Jewish jazz and pop singer-songwriter Jesse Palter has just released her debut jazz-folk-pop album, “Paper Trail.” The singer, who admits to being “30-something,” said the album is an objective she’s been working toward for nearly two decades.
“Clearly, I’m an overnight sensation,” she joked. “I’m just now finally starting to get to my next phase of my career and get to make music that I believe in.”
Bitten by the performance bug at a young age, the Detroit-area native said her parents have always supported her — through rehearsals and voice lessons, and acting as her cheering squad during school productions. By the time she turned 13, they realized her passion for music was more than a “cute little hobby.”
Palter started writing songs and performing covers and original music in historic venues large and small throughout Detroit. She caught the attention of the late singer-songwriter Andrew Gold (known for the 1970s hits “Lonely Boy” and “Thank You For Being a Friend”), who took her under his wing.
Whether she was singing in Detroit or performing as a cantorial soloist at her synagogue, Palter said she did whatever she could to absorb music history and experiences. While most kids her age were spending time at the mall, Palter said, “I was performing jazz in clubs that the Funk Brothers and Martha Reeves performed at. I wasn’t old enough to drink yet. [My mom and I] would be the only two Jewish women in the Eastern Market [area of Detroit] singing jazz music at 3 in the morning.”
As she grew musically, Palter had the opportunity to perform with Grammy-nominated pianist Geoffrey Keezer, jazz bassist Christian McBride, Israeli jazz musician Avishai Cohen and jazz trumpeters Sean Jones and Marcus Belgrave.
She also connected with the Detroit music producing team Mark and Jeff Bass. Rather than sign with the Bass Brothers (who helped groom Detroit rapper Eminem), she turned down their offer and enrolled in the music program at the University of Michigan.
“I wanted to be a credible musician,” Palter said. “I didn’t want to be just another chick singer. It was important to me to be respected and have musical theoretical knowledge.”
Palter eventually went on to perform bigger gigs and connected with songwriter-producer Sam Barsh, known for writing over 100 songs for musicians including Aloe Blacc, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak and Logic. Together, they created Palter Ego productions to continue their jazz careers together before moving to Los Angeles in 2010.
“I wanted to be a credible musician. I didn’t want to be just another chick singer. It was important to me to be respected and have musical theoretical knowledge.” — Jesse Palter
“It made sense for us to be in a city — working together, collaborating together — that didn’t feel like it had a ceiling to it,” Palter said. “Detroit is an amazing place to grow up and be a musician and I got all the amazing training. As far as connecting the dots with career moves, there’s still a ceiling, so Los Angeles was the right move.”
Palter said the pressure to succeed crept up on her countless times and she would be lying if she said she hadn’t thought about quitting.
“It’s truly, truly hard. At the end of the day, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I don’t think I picked being a singer or a songwriter or an artist — I think it chose me. I sometimes think, ‘Maybe I should try something a little more stable,’ but there are ups and downs and I’ve known that since I was a teenager. … It’s how I navigate my life; it’s how I process what I’m going through. You just have to figure out how to make it work.”
But once she moved to L.A., Palter said her music network grew exponentially. She had a solid stream of jazz gigs around L.A., even singing alongside actor and jazz enthusiast Jeff Goldblum. That led to her opening for her idol, Carole King.
Meeting King was a pivotal moment for Palter, who was raised on King, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.
Palter said “Paper Trail” was heavily influenced by “Carole King, Joni Mitchell, all the great singer-songwriters, the people who were really crafting songs and stories and there were no throwaways, nothing was gimmicky. It was about the stories and the melodies and the lyrics and the chord changes. They all worked in tandem to create a beautiful song.”
One of the songs on her album that she cites as being close to her heart is “Goodbye My Friend,” because of its bittersweet backstory.
“The day that I signed my record deal, my aunt, who was a brilliant, brilliant artist, she took her own life,” Palter said. “That was really hard on me. ‘Goodbye My Friend’ was written about my friend who was struggling with alcoholism and I had a dream that he died. …When I went to record it, it became very much about what I was going through with my aunt and I was extremely emotional. … We were recording it one take through, completely live, and you can even hear at the end my voice cracked.”
In addition to letting her music be her therapeutic guide, Palter also goes to therapy and wants to incorporate mental illness and trauma into her music so that the stigma behind it can disappear.
“I think we’d all be better off if we could talk about it,” she said. “My journey, even to trying to make it in the music industry, I wouldn’t have been able to do if I wasn’t totally open with what I was going through. I gotta throw it all into the music.”
“Paper Trail” is available on Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music. Learn more on her website.