Cristina Perez expanding the definition of singer/songwriter

Allison Taylor

Special to theadvocate.com

Cristina Perez. Photo by Cathy Weeks
Cristina Perez. Photo by Cathy Weeks

New Orleans native Cristina Perez has been performing in the Big Easy for less than five years, yet music has always been a part of her life.

“I started playing piano when I was seven,” Perez said. “I was a shy kid, so I thought I would go into sports medicine or music therapy.”

Although Perez didn’t have her heart set on music at a young age, performing with her high school orchestra quickly changed her mind. After that experience, she knew she had to have music in her life.

Perez has now developed a smooth jazz sound all her own, which is influenced by heavyweights in the genre.

“As a teen, I loved Diana Krall, Alicia Keys, and Norah Jones. You know, the piano ladies, but my favorite of all time is Ella Fitzgerald. I would also love to open for Esperanza Spaulding,” Perez said.

Living in a city like New Orleans has provided Perez many unique experiences to showcase her talent. She is part of the ten-person cast performing at the Stage Door Canteen in the National World War II Museum’s tribute “Jump, Jive, & Wail! The Music of Louis Prima.” In this show, Perez and her cast mates present the life and incomparable talents of jazz musician Louis Prima through song and dance. Perez has received rave reviews for her turn as the American jazz and pop singer Keely Smith.

“It is an amazing experience,” Perez said. “It’s completely different from my regular shows. It’s definitely more theater than a typical jazz gig. Being on a stage in that capacity is kinda fun.”

Perez will get to experience this theatrical treat once again in the spring when she performs in the museum’s presentation of “My Way,” a tribute to Old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra. She will once again join a cast of singers and musicians and the museum’s Victory 3 band at the Stage Door Canteen to bring to life the legendary talents and musical contributions of Sinatra. Their first performance will be Friday, March 15 and continue through May.

Perez’s love for music extends far beyond her performances. After studying at Loyola University and Florida International University in Miami, Perez holds a degree in music therapy and is now a nationally board-certified music therapist.

Maintaining a full studio of piano students, she uses her talents to help develop and nurture her students’ love of music.

“Through teaching, I hope to pass on a passion and love for music to others,” Perez said. “I emphasize a solid foundation in music theory, reading, and healthy performance technique.”

Still, performing with her own band is at the forefront of everything she does. She admitted that her favorite song to perform is “Always,” an original song she wrote, but that she never gets tired of the Fats Waller penned, “Ain’t Misbehavin.’” Currently, Perez plays with smaller acoustic ensembles. Her band ranges from two to five members.

“Depending on availability, the band can change from show to show,” she said.

Her performance dreams run the gamut from small jazz festivals to large European venues.

“My dream venue would probably be big—a place where I can fit a lot of people, but a place that still brings people together,” Perez explained. “Probably some different places in Europe because I want to travel. I would want my opening act to be in the same genre, but with a different flavor.”

As she heads back into the studio to start work on her second album, Perez is looking to change the perception of the singer/songwriter.

“I want to expand what the words ‘singer/songwriter’ mean,” she said. “I’m hoping that people can see that you can write any type of music and still be considered a singer/songwriter.”

For this album, Perez adds that fans—new and old—can expect her unique sound, but with a swing style that is completely original material.

As Perez looks to the future, she has some big plans.

“In the next five years, I want to have wrapped up recording and releasing my second album, traveled with my own band playing my own music, and had the privilege of participating in different jazz festivals,” Perez said.

While she loves music, Perez admits that a career in the industry is difficult, but she is determined to keep going.

“It’s all challenging, honestly,” she said. “But the biggest challenge is the business aspect and getting your name out there. Just building a reputation.”

Building that reputation is so important that when giving advice to someone just starting out in the business, it is the reputation she focuses on.

“Be patient. Be very, very patient,” Perez said. “Above everything else, protect your reputation. Only do the things that you can be proud of. Your name is everything.”

Cristina Perez will perform at Dos Jefes Cigar Bar in New Orleans from 9:30 p.m. - 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16 and Sunday, Feb. 10. Perez will also showcase her talents at the Burgundy Bar in the Saint Hotel on Canal Street, Friday, Feb. 8.

Special performances of “Jump, Jive, and Wail! The Music of Louis Prima” are scheduled for Friday, Feb. 22 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 24 at 1:00 p.m. at the Stage Door Canteen.

For more information on Cristina Perez and her music, visit her website at www.cristinaperezmusic.com.