Jazz is all about split-second decisions. A constant presence of choice and taste, timbre and rhythm. That doesn’t mean, however, that every choice or every taste is for everyone.
“I have a personal belief that there are a lot of strange musical decisions made in the name of playing jazz,” says vibraphonist Dillon Vado.
It’s a belief he expressed to vocalist Amy Dabalos (aka Amy D.), in an early conversation following her move to Oakland in 2021. They found they agreed on many more points than just the one.
“Our ideas about music and how we want to approach making music were very much on the same page,” Dabalos says.
And so, they improvised, forming the project known as Amy D. and Dillon V. Centered around Dabalos’ soothing, affectless vocals and driven by Vado’s silvery vibraphone, the pair have been carving out a unique niche in the contemporary scene. Live, they’re rounded out by bassist Lukas Vesely and drummer Isaac Schwartz.
“The sparseness of the vibes trio sound is intimidating to a lot of people,” Vado says. “I love it. That’s the sound that supports Amy in this band. The vibes trio and Amy.”
This Friday, the group perform live at San Jose’s Art Boutiki. In the lead up to the show, they’ve been prepping the release of their first single, a song called “Who Am I?”
“It’s kind of a mid-pandemic…”
“—Power ballad,” Dabalos suggests.
“Power ballad banger,” Vado finishes, with a laugh.
The song was commissioned by San Jose Jazz, as part of their annual Jazz Aid Fund. This winter, Vado was announced as one of 20 artists selected for the program’s 2023 class (Dabalos was one of the program’s first recipients in 2021).
“We’ve never played the song live before, but we plan on debuting it at Art Boutiki,” Vado says.
“Who Am I” will be the first official release of any kind from the group. By now, the duo have been making music together for over a year, though most of it has been spent in the practice space. Practices can run five to seven hours long, and always begins with a healthy stretch of free improvisation.
“We’re unrelenting in trying to make sure we’re honest about our band’s sound and what’s working and not working,” Vado says.
Though the group has yet to release recordings of their originals, they can play a full set of them. They were last seen on stage this past August at Hammer Theatre, for San Jose Jazz’s Summerfest.
As a solo artist, Amy D. has been winning over many fans since at least 2019, with the release of her album Like You. A warm and inviting record, Like You takes classic vocal jazz influences and runs them through a contemporary pastiche of R&B, Latin, Brazilian and neo-soul. Opener and lead single “Like You” pulses on a dancing organ beat, as Dabalos urges her listeners to “Move like you love yourself.” On YouTube, the song’s video description calls it “an anthem for womxn and girls everywhere.”
“I see music as a healing art form,” she says.
Vado, meanwhile, has made a name for himself as one of the Bay’s in-demand vibraphone players. The instrument’s ethereal, almost weightless quality makes it a fitting counterpoint to Dabalos’ comforting voice.
“As a vocalist, the level of sensitivity that Dillon brings to the music really struck me, Dabalos says. “Sensitivity to the emotional quality of the music. There was a certain maturity and musical depth that he brought to the rehearsal process that I was inspired by.”
At Art Boutiki, the group experiences a homecoming of sorts. Vado practically grew up in the venue, being the son of Art Boutiki owner Dan Vado. Regardless of family connections, he says it’s still one of the best rooms in San Jose.
“I know it’s a colored perspective, being that it’s my family’s venue, but that room is a beautiful space to hear music in.”
Family or not, everyone’s sure to be feeling the love on Friday night.
“I find that our shows are just a love fest,” Dabalos says. “It just feels really good to be here. There’s a lot of love in the room.”
Fri, 8pm, $30
Art Boutiki, San Jose