on more of that vocal style on this album — more held back. I used to think [in terms of] vibrato and legato, and I still do, but I think I really [wanted] to emphasize the lyric and storytelling.
This style of singing that's a little more spoken word, a little more bossa nova — I think that really lends well to the songwriting. Bossa nova was also a big influence on this album.
I love Astrud Gilberto a lot; there's this  album of hers called Beach Samba that I was really, really inspired by, specifically in "From the Start."
I'm obsessed with Chet Baker. Can you talk about him more?
Chet Baker is probably the reason I started creating my own music, and writing my own music. I fell in love with his interpretations two or three years ago, and listened to the entire discography.
The way he phrases — the way he approaches words, but also solos — I have completely taken that into my own kind of musicality.
I think it's because [Baker is] really approachable jazz music for Gen Z and new listeners. I think I would have been very scared to say that back in the day, when I was at Berklee. But I'm not afraid to say it now.
When my friends ask me, "What jazz musician should I listen to?" I'm always like, "Go listen to Chet Baker," because I think it's such a great way to introduce new listeners to jazz. Because he's not only a singer — he's a musician. He plays jazz like a jazz musician.
His early vocal albums were my first immersion in the Great American Songbook. "I'm Old Fashioned," "You're Driving Me Crazy"...
And he doesn't mess with them too much. Which is such a great way to get to know these standards, but also understand jazz form. I love Chet Baker; I think he's just the greatest musician of all time.
On the cover of Chet Baker Sings It Could Happen To You, he's sitting underneath a [waxing crescent] moon. I almost did that for the album cover.
It's important to note these are original compositions, not interpretations. Tell me how you inhabited that language, to write something that feels part and parcel with jazz tradition.
Well, I've learned pretty much every jazz standard — the ones that are in the Real Book, the main ones. I've learned the lyrics; I've figured out the chords.
I think once you have that musical language within you and you understand the form a bit, you'll find that jazz songs have a very similar form. There are lots of similar chords — the II-V-Is, which is my trick to make any song sound jazzy.
The songs on the album that are the most pop/rock-driven are climbing in II-IV-Is, which bring them back to jazz land — or Laufey land, as I like to say.
[It comes down to] the chord choices, and melodic choices. There are some intervals and licks that are commonly used — that you just kind of adopt, and it becomes a part of you.
**Tell me about your accompanists on Bewitched, as well as its producers and engineers.**
I work very closely with my producer, Spencer Stewart, who also did my first album; he's like my musical soulmate. We nerd out about jazz and classical music all day. But then, he's a really wonderful producer of pop music as well. So, it's this really great combination.
Basically, what I do is: I'll write the song, bring it to him, and we'll usually lay down a guitar or voice or something. We did most of the album in his home studio, and we just jumped around; I would play guitar or piano, he would play drums and bass, I would play cello.
It would just take a day or two, and we'd have a track. It was very organic, in that way — a very modern approach to recording jazzy songs. Which I hope is something that gives it that unique touch.
There's one track on the album that we recorded at EastWest Studios in Hollywood, on Frank Sinatra's piano, which was so cool. Two of the songs we recorded with the Philharmonia Orchestra, the orchestra based out of London.
There was an orchestra conductor there, and an engineer that I worked with. But for the most part, it's produced by Spencer and me.
You're doing a lot to bridge the gap to a younger generation. But what caused that gap in the first place? Historically, what has lent itself to this disconnect?
I think about this a lot. I think the barriers to entry with jazz are too high. I think young kids feel like they need to be educated to speak about it, and to even listen to it.
I think it's done such a disservice to the music that it's gotten to that point. Because in the beginning, jazz music was kind of built on freedom from rules — just expression. And it was kind of meant to be something for everybody.
I think also the nature of Gen Z — and young people at all — is that they don't want to listen to adults. They want to hear something from someone their own age. So, it's my hope that I can tie these worlds together and introduce them to something via my own 24-year-old voice.
Photo: Scott Gries/NBC via Getty Images
Liz Gillies Shares The Holiday Tunes That Make Her Feel Merriest
"I just remember being completely enveloped in Christmas music," the songstress says. Her collaboration with Seth MacFarlane, 'We Wish You the Merriest' is "as close to a classic feeling, warm, fuzzy, nostalgic Christmas album you’re gonna get."
With a new album of holiday cheer, We Wish You the Merriest, under their belts, Liz Gillies and Seth MacFarlane have become one of the most popular recording duos of the season. Yet their sonic story goes back a decade.
Gillies, who starred as Fallon Carrington on "Dynasty," met the "Family Guy" at a karaoke bar and noticed they were singing in similar styles. She was singing her go-to: Julie London’s "Cry Me a River" and recalls MacFarlane singing Frank Sinatra.
"We immediately realized that we both shared a deep love and affinity for this music," Gilles told GRAMMY.com by phone about their mutual admiration for jazz and crooning styles of the 1940s and 50s.
She started joining his Los Angeles concerts at the Catalina Jazz Club in 2014/2015 and then went with him on tour. "When you find somebody that you share that kind of common ground with and you have great chemistry with – it sort of feels like you'd be doing a disservice not to explore it," she says.
They released a joint un-official album, Songs From Home, in spring 2021 and fans quickly clambered for a Christmas album. In November, Gillies and MacFarlane finally delivered.
Their 13-track We Wish You the Merriest features many classics — from "Frosty the Snowman" to "That Holiday Feeling" — sung in the styles of Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. "This is as close to a classic feeling, warm, fuzzy, nostalgic Christmas album you’re gonna get these days," Gilles says.
"Seth is sort of like this youthful energy, as much as he loves these older songs. I truly present myself like a 50 to 60 year old woman from 1950," says 30-year-old Gillies. "So onstage it really works. We love a lot of the same movies. A lot of the way we banter and our jokes are very similar."
Singing has long been a part of Gillies' repertoire, beginning with her Broadway debut at 15 years old in "13: The Musical" alongside Ariana Grande. They both went on to star and sing on Nickelodeon’s "Victorious" and have sustained a friendship ever since. Gillies even appeared in Grande’s "Thank U, Next" music video.
They recently went viral for their Halloween costume reveal. "We already know what we’re doing next year," Gillies teased. "We have this all mapped out. It's been a fun, new tradition that we started and it's just a blast. It lets us be wacky, free and creative."
Asked whether they’d ever perform together again – Gillies said it’s all about timing. "If there’s an opportunity that makes sense, we would love to be on stage together, create something together. We're always talking about it," she said.
Right now, the focus has been her partnership with MacFarlane.
Recording a Christmas album was especially meaningful to Gillies, who remembers listening to these classics during her childhood in New Jersey. The holidays were "the most important time of year" for Gilles' music-loving family. "I just remember being completely enveloped in Christmas music," she recalls.
"[Holiday music] was very much a part of my childhood and a part of my upbringing in my education, musically," Gillies notes. "The fact that I'm even on a Christmas record — let alone with this amazing orchestra and with these arrangements — is pretty surreal for me.
"They feel so familiar to me," she continues. "That's why I was happy to do a more classic album because I don't think I would succeed doing a pop Christmas album. I wouldn't know where to start."
In honor of We Wish You the Merriest, Gillies shares some of her favorite holiday songs and why.
"The Christmas Waltz" - Frank Sinatra
"The Christmas Waltz" is one my grandma always would sing. She sang it the other night as well — I just had my family Christmas party this past weekend. We have so many traditions and so many beautiful memories and things that we do at parties during the holidays.
I know it's Seth’s favorite Christmas song, I believe, and it's one of mine as well. Several members of my family play the piano and after dinner and before dessert, we always went over to the piano. [This happened] since I was a kid, and generations before I existed sang Christmas carols.
"Winter Wonderland" - James Taylor
I remember my dad having this huge stack of CDs and the first one always that went in was actually James Taylor's Christmas album, believe it or not. The first song on that album is "Winter Wonderland." Once that started, I would get a very Christmassy feeling in my house and I would know that it was Christmas time.
"The Christmas Song" - Nat King Cole
To me, the quintessential Christmas song is "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole. That is the song I think Nat has, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful voices of all time. That song, no matter where I am when I hear it, I stop.
"Sleigh Ride'' - Ella Fitzgerald
That's another one that I really love. It's so effortless, jazzy and fun. I tried to emulate little parts of each of these [songs] in our record although our arrangements are different.
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - Frank Sinatra
Judy [Garland’s version] is very beautiful and very sad, so I don't listen to it as much. Frank’s is almost haunting. I believe it starts acapella. It’s so beautiful and his voice sounds so rich and velvety. I love that version of that song.
Photo: Sela Shiloni
Jeff Goldblum's Musical Influences: How Frank Sinatra, "Moon River" & More Jazz Greats Inspired The Actor-Turned-Musician
On the heels of releasing his third jazz project, 'Plays Well With Others,' Jeff Goldblum reveals the artists, songs and albums that influenced the actor to pursue a separate path in music.
Jeff Goldblum has enjoyed a prolific (and massive) career as one of Hollywood's most beloved actors. But long before making it as a film and television star, he enjoyed an entirely different passion: American standards and jazz.
Now, as Goldblum says, he's "a humble student" of the genres. Four years after releasing his first jazz album with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra (2018's The Capitol Studios Sessions), the actor-turned-musician unveiled his third project, Plays Well With Others, on March 24.
Across the EP's six tracks, Goldblum and the orchestra deliver inventive renditions of songs like the Frank Sinatra standard "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and Irving Berlin's "Don't Fence Me In." Though he's already proven that he plays well with others — his previous two releases have featured the likes of Miley Cyrus, Fiona Apple and Hailey Reinhart — Goldblum recruited a disparate list of guest stars including pop star Kelly Clarkson and Brazilian singer/songwriter Rodrigo Amarante for his latest set.
In celebration of the EP's release, Goldbum took GRAMMY.com inside the songs, artists and albums that made the biggest impact on him — and ultimately lead to a whole new career.
My dad was a fan of his, and he's one of the first pianists I heard. He used to sit on a telephone book to play piano. What a genius he is. I've been listening to his recording of "Eldorado" from his 1972 album Gemini. Ooh, how about that one?
Henry Mancini's "Moon River"
That was one of the first songs my first piano teacher, Tommy Emmel, gave me the sheet music for. I really sat and worked on that, and I started to get better at playing by playing that song.
I have always loved Frank Sinatra. It was in his swimming pool at his former home in Palm Springs where we shot a photograph for the cover of my second album. We put a piano in the middle of his pool!
He's such a good actor, and the gift of his voice. He acts all of these songs so deeply, originally and spontaneously.
Sinatra at the Sands
I've been listening to Sinatra at the Sands a lot lately. What an album. He's with the Count Basie Orchestra, conducted by a very young Quincy Jones. It has all sorts of amazing moments: "Shadow of Your Smile," which he introduces by saying 'Here's a brand new song,' which is amazing. "One for My Baby" is another one, the way he does it on that record is unbelievable with his spoken introduction kills me.
This version of "You Make Me Feel So Young" is one I've listened to several times while I was filming the upcoming Wicked movie with Ariana Grande, Cynthia Erivo and Michele Yeoh. I was listening to a lot of music to stimulate me even more, and this album and that song was one of them.
Jennifer Warnes' "It Goes Like It Goes"
It's originally from the movie Norma Rae from 1979 that Sally Field won the Oscar for. The title song is sung by Jennifer Warnes. It knocks me out. I get weepy, rich tears of delicious joy and sorrow.
Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald's "Wheels of a Dream"
This is from the musical Ragtime, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. When I hear this song lately, it reminds me of the time I worked with Brian Stokes Mitchell [on Fox's hit TV series "Glee"]. We actually played a married couple who was raising our child, played by Lea Michele. As a matter of fact, the week we did that show, we went to the Capitol Records building to record a duet of "You're the Top."
Peggy Lee's "Is That all There Is?"
That song kills me. I first heard it in 1969 when it first came out. Randy Newman actually did the orchestral arrangement.
My bandmate and coach, Alex Frank, who plays the bass in our band, turned me on to Glenn Gould, who is from Toronto where my wife is actually from. I've been watching some documentaries on him that I've been eating up. What a great guy he was; a masterful, interesting and original artist.
Alex's dad was involved in music prominently, so when he was a kid, he once went to a rehearsal of Glenn Gould's because his father had some relationship with the orchestra leader. It was a rehearsal and in the middle of it Glenn Gould said, "Stop, stop, I can't continue. I need a paper bag."
So Alex, who was 10 at the time, went around the corner to get a paper bag. When he came back with it, Glenn Gould took off his shoes and socks and put his bare feet in this paper bag and said, "Now I'm ready" and continued his rehearsal. Why did he do that? I don't know.
Photo: Courtesy of Judy Whitmore
ReImagined: Judy Whitmore Dazzles With A Classic Interpretation Of Frank Sinatra And Count Basie's "The Best Is Yet To Come"
Judy Whitmore introduces fans to the music she grew up with in this jazzy full-orchestra performance of "The Best is Yet to Come" — a song that was made famous by Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, and won a GRAMMY thanks to Ella Fitzgerald.
An American standard originally composed in 1959, "The Best is Yet to Come" has been recorded by an array of vocal greats, including Tony Bennett, Michael Bublé, Bob Dylan, and Ella Fitzgerald — the latter of whom won a GRAMMY for her rendition in 1984. But it's most closely associated with Frank Sinatra, who recorded it with jazz pianist Count Basie for their 1964 album, It Might As Well Be Swing. In fact, the song was so important to Sinatra that its titular lyric is carved into his tombstone.
In this episode of ReImagined, vocalist and cabaret-style performer Judy Whitmore delivers a faithful, buoyant rendition of "The Best is Yet to Come." A full orchestra performs behind her, including horns, jazzy drums, a sweeping string section, and a grand piano — creating a swinging performance that does Sinatra proud.
Whitmore's cover choice is no coincidence, as the singer has been inspired by American classics literally since birth — her namesake is legendary actor and musical performer Judy Garland. Like Garland before her, Whitmore has taken on a diverse and multifaceted career. She's a bonafide Renaissance woman, whose resume includes accomplishments as a theater producer, best-selling author and pilot, who also happens to have a Master's degree in clinical psychology.
Singing has been a lifelong passion for Whitmore, and she has several albums to show for it, including 2020's Can't We Be Friends. That project, which includes her spin on standards like "'s Wonderful," "It Had to Be You" and "Love is Here to Stay," is Whitmore's "love letter to The Great American Songbook," her website explains.
"This is the music I grew up with, and I don't want people to forget it," she details. "I think it's one of the most extraordinary bodies of work ever created."
Press play on the video above to watch Whitmore bring her love of American classics to her version of "The Best is Yet to Come," and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of ReImagined.
Rick James (L), Grace Jones (R)
GRAMMY Flashback: Watch The Evolution Of Style At The GRAMMYs From The 1960s To The Present
In just over a minute, viewers are treated to a rundown of how styles have changed at the GRAMMYs Awards—from Frank Sinatra’s cocktail attire to Daft Punk’s spacesuits
The GRAMMY Awards have been around since 1959, which means six decades of styles—from Frank Sinatra's tuxedos to Billie Eilish's baggy streetwear—have passed through its 62 ceremonies. Survey the decades, and you'll find a mini-history of how fashion and music have remained intertwined.
In this episode of GRAMMY Flashback, a special series for this year's GRAMMY season, watch how the evolution of style at the GRAMMYs has changed over the decades. Tune into the 2021 GRAMMYs Awards show Sunday, March 14, on CBS to see what styles will be at the ceremony—and to find out who will win!