Local singer/ songwriter Leta Gibney and the musicians of Leta’s Blues bring together an eclectic world of influences to their blend of sophisticated, sultry jazz and blues songs.
In a new collaborative, Leta’s Blues is: Gibney on vocals, uke and percussion; Jacob Aginsky on keys; Marlon Aldana on skins (drums) and Ananda Vaughan on guitar.
“It’s always hard to describe music. The songs that I sing are old, vintage, even antique,” said long time resident and Nevada City artist, Gibney.
On Sept. 22, Leta’s Blues will perform during the “Back to the Land” Benefit Dinner and Gala for Bear Yuba Land Trust, part of the 11th annual Stars at North Star House concert featuring New Orleans icons Dr. John and Allen Toussaint. Other opening acts include local bands: Beaucoup Chapeaux, Earles of Newtown and Honeysweet.
A smoky throw back to the post war jazz era, Leta’s Blues weaves tasteful musical improvisation to create obscure beautiful songs both original and classic, says Gibney’s father Duncan Brown who plays guitar, drums and sings in New York.
Think Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James.
“I think with the old songs, they tell a story… I like the way songs can kind of keep history alive or talk about the culture of a person,” said Gibney, who can appreciate a good story. For several years she co-produced the See Jane Do series, a radio journalism project capturing the lives of influential women.
For years, it was Billie Holiday’s songs that resonated most with Gibney.
“I love the quality of her voice. She had incredible rhythm,” said Gibney who appreciates the way Holiday worked outside the box, using “strange timing” and masterful imperfection singing in between rhythms.
Gibney embraces a similar singing style based more on feeling than traditional virtuosity.
“I don’t have a big voice. I’m not about being technical,” she said. She learns songs by ear, preferably direct from the source, or listening and studying old recordings with her baritone uke. She writes her own songs, as well. Songs like, “Whiskers in the Sink,” “Leta’s Blues” and “The Barista.”
Among her influences Gibney includes: Chet Baker, Nat King Cole, Motown, Rickie Lee Jones, Woody Guthrie, early Willie Nelson, The Beatles, old unknown recordings of flamenco, blues and jazz, contemporary artists like Amy Winehouse and Madeleine Peyroux and locally bred musicians such as Joanna Newsom, Alela Diane and Marie Sioux.
Leta’s Blues is quickly developing a following among locals who seek the band of musicians out every chance they get.
Grass Valley residents Bill and Joyce Haire who first heard Leta’s Blues play at a Valentine’s dinner fundraiser for the Food Bank of Nevada County.
“It was a sound and a performance we hadn’t yet experienced here in Nevada County. It was different, edgy and intoxicating - very easy to dance to and even easier to listen to. Leta and her band caught our attention immediately and we haven’t been able to let go of our desire to see and hear her band perform over and over again,” said Joyce Haire.
Besides playing at local coffee houses, saloons and restaurants, Leta’s Blues has played at a number of events including Bear Yuba Land Trust’s annual Oak Tree Ball, weddings, funerals, fundraisers and during an opening of the production of “The Maids” by new edgy theater group, Synthetic Unlimited.
Each musician of Leta’s Blues stands out as accomplished musicians in their own right.
Marlon Aldana, 25, was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and started working as a musician at a young age. He has toured Central Mexico and most recently the West Coast in the U.S. with the activist bicycle-touring band, The Ginger Ninjas. Aldana has played drums with L.A. pop singer Tina Malia, the Brazilian band Boca du Rio and the fusion/ live electronica band, Subnautic.
Ananda Vaughan attended University of Oregon’s Jazz Studies program. He incorporates otherworld and American styles into his versatile and original guitar playing. With 20 years of musicianship under his belt, Vaughan works as a guitar player, songwriter and session player in Grass Valley.
Jacob Aginsky has studied with Randy Craig, Mark Levine, Herbie Hancock and Eddie Marshall. He attended University of California at Santa Cruz and San Francisco State’s Music Performance program. He has toured Europe and Japan and produced numerous recordings. In recent years, he has recorded with some of the finest “turntablists,” including DJ Quest and Cut Chemist and his live chill-out project, Subnautic received much acclaim. Aginsky also worked with pop stars, “Pink” and “Niki.”
“These guys are top notch pros,” Gibney said.
Gibney’s own musical roots take her back to long road trips with her mom singing old folk tunes by Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. Raised by a single artist, Gibney spent her formative years between Los Angeles and New York before settling in Nevada City at about age 8.
“She always brought me to enclaves of artists and took me out to see live music,” Gibney said recalling free concerts in Central Park like Ladysmith Black Mambazo. She remembers seeing the Four Tops and Temptations at a young age with her dad in New York.
In her 20s, Gibney travelled to Spain where she studied Flamenco gypsy music and dance. She is the founding member and still works with Flamenco Del Oro. She has done session work in recording studios as a singer and percussionist on several albums.
The first time she sang jazz Gibney hid behind a pillar and admits feeling ill afterward.
“No other kind of performing has made me feel so exposed. But I love it,” she said.
The music of Leta’s Blues is far from static or old school. Influences of world music thread the current lineup and it’s not uncommon for the band’s jazz songs to sway from a gritty, speak easy lounge style to a Latin departure and back again.
“With jazz you never know what’s going to happen. We kind of mix it up… I think that’s what I love most about the music. You have to be in the moment. You can’t be out of the moment or you’ll lose it,” said Gibney.
To learn more and listen to the music of Leta’s Blues visit: