When Dallas-based retro jazz singer Laura Ainsworth began releasing a series of CDs on her indie label Eclectus Records, she says, “I thought of them as messages in a bottle. I sent them out into the world with no idea if anyone would ever find them.”
She was stunned when her sophisticated lounge jazz won fans, accolades and multiple awards, leading to radio play and performances from Los Angeles to India. Most recently, as she was cutting her fourth album (a collection of requests cheekily titled You Asked For It
, due next spring), Japan’s Ratspack Records picked up her first three CDs (Keep It To Yourself
, Necessary Evil
and New Vintage
) and best-of vinyl LP Top Shelf
. Ratspack has now released a deluxe CD package of Top Shelf
for the devoted Japanese jazz market, and it’s garnering rave reviews internationally.
It’s available outside Japan through www.lauraainsworth.com
and her Bandwear merch site
Japan’s Jazz Critique
magazine wrote that “you will quickly become captivated by her alluring singing,” praised her “exceptionally great” voice and “master craftsmanship” that creates “her own one-and-only world.” They declared Laura “crucial for jazz vocal fans” and Top Shelf
“irresistible for 1920-1950s retro standard lovers.” Jazz Japan
likewise hailed Laura’s “silky, vibrant voice” that “conveys elegantly the beauty of the standards.”
The Top Shelf
CD is expanded to 16 tracks, including an unreleased Irving Berlin classic, “You’d Be Surprised.” Packaged in the popular mini-LP CD format, it features a lyric sheet, Obi band and 16-page color booklet on Laura’s unique background (her childhood was spent in showrooms, watching her late dad, big band sax/clarinet master Billy Ainsworth, back such legends such as Tony Bennett, Mel Torme and Ella Fitzgerald, which left a deep impression on her.)
The tracks were recorded at Crystal Clear Studios in Dallas with renowned pianist/producer/arranger Brian Piper and Laura’s loyal coterie of top Texas jazz players, including John Adams on bass and Chris McGuire on sax and clarinet. For the Japanese CD, they were warmly remastered by Jessica Thompson (Grammy-nominated for her work on Erroll Garner’s The Complete Concert by the Sea
) under the supervision of David Gasten, producer of the This Is Vintage Now
CD series that showcases modern artists influenced by midcentury music.
Gasten believes that Ainsworth’s supple voice and throwback vocal style that’s been compared to Rosemary Clooney and Jo Stafford, her elegant image, saucy humor and unique mix of vintage and modern made her the perfect artist to break the “new vintage” genre in other markets (her version of “An Occasional Man” leads off This Is Vintage Now Vol. 2.
) He predicted that the thriving Japanese audience for traditional American lounge jazz would embrace her, and they have.
Her earliest booster was Tokyo’s influential senior jazz critic Keizo Takada, who has written liner notes for many Japanese releases of LPs by such American artists as Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn and Mel Tormé. Given a copy of Ainsworth’s Top Shelf
LP by Gasten during a visit to Los Angeles, Takada sent it to Jazz Life
, a leading jazz magazine in Japan. Their review in May 2019 led to the major Japanese record store Disk Union stocking the album.
Since then, Ainsworth has been interviewed and her albums positively reviewed by most major Japanese jazz publications, including CD Journal
(one of the top 20 entertainment magazines in Japan), Jazz Critique
(Japan's largest circulation jazz magazine), Jazz Japan, The Walker’s
, and PJ Portrait In Jazz
. The lifestyle magazine Hiakara
ran an article on Laura, and also ran the article in their Hiakara EST
insert that is included in Yomiuri Shimbun
, a national Japanese newspaper similar to USA Today
which boasts the world’s largest circulation (7.7 million as of 2020).
American reaction to the Japanese import CD has also been strong. Longtime jazz journalist Eric Harabadian (Down Beat
) called Laura “a brilliant interpreter of song” whose “gossamer phrasing brings a unique personality to each song.” He also praised Top Shelf's
deluxe packaging and the “wonderful musicians who make (the songs) leap out of your speakers.” He concluded that whether you get the LP or CD version, “you’re in for a real treat. Laura Ainsworth is one of the most talented and entertaining vocalists – of any genre or era – on the music scene today!”
It’s all rather overwhelming for Ms. Ainsworth, who originally just hoped to help keep alive the music she learned to love from her dad. Her classic sound has taken her from Texas to Manhattan's Metropolitan Room to a top jazz club in Dubai and beyond. Now, she says, “As soon as this pandemic is under control, I hope you’ll find me singing Johnny Mercer in Tokyo!”