Best ’14 releases new album with other Cardinals

By Lily Baggott ’15

[Jess Best '14]At Wesleyan, musician Jess Best '14 was known for her incredible voice, warm vibes, and stellar compositions. Yet her creativity continues to thrive in post-graduate life: Best released her debut album, Gone Baby, this past November.

The album features a wealth of Wesleyan students and alumni, including Jeff Berman ’14 on electric guitar and Ghanaian drums; Nate Mondschein ’12 on drums; Louis Russo ’11 on bass; Derek Frank ’15 on keyboards and synth; Jeremy Crimm ’16 and Myles Potters ’12 on trumpet; Tennessee Mowrey ’14 on Ghanaian drums; Will Fraker ’14, Faith Harding ’14, Tory Mathieson ’14, Claire Miller ’15, Rob Roth ’14, Jacqueline Soro ’14, and Mariana Quinn-Makwaia ’14 on vocals; and Jared Paul ’11 as producer.

Jess Best '14 and her Cardinal collaborators are Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD). GOLD parties on Foss Hill Day are happening worldwide on April 2, Thursday. Find a city near you and register now.

The singer-songwriter took the time to reflect on the recent album, her experiences at Wesleyan, and what’s next for her music.

WESCONNECT: Were you always interested in making music?

JESSICA BEST: I’d say I was always interested in art, and music ended up being the primary medium. I did dance, theater, and visual arts growing up, but I think singing was always what I loved most. You can see a video of the first song I ever wrote here.

WC: How would you describe Gone Baby in terms of both general musical style and your own personal archive?

JB: Gone Baby is a collection of songs that I would describe as modern soul with jazz, R&B, and blues influences. In many ways, it’s an ode to the people I will never stop listening to—artists like Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell.

How did Gone Baby come to fruition?

JB: I ended up graduating a semester early but stayed in Middletown for what would have been my last semester. I knew that I wouldn't do well without some sort of structure in my life, so I figured it was the perfect time to put Gone Baby together. Plus, I had these songs that I wrote and really didn’t know what to do with them. I got an amazing crew of musicians together, along with my good friend and producer Jared Paul ’11, and we recorded the album at Mavericks in Chinatown. The sessions for Gone Baby were some of the most fulfilling recording moments I’ve ever experienced; we were constantly reworking things with such a collaborative and imaginative energy.

WC: How did your experiences at Wesleyan influence your musical style, the album, and your career path?

JB: Wesleyan had a huge impact on all of those things. A big part of the last few months of my life has been realizing that making music in NY is completely different than making music at Wesleyan. I know, “duh,” but it has been a real transition. The music making process at Wesleyan felt very collaborative and free—I think because of the space available. Now that I live in NYC, rehearsal space is expensive, and rehearsal time is limited because of busy schedules, so it ends up cutting out the experimental, playful moments that are some of my favorite parts of the music making process.

A lot of the material on Gone Baby is stuff that I wrote at Wesleyan. You can really hear the influence of Wesleyan’s musical environment in the variety of songs that are on there, the different arrangements, and also the fact that most of the players are either Wes alums or current students.

In terms of style, when I was at Wes I hung out with a lot of neo-soul and jazz loving friends, and a lot of the music scene was dominated by that kind of material. You can really hear that influence in the style of the album.

WC: What’s next? What are your career plans, musical or otherwise?

JB: I’m currently living in Brooklyn and performing around NYC. Honestly, I’m already thinking of the next album! I ended up releasing Gone Baby on November 22, the same day as my senior recital at Wesleyan, only a year later. So I’m setting a goal for myself to create something by that date next year. Who knows what it will be…

Image: c/o Jessica Best '14

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