Jessica Fichot: An American from Paris, in Carbondale
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE – Anyone strolling past Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale Sunday evening may find themselves suddenly transported to the sidewalk outside a Parisian cafe. Even if you’ve never been to Paris, it’s easy to believe singer-songwriter Jessica Fichot sounds exactly right.
The American-born chanteuse calls Los Angeles home these days, but she is French at heart, and so is her music.
“Technically, English is the first language that I spoke,” said the New York native who moved to France as a 3-year-old. “French is the language that feels like my first.”
Her largely self-produced debut CD, 2007’s “Le Chemin” (“The Path”) is a nine-song collection of mostly Fichot originals, written in French, along with a Spanish folk song and a couple of standards that American audiences are likely to recognize: “I Will Wait for You,” from the French musical “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and later translated into English; and “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” a Mama Cass Elliot hit that Fichot improves with a charming English/French approach.
A second CD has been in the works for some time – Fichot expects to release it in the fall – and she promises to perform selections from both recordings in a tour that began Thursday in Denver. The trip is her first visit to Colorado; gigs in New Mexico and Arizona will follow.
“When I do live shows, I usually mix my own songs, which are mostly in French, with folk songs from around the world,” said Fichot, who speaks not only fluent French and English, but also Spanish. She’s working on her Chinese, incorporating a bit of that language into one “Le Chemin” track, and dabbles in Portuguese, Russian and Arabic, as well.
Her international influences are understandable – Fichot’s father is French, while her mother is Chinese.
Stateside audiences have been receptive to her music, though they may not understand the lyrics, Fichot said. (Translations are provided in the booklet with her CD.)
“I know I like to listen to music in languages I don’t necessarily speak,” she said.
For the non-French speaker, her vocals on lilting and jazzy folk melodies become part of the musical arrangement – her voice is an instrument in its own right. And, there is feeling, if not literal meaning, to the lyrics.
Fichot’s musical upbringing includes performing in Parisian coffeehouses and concert halls in her youth, before attending the School of Audio Engineering in Paris and then Berkley College of Music in Boston, where she studied piano. Her instrument of choice these days is the quintessentially French accordion.
She purchased her first of the instruments a couple of years ago for $30 on eBay.
“I wanted to have that French sound, but I couldn’t find any accordion players,” Fichot explained. She has since mastered the instrument – “It’s a very logical instrument, actually,” she said – and has an endorsement with Hohner, maker of accordions for more than a century.
“There’s something really universal about accordion folk music,” Fichot said. “I think people really respond to it.”
Fichot handles accordion, piano and vocals on her current tour, sharing the stage with a trio that includes Robby Marshall on clarinet, saxophone and flute; Michael Patillo playing upright bass; and guitarist Antoine Salem.
The band has been performing some of the songs that Fichot will include on her next CD for some time. As the songwriter and producer, she accepts the blame for the three-year gap between her first release and her second.
“I’ve been wanting to release it for a while,” she said of her sophomore recording, “but I’m a perfectionist. It’s tempting to keep working on the tracks until they’re perfect.”
The point is coming when she’ll dub the effort finished, mix the tracks and put out the CD, she vowed.
Fichot’s songwriting career has also included writing children’s songs for various projects, including a small, children’s musical theater in Boston and a publishing company’s materials to teach English to youngsters. She doesn’t close the door to future such efforts.
“It was definitely a good way to work on my songwriting chops,” Fichot said.
The experience, and the inspiration of other folk singers, all helped lead to “Le Chemin,” which is also the title of the final track on the CD. The song is about helplessly following a path toward love.
As the CD title, it’s meaning is broader.
“It was kind of my path, finding the kind of music I wanted to write,” Fichot said.
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