For celebrated local jazz musician and producer Eugenie Jones, music is both an outlet and an opportunity to give back to the community.
Although Jones — who performs tomorrow at the Historic Roxy Theatre in Bremerton — grew up in a musical household, she didn't plan to become a professional musician.
Jones' mother sang in church choirs, and her father was a choir director. She joined in on her family's musical activities, but her participation was reluctant and at her parents’ behest, she said.
“I wasn’t really into it myself in terms of seeing myself as having a future there, like, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a jazz singer,’ or whatever,” she said. “But that environment was kind of a part of my growing up.”
Her mother was always singing around the house, Jones said. Later in her life, Jones' mother moved in with her family before she died of cancer. After her mother's death, Jones said she felt a void in her life, but at first she couldn't quite put her finger on what was missing.
“I realized that I missed hearing her sing," she said. "You go through the grieving process; that was par for the course. But there was something else, too.”
As she worked through that realization, she wondered if she could carry on that part of her mother, she said.
“So that’s what led me into starting this journey of musical exploration and discovery that I could actually sing and that I could actually write music,” she said.
She began booking gigs, putting together bands, and writing music. She's preparing to release her third CD, and her two previous releases have received many accolades. But when she first started the journey, her musical abilities came as a shock. The first time she heard a recording of herself singing, she said she thought, “Wow, is that me?”
Jones had a whole other life outside of music. She has a master's degree in business, and has worked in marketing and communications in the nonprofit industry.
"When I left my parents’ home, I didn’t go out and pursue music as an adult," she said. "I wasn’t singing in choirs, or anything else for that matter. So to discover that I had this voice was kind of a wonderment to me."
People's reactions to her music has been an added benefit. She said she remembers a fan sending her a message that they played one of her songs, "A Good Day," every morning because it helped them begin their day on a positive note.
"To know that I was having that kind of influence in other people’s lives, it really made me feel good about what I was doing," she said.
Jones said coming to music later in life without formal training helped give her a unique style.
“You don’t have the influence of listening and being guided in a certain path; you just kind of find your own path,” she said. “I think that’s why my style and my vocals are unique to me, because I didn’t pattern myself after a line of training.”
Honoring the legacy of the jazz legends who came before her is another focus of Jones' musical career, she said.
“I try to keep alive a legacy of African American music of the people who came before me,” she said. That includes musicians like Ernestine Anderson and Quincy Jones — both from Seattle, the latter getting his start in Bremerton — or Ray Charles. “I think it’s important we keep alive the legacy of that tradition, because people tend to forget: Jazz was created by African Americans and people don’t know that.”
To that end, Jones has produced events such as Seattle’s Jackson Street Jazz Walk, and a tribute series to Ernestine Anderson.
“The reason I’m doing that kind of work is to help keep the memory alive of who those people were and the legacy that’s important foundational to artists today,” she said.
Although music is an integral part of her work, it's also a springboard to give back to the community.
In the past, Jones' performances have benefitted a wide array of different causes: senior centers, meal delivery programs, food banks, teen homeless centers.
"Yes, people are entertained, yes, I have the opportunity to create music and share it, but we also have an opportunity to collectively fill a gap within our community. ... I think that's an important element that everyone can take hold of, regardless of what their occupation is: Where is their opportunity to give back to their community?"
A portion of every ticket sold at tomorrow's show at the Roxy benefits the Music Discovery Center, a Kitsap County nonprofit for which Jones is the founding board president. The center's mission is “trying to work to provide access to music instruction and opportunities for disadvantaged use, but also try to create this community hub for local musicians,” Jones said.
“We’re just starting, we’re new, so we’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us, but we see the importance of being able to have that access to music in terms of a community and in terms of individual instruction for Bremerton and Kitsap County to grow as a resource, that there should be that kind of a resource here in our community."
Like many musicians, the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges for Jones. As the pandemic grew more serious, she increasingly fielded calls canceling performances she'd had booked. But the break gave her an opportunity to sharpen her skills, she said.
“My thinking is that there is work, and then there is this phase of sharpening the saw, where you’re preparing for the work,” she said. “During COVID, I did a lot of 'sharpening the saw' work."
She continued work on a project she'd started that saw her recording music in each region of the U.S. with a different set of master artists.
"That became my primary focus during COVID when I wasn't able to get out and perform live," she said. "Because of the enormity of this project, the complexity of it — it's like project management on steroids — that was enough to absorb my creative needs while COVID was allowing us to eventually begin to enter the market again."
Now that live music is coming back, people are able to appreciate live music in a way they may not have before the pandemic, Jones said.
“It’s definitely the adage of you don't miss your water until the well runs dry," she said. "There's so many things about our social mores that we took for granted and COVID made us realize just what we were taking for granted, and music was one of those things. And now that there's some opening back up in the industry, people are hungry for it and so they're participating moreso than they would normally. Which is a good thing, because the artists — they’re hungry for it, too."
Eugenie Jones performs 7 p.m. tomorrow, Feb. 12, at the Historic Roxy Theatre in Bremerton. Axe & Arrow will be providing a no-host fine whiskey bar. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Buy tickets here.