Today, international jazz aficionados are familiar with Tatiana Mayfield’s impressive vocal register and soul-jazz fusion style — a far cry from a childhood spent making up songs for the summer air.
She was too shy to sing in front of others until age 11, when she shed her inhibitions and unleashed that powerfully mellow voice for a White Settlement talent show.
Now that Mayfield, or LadyMay as she’s known onstage, is 26, she is North Texas’ premier young jazz vocalist and two-time recipient of the “outstanding performance” designation for college jazz singers in the internationally respected DownBeat magazine.
Along her musical path, Mayfield also learned to play piano and trombone and graduated from the University of North Texas’ jazz studies program. Her in-depth knowledge of the complexities of music allows her to mimic the sound and style of a busy instrument, a jazz technique known as scat singing.
Despite the hours of lessons, learning how to embody the essence of jazz took “a lot of listening,” Mayfield says.
Though she soaks up and enjoys all types of music, from pop to soul to hip-hop, she finds that only jazz permits the possibility of unifying all her influences into one whole.
“I enjoy the creativity of jazz, how you can blend it with so many styles,” she says.
During her studies at UNT, which she completed in 2010, Mayfield teamed up with pianist Erskine Hawkins III for a debut full-length album, From All Directions.
The two assembled a team of instrumentalists and headed to Dallas’ Crystal Clear studios to record. They split the time on the album roughly in half — hers featuring straight-ahead, old-school jazz and his more modern interpretations on the ivories.
Though her album was a success, launching Mayfield into headlining slots at area venues, she wanted to take a bigger step with her next project. Of the 13 songs on 2012’s solo album, Portrait of LadyMay, she wrote seven. Proving that she was a capable author, not solely a reinterpreter off jazz standards, was an important goal.
The songwriting and recording, done by UNT classmate Sean Jones, was a breeze, but the actual singing proved to be a challenge. Mayfield rested her voice for months while recuperating from both an ulcer and a node on her vocal chords.
“It was a miracle I got it done,” she says of the album.
The reception for A Portrait of LadyMay has been even better than she had hoped.
The soul-saturated song Real made it to the top spot on the U.K.’s soul charts, opening the door to a set of Kickstarter-funded London dates for Mayfield and her band that kick off Wednesday.
International attention is a natural progression. She intended to use her voice to find a common point between her music and all willing listeners, even if her toning down the sound a bit might dismay jazz purists.
“In jazz,” she says, “sometimes there is too much going on, and that turns people off. My music is really easy to listen to, not so far out. Even people who don’t listen to jazz can get into it because there is something for everybody.”