Listening to Stacey Kent croon one of your favorite Sinatra songs, you're struck by how sexily the saxophone's descant curls around her voice. Then you learn that the sax player, Jim Tomlinson, is her husband, and you realize that here is a multi-level love story.
You can hear it from Stacey's proud father, Harold Kent, the architect who built and owns Princeton Corporate Plaza on Deerpark Drive. Or you can hear it on National Public Radio -- Susan Stamberg's and Linda Wertheimer's interviews with the singer are on www.npr.org. Or you can go to Crossroads Theater in New Brunswick on Wednesday, November 19, at 8 p.m., when Kent and her band give an unusual New Jersey concert -- more often she's in Europe, or the United Kingdom, or Manhattan, where she held forth at the renowned Algonquin last September. For $22 tickets call the State Theater box office at 732-246-7469.
Raised in South Orange, Kent majored in languages at Sarah Lawrence, and moved to London intending to earn a master's degree in comparative literature. On a lark, she auditioned and won a place in a year-long program at the Guildhall School of Music. That's where she met Tomlinson, and with him she formed a band.
Now the 35-year-old singer uses her Romance language skills to charm her European fans with her soft kittenish voice and her savvy but simple styling. Growing up, she had listened to an eclectic mix, everything from Mozart to B52, but her concerts and recordings focus on intimate arrangements of Broadway favorites, tunes from the big band era, and ballads from the Perry Como/Frank Sinatra portfolios. Among her accolades are the BBC Jazz Award for best vocalist and the British Jazz Award.
"I'm definitely a sucker for romance," Kent told Stamberg, explaining how she and Tomlinson fell in love "in about a second." Her five albums on the Candid label are romantically perfect for candlelight dinners. They include "The Tender Trap" (which attained first place at Amazon.com and second place on the Billboard charts after one of those NPR interviews), "In Love Again" (a celebration of songs by Richard Rodgers such as "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," "It Might As Well Be Spring," and "I'm Going to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair") plus this year's "The Boy Next Door" with arrangements of "The Best is Yet to Come," "Too Darn Hot," and "What the World Needs Now is Love."
"For me what comes first is the song and the story," says Kent, explaining why she doesn't add a lot of frou frou to her stylings. "If I were to embellish the song, people wouldn't hear the song and the story, and they are perfect as they are."
Sometimes Kent romps through an upbeat tune but more often she's singing a lonesome song, distilling all the passion of a gyrating rock band to a boudoir croon, using the consonants to flirt, and the vowels to invite. Meanwhile her husband's saxophone languidly nuzzles her melody line and gently pokes at the off beat syncopation.
Of her musical partnership, Kent says, "The world is full of great musicians, but to find the people with whom you have the musical chemistry, that's when the magic happens."
Stacey Kent, State @ Crossroads, 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 877-782-8311. $22. Wednesday, November 19, 8 p.m.