Modern vintage

By JON GARELICK  |  April 8, 2009

Her first guitar lessons were from jazz players, so jazz chords came naturally to her writing and playing. She’d road-trip on vacations, traveling with her guitar. One year, she found herself at the Telluride Folk Festival in Colorado, and she stayed at a house shared by folk singer Libby Kirkpatrick. “When I saw her perform, I was floored, and when I got her CD and I was driving around the mountains listening to it in Colorado, it just hit me: ‘I want to be a singer!’ She laughs as she tells me the story at the 1369 Coffee House in Inman Square.

After college, “I was like, ‘Mom, I’m just going to drive around the country with my guitar for a while.’ And she’s like, ‘Honey, why don’t you go somewhere where you can make some connections?’ ”

That, of course, led to a few semesters at Berklee, and voice lessons with esteemed jazz vocalist Lisa Thorson. Tess did record one straight-jazz record, but post-bop wasn’t really her thing. “It crossed my mind, but I think I backed away from it. I want rhythm, I want people to be able to groove. Once you start doing more out stuff, you limit your audience to the people who are educated about jazz, and you just cut off a major part of your audience.”

In the Sweet and Low Down, with the Lake Street Dive rhythm section, she and Price are “learning all these songs we’ve been meaning to learn — rockabilly, Willie Dixon, Mills Brothers, ’40s jazz.” Her new moniker has been part of the deal: “I always wanted a stage name, and my last name just doesn’t flow, it doesn’t sound good. One of my good friends in college always called me Miss Tess. So, okay, Miss Tess. It works.”

MISS TESS AND THE BON TON PARADE | Regattabar, Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St, Cambridge | April 7 at 7:30 pm | $12 | 617.395.7757 or | LAKE STREET DIVE | Lizard Lounge, 1667 Cambridge St, Cambridge | April 9 at 8:30 pm | $10 | 617.547.0759 or

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