Beginner’s Guide to Stacey Kent

Now living in Virginia, this singular jazz singer’s smooth tunes amaze and inspire.

I was not always a jazz junky. I actually came to it rather reluctantly. Many people, I think, consider it to be a bunch of pianists improvising crazily and forget that musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra are very much part of the genre. From Broadway ballads to moonlight serenades, jazz is not unapproachable. And singers like Stacey Kent make it very easy to enjoy.

Thanks to radio (do people still listen to that?), I first encountered Kent on Jazz with Petter Solomon (88.9 fm). The song was “Postcard Lovers” (lyrics written by my favorite author, Kazuo Ishiguro). From that point on, I dove into jazz from Eliane Elias to Keith Jarrett to Kamasi Washington and beyond. I have since gone on to host a Jazz radio program in England (CSR 97.4) for several years. And even though record labels are constantly sending me albums to listen to, Stacey Kent remains my favorite jazz singer. She can sing so sweetly and take a tune to a more upbeat pace. Her work is beautiful because it shows a person in love with music and connecting with others through it.

The Changing Lights (2013)

Her best album (in my opinion) takes a ride on the bossa nova express. Her voice floats around and sails on the samba with ease. The backing instrumentals (her husband, Jim Tomlinson, on saxophone) are always balanced, supporting Kent’s melodies. And though many think that “Waiter, Oh Waiter” is a bit silly, why can’t it be? She has other serious tracks, and a little fun shows an artist mature enough not to always be trying to please others. If you’re new to Kent, this is a fun release to get a taste of what she does best. Yes, she can sing Gershwin or Berlin expertly, but a lot of others can too. Besides her own (and her husband’s) compositions, Kent tackles Brazilian styles in creative ways with an air of grace and homage.

– “One Note Samba”

– “This Happy Madness”

– “Like a Lover”

– “Waiter, Oh Waiter”

Dreamer in Concert (2011)

Though I’m not one for live albums most of the time, Stacey Kent sounds as good in the studio as out of it. And the audience just loves her. With a mix of original material, jazz standards, and bossa nova tunes, this is a great release that displays her vocal talents and the phenomenal piano playing of Graham Harvey. If you’re a fan of Madeleine Peyroux or Melody Gardot, you’ll find much to relish and love here. Put simply, Kent spirits you away with a tender touch.

– “Postcard Lovers”

– “Dreamer”

– “Waters of March”

Raconte-Moi (2010)

Stacey Kent seems to sell better in France than anywhere else. This release gives a great taste of why. From upbeat tunes to slower, contemplative ballads, Kent handles it all with her lush vocals that sweep the listener away. She is a romantic. But never saccharine. She skims that line tenderly and masterfully. Though not as uptempo as some of her other albums, it is a spring/summer album for lazy days and daydreaming. 

– “Désuets”

– “La Vénus du Mélo”

– “Au Coin du Monde”

Breakfast on the Morning Tram (2009)

This Grammy-nominated album really put this jazz singer on the map. It also includes several of her and Jim’s compositions, showing that there’s more to them than meets the ear! Not only do these original tracks mesmerize, but covers like “Landslide” brilliantly take more modern classics and make them almost like new. Kent, of course, amazes with her gentle vocals, and she never sounds weak or timid. There’s a power behind them, but it’s a lovely kind like a warm summer breeze. If her bossa-nova-heavy album wasn’t for you, this one proves she’s a bit more versatile. 

– “Samba Saravah”

– “The Ice Hotel”

– “Landslide”

– “I Wish I Could Go Travelling Again”

Konstantin Rega
A graduate of East Anglia’s renowned Creative Writing MA, Konstantin’s been published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Poetry Salzburg Review,, the Republic of Consciousness Prize (etc.). He contributes to Publisher Weekly and Treblezine.
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