Protégé of Prince, pianist and singer Kandace Springs brings her soulful, smoky sounds to the Jazz & Blues Festival

Kandace Springs swears she didn’t know the connection between the song she began her audition for Blue Note Records with and the company executive she was singing for, otherwise she might have chosen something different.

The song, I Can’t Make You Love Me, first came to major public attention when Bonnie Raitt featured it on her 1991 multi-million-selling album, Luck of the Draw.

As Springs finished singing it and prepared to sing another song, Blue Note president, Don Was, called out, “That’s the best arrangement I’ve ever heard – and I produced the hit version!”

Singer and pianist Springs, who is Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival’s brochure cover star this year, has had her heart set on recording for Blue Note since she heard Norah Jones’s Come Away with Me album in her early teens.

“I used to look at the cover and think it would be so cool to be on that label,” she says. “I didn’t know Blue Note had such a great history in jazz at the time but the more I found out about its legacy, the cooler it became.”

Nashville-born Springs grew up with music. Her father, Scat, is a session singer and she used to earn pocket money singing with him on sessions before a piano arrived in the house.

“The lady who owned it, a neighbour, got involved in drugs and was evicted,” she says. “She asked my folks to look after it till she got back on her feet. Then friends of my dad’s showed me my first jazz chords and that was it. All I wanted to do was play the piano and sing.”

For a while Springs was groomed for stardom by the hit-making team behind Rihanna but she decided this style of music wasn’t for her and took a job in an hotel as a pianist/car valet instead.

“I parked everything from a truck to a Ferrari,” she says. “But it let me work on the music I really wanted to play and I was able to support myself financially. I never studied music formally so this was like my schooling.”

With a repertoire of songs learned from Norah Jones, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Roberta Flack (she always finishes her shows with Flack’s biggest hit, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face) and a few of her own, eventually she felt ready to try for a deal with her dream label.

“After I sang I Can’t Make You Love Me I was going to do a jazz standard or something but I didn’t have to. Don Was signed me on the spot. Amazing.”

Amazing things just seem to happen to Springs. When she posted her version of Sam Smith’s Stay With Me on music website OKplayer, she got a message from none other than Prince, who was so impressed that he invited her to sing on the thirtieth anniversary of Purple Rain at Paisley Park.

“I was still trying to figure out my sound at the time but he gave me great advice,” she says. “He told me I needed to do what comes naturally to me, and he was absolutely right.”

Words: Rob Adams 

Photo: Mathieu Bitton 

WHERE & WHEN

Kandace Springs, West Princes Street Gardens Spiegeltent, 15 July, 7.30pm & George Square Spiegeltent 16 July, 8.30pm

From £17 Tel: 0131 473 2000

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