Born in the United States and raised in Paris by a French father and Chinese mother, Jessica Fichot is a multicultural chanteuse, singing in several languages and playing a worldly blend of pop, jazz and folk. Her latest album, “Dear Shanghai,” is a collection of 1940s Chinese jazz. Fichot and her band perform at the Cotati Accordion Festival, this Saturday, Aug 22 at 11:30am.
Now based in Los Angeles, Fichot spoke with City Sound Inertia about how she tunes into her musical heritage for an authentic, yet accessible, chanson sound.
City Sound Inertia: So Jessica, you grew up in Paris?
Jessica Fichot: “I was born in upstate New York, but I moved to France when I was two years old, all my memories of childhood are from France.”
CSI: What was your relationship to music like as a kid?
JF: “I played piano, but growing up, I didn’t really listen to music in French, it was considered lame to be listening to French music when I was a kid, so I listened to a lot of music from the United States; Tori Amos, Madonna.
It was only after I moved back to the United States and went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, that I re-discovered French music, because I wanted to so something different, try to find my identity. And of course France is very much a part of my identity.”
CSI: And how did you start playing the accordion?
JF: “After college, I moved to Los Angeles and I put a band together performing my own French songs. I sing mostly in French, recently a lot more in Chinese, and a lot of different languages. And when I put my band together I was looking for an accordion player, but I couldn’t find one, so I bought an accordion and just played the right hand. I just got more and more into it and, to be honest, I barely play the piano now.”
CSI: What do you like most about playing the accordion?
JF: “Well, it’s a very portable instrument. (laughs) I play a small accordion when I play with the band, a 60 button Hohner accordion. What I like about it, in terms of sound, is that there is a lot you can get out of it, you can choose a few different sounds. You can be a whole orchestra, and have a very full sound with just one person.
And I like the accordion too, because I do French chanson, but my last album is all 1940s jazz from Shanghai and surprisingly there is accordion in that music.
Somehow the accordion, which is not a very old instrument, became the folk instrument of the world, from Mexico to Italy to France and America. And there’s an accordion equivalent in China. I like how international it can sound.”
CSI: What was the inspiration to do the album in Chinese, I know it’s a part of your heritage, but what made you want to visit that particular Shanghai jazz sound?
JF: “Yeah, absolutely. My mom is originally from Shanghai, China. Shanghai is a very international city, but before the Europeans came, it was really tiny. Because of this international influence, the music that comes out of there is a real mix of East and West.
I actually go to Shanghai regularly to perform and I discovered this jazz that started in the 1920s and ’30s, and had it’s peak after the war. And it really has this mix of European jazz and Chinese folk singing. My intention was to have something that people haven’t heard of before but that wouldn’t be too foreign to their ears.”
For her upcoming appearance at this year’s Cotati Accordion Festival, which she last played back in 2010, Fichot is fronting a quartet and singing selections from her “Dear Shanghai” album as well as her original French songs. She is playing one of the first sets of the day, so be sure to get to La Plaza Park in Cotati early to catch her set. Click on the player below to get a sampling of Fichot’s Shanghai jazz.
Tags: accordion, Cotati Accordion Festival, Dear Shanghai, folk, French chanson, Jazz, Jessica Fichot, La Plaza Park, pop, Shanghai jazz