Singer-songwriter Kat Edmonson was born in Houston, but a seven year stint singing in Austin’s jazz cellars and lounges helped shape her sound. She left for NYC in 2011. As her career began to take off in 2013, Michael Corcoran, writing for the Statesman, called her “an actress of song with a script that comes from the soul.”
» Related: ‘Cafe Society’ is okay, but not great
This summer, fans can catch Edmonson among actual actors as she takes a turn on the silver screen as a jazz singer in a 1930s nightclub in Woody Allen’s new flick “Cafe Society.” The film, which stars Steve Carrell, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, opens in Austin on July 29.
We hit up Edmonson to find out more about her on screen experience.
Austin360: What is your role in Woody Allen’s new movie and how did you land it?
Kat Edmonson: I play the Le Tropique nightclub singer. I got the part after a rather serendipitous series of events that occurred between Joe Brauner (my agent), Jim Keller (my manager), one the producers of the film, a casting director, and Woody. Lets just say my team seriously went to bat for me and it paid off!
Did you work directly with Woodie Allen and if so, what was that like?
I did work directly with Woody and it was a total thrill! He’s my favorite director and I’ve always dreamt about being in one of his movies. Heck, one of reasons I moved to NY was to be in the romantic world he’s depicted time and time again! Anyway, one day I was unexpectedly called on set because Woody decided to improvise and wanted me to perform a song of my choice and film it on the spot. I chose the classic, Jeeper’s Creepers and they made me a new costume in 30 min and then we shot it. It was so much fun!
Did you have any interesting on-set interactions with cast members?
Since Woody’s movie budgets are really small and the cast was relatively small, we all shared the same make-up trailer and I was able to chat with all of the other cast members every day. All of the actors are very nice, very friendly, down-to-earth.
Your Austin fans miss you. When will you be coming back?
I miss them, too. I am currently recording another record that I plan to release in early 2017- when that comes out, I’ll be in Austin! I can’t wait to share my new stuff!
Here’s an old profile of Kat Edmonson done by Michael Corcoran in 2009.
From the archives: Austin’s great jazz hope
by Michael Corcoran – March 7, 2009
As talent booker of the Elephant Room – not to mention one of the most in-demand horn players in town since the early ’70s – Mike Mordecai is the godfather of the Austin jazz scene. And he’s never seen anything quite like the rocket rise of Kat Edmonson, the adorable 25-year-old with the voice somewhere between Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee, who has been singing steadily in clubs for only about three years.”She’s just a natural, ” Mordecai says of the Houston native who moved to Austin in 2002 to go to college but instead found her classrooms in the jazz basements and lounges of steak and seafood restaurants downtown.
Things are about to get really big for Edmonson, who on Tuesday ascends to the rank of “recording artist” with the release of the deliciously rich “Take to the Sky.” The album, which features a bossa nova version of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” among such vibrantly reworked standards as “Summertime” and “Night and Day, ” just might be good enough to establish Edmonson, with the intriguing voice and instincts, as the first Austin-based jazz singer to break out nationally.
It’s the first release on Convivium, the label started by Edmonson and her producer/partner Kevin Lovejoy, but don’t be surprised if a major label picks it up and puts it out as is.
Everybody loves Edmonson, even those who don’t “get” jazz, but Mordecai says he wasn’t won over when she first sang at the Elephant Room’s open mike in 2005. “I told her she should learn ‘Dindi’ by Antonio Carlos Jobim. It’s a very rangy song, with a complex melody line, ” Mordecai says. The next week the young waitress from Cool River restaurant/bar turned up ready to sing “Dindi.”
“The bass player didn’t know the bridge, so there was no foundation, ” Mordecai recalls, “and I had this drunk guy in my ear, trying to get a combo to play in his hotel suite later that night. There were all these distractions – but at the same time I was hearing this perfect pure voice. Kat was just nailing every note.”
Mordecai advised Edmonson to keep coming back and sitting in and getting her chops down before she joined a group. But a couple weeks later, Mordecai was stunned to see Edmonson fronting Kat’s Meow, with eccentric, shades-wearing guitarist Slim Richey. “It worked, ” Mordecai says of the odd collaboration.
The word started spreading about an amazing new singer in town who not only performed standards but wrote her own material. Keyboardist Lovejoy, who had just gotten off the road with John Mayer, was looking for a singer for a gig at the Lair, a tiny upstairs bar on Sixth Street. At the suggestion of trumpet master Ephraim Owens, Lovejoy offered Edmonson the gig. They’ve been together ever since, first strictly professionally and, six months later, as a couple.
Lovejoy thought he hadn’t heard Edmonson sing before that night at the Lair, but he was mistaken. In 2002, Lovejoy was watching “American Idol” and saw that one of the singers auditioning was from Austin. “I was with some people and I asked, ‘Has anyone heard of this singer?'” says Lovejoy who is also a Houston native. “It wasn’t until a few months after I met Kat that I made the connection.”
Edmonson passed the first “Idol” auditions and was flown to Hollywood as one of the final 48 contestants, but she was dismissed by Simon Cowell and the gang as too demure.
Back in Austin, Edmonson planned to go to Austin Community College to pick up some credits before transferring from the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where she attended her freshman year, to the University of Texas. Her heart, however, was in singing for a living. On the morning she went to enroll, she heard a country song that changed her path. “I don’t even know who it was by – maybe Cory Morrow – but the lyrics were about skipping classes to sing for your friends, ” Edmonson says. She turned the car around and decided she wasn’t going back to school.
“My mother and some of her friends had an intervention, ” Edmondon says, with a laugh. “They said I had to go to college – that’s all there was to it. Everybody thought I had lost it when I said I wanted to sing.” Katherine became Kat.
Edmonson credits her mother, who raised her without a father around, for inspiring her musical tastes at a young age. A Sunday ritual was watching old movie musicals at the home of Kat’s godmother. “One of my favorites was ‘High Society, ‘ with all the Cole Porter songs, ” says Edmonson, whose speaking voice is of the same high pitch as her singing. “My mother exposed me to Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart and Frank Sinatra when I was 4 or 5 years old. That’s when I started singing.”
It wasn’t until a talent show at Houston’s Lamar High School during Edmonson’s senior year that she first performed in public, singing an Indigo Girls song with friends.
During her year in Charleston, an 18-year-old Edmonson would close up at Starbucks and sneak into a black blues club, where they’d let her sing. At Cool River, she was known to jump onstage with the cover band to sing Fleetwood Mac or funk songs. She’s always loved to sing, but it wasn’t until Monday nights at the Elephant Room that Edmonson found her true voice.
“The thing that’s really unique about Kat is that, as young as she is, she has her own sound, ” Lovejoy says of her tone and phrasing that are both knowing and vulnerable. “She connects (with listeners) because there’s an honesty in her voice.”
Recorded in two days in September at the Texas Treefort studio in West Austin, “Take to the Sky” features a rhythm section of drummer J.J. Johnson, who tours with John Mayer, bassist Eric Revis from Branford Marsalis’ group and Lovejoy’s older brother Chris Lovejoy, in from California where he plays with Charlie Hunter, on percussion. “It just so happened that the musicians we wanted, who are all incredibly busy, were available for those days, ” producer Lovejoy says. It was the first time the Lovejoy brothers played on a record together.
“We didn’t have a big budget, but we didn’t need one, ” Edmonson says of the album, which was cut live in the studio. “It’s jazz, so there’s no need for layers or overdubs.”
It cost much more to mix the album than record it, but Lovejoy and Edmonson agreed it was worth it to hire the legendary Al Schmidt, who mixed most of Sam Cooke’s classics and “Aja” by Steely Dan. As a bonus, Edmonson also got a pretty impressive endorsement from the 19-time Grammy winner. “Kat Edmonson is the best new jazz singer I have heard in years, ” Schmidt is quoted in press materials. “I know she’ll be around for years to come.”
Edmonson seems genuinely humbled by the accolades. As a local jazz vocalist she knows what it’s like to sing while everyone’s talking. That they’re now talking about her takes a little getting used to.