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Tiffany Jones performing her original song "Black Love" at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia

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Tiffany Jones: This Is Who I Am

Tiffany gives an introduction to her music, a unique fusion of jazz and soul. Tiffany also explains and previews four new songs.

Caplan Center Sessions - January 2015

Four songs recorded at the Caplan Center in Philadelphia, PA.


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Called an “A-list performer” (Philadelphia City Paper) and a “rising star” (Philadelphia Daily News), Philadelphia soul-jazz vocalist and performer Tiffany Jones has been lauded for the “soul and sincerity behind her voice.”

The color of her voice and the melodies of her original compositions are drenched in soul with jazz inflections, while her honest, heartfelt lyrics touch listeners with a message of love, joy, hope and healing.

Jones’s love of performing started at a young age. Growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, she sang her first solo in church at the age of three.

“Music has been a huge part of my life since I can remember,” says Jones. “It is the thread that holds both sides of my family together.”

Her grandfather, the late Lowman Pauling, was a notable songwriter and guitarist who wrote such classics as “Dedicated to the One I Love,” recorded by the Mamas and the Papas, and the hit “Think,” recorded by James Brown. Eric Clapton credits him as being one of his influences. He and his rhythm and blues vocal group The Five Royales will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2015.  

Jones’ great-uncle Clarence Paul (Pauling) worked for Motown for years and is named as mentor for Stevie Wonder. He wrote, “Until You Come Back To Me,” first recorded by Stevie Wonder and made a hit by Aretha Franklin.

Beyond family, Jones credits Whitney Houston as her first and greatest influence. “From her presence on stage to her phrasing, I studied her,” says Jones. Other musical influences range from Rochelle Ferrell to Lalah Hathaway, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson and Carmen McCrae. “These women helped me develop my sound.”

Jones moved to Philadelphia in 1994 to attend Temple University, earning a bachelor's degree in music with a concentration in jazz vocal performance. She received a master's degree in music education from the University of the Arts. She has performed in venues across Philadelphia, and has worked with local artists such as Dexter Wanzel, Donald Robinson and Orrin Evans. 

In April 2011, Jones appeared in the PBS special “Malt Shop Memories” as a background vocalist for Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and other artists at Caesar’s Casino. She performed background vocals on tour for gospel singer and musician Jeff Majors and on his album “Sacred 4 You” (2002), which reached #13 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart and #67 on Billboard’s R&B Albums chart for 2002. Her original composition, “I Come to Thee” is featured on the album “Kaleidoscope” (2007) by jazz trumpeter Sean Jones.

Her EP, "Him", released in Spring 2016, and includes five original songs and one cover performed alongside her five-piece band. This record marks Jones’ second recording; her debut album, entitled “Reincarnation,” was released in 2002.

Jones lives with her husband and two daughters outside of Philadelphia. 

Check out the recent profile run on Tiffany and her family in the Winston-Salem Journal, detailing her musical heritage.


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Busted Axle Road
Chapter 115

About the only thing that Tiffany Langenderfer-McMahon didn't like about living in the country was the long bus ride to school. She and Henry were about the first children to be picked up in the morning, and that meant a long bus ride to school. For whatever reason, the bus driver ran the route backwards in the afternoon, so they were about the last ones off, too. That meant for a lot of riding the bus, almost two hours a day.

Some days, if her father's schedule worked out, he'd take the kids and drop them off at school, which helped a little, even though he left so early that they had to sit around school for a while.

It had been good to not have to get up early to make the bus for the two weeks of Christmas vacation, and it had been hard to get back to having to wait out alongside the road in the first light of day, before the sun came up. It could get cold and lonely out there.

Two days after school started, while they were getting around in the morning, they realized that their mother wasn't at home. "Where's Mommy and Susan?" Henry asked.

"Mommy went to Camden this morning," her father offered. "She had some Christmas presents she wanted to exchange, and some other shopping to do. I've got to go to Warsaw, and I've got to leave pretty soon."

"What's in Warsaw, Daddy?" Tiffany asked.

"There's going to be a grand opening of the new paper plant," her father said. "I've got to go to it."

"What's it going to be like?"

Her father smiled at her. "There'll be a lot of men in business suits, standing around drinking coffee and making boring speeches about how wonderful it is," he said. "It's one of those things I don't want to go to, I have to go to. And, I have to leave pretty soon. Can I depend on you to get you and Henry on the bus?"

"Sure, Daddy," Tiffany said.

"Henry," Mike said, "No TV until you're all the way ready to go, except for putting your snowmobile suit on. All right?"

"All right, Daddy," he said.

Mike nodded. "I know I can depend on you kids to get to school on time," he said. "Tiffany, make sure all the lights are out, the doors are closed, and that George is tied out before you leave. I hate to do this to you, but I've got to get to Warsaw."

It was a big responsibility for Tiffany, and she knew it. There had only been a couple of times that her parents had left it up to her to get herself and Henry out to the bus stop, and Henry could be a slowpoke about getting around. She kept after him, though, and they actually got to watch cartoons for a few minutes before it was time to leave.

Because they were the only children living on Busted Axle Road, they had to wait out on the corner of the state road for the bus. It was a long walk in the cold morning air, but Tiffany and Henry were out by the corner in plenty of time.

Or so they thought. That morning, there was a substitute driver on the bus run, and in order to make the run on time, they'd left a few minutes early. Unknown to Tiffany and Henry, the lights of the bus disappeared around the corner just before they got to where they waited for the bus every morning.

It was cold and lonely waiting out there. Every few minutes, Tiffany or Henry would climb up on top of a snowdrift, to look and see if the bus was coming. The bus had never been this late before.

After a while, Tiffany happened to glance back up the road to their house, and saw the sun coming up. "It's getting late," she said. "I think we missed the bus."

"I think so, too," Henry said. "I'm getting c-c-cold."

They waited a couple more minutes, with Tiffany slowly coming to the realization that any more waiting was futile. "All right, let's go back home," she decided finally. "I'll call Mrs. Gravengood, and see if she can take us to school."

It seemed like an even longer walk back to the house for Tiffany. Her father had depended on her to get Henry on the bus in time, and they'd left the house in plenty of time, but still they'd missed the bus. What would her father say?

It was warm and comfortable inside the house, as chilled as they were. Tiffany went right to the phone and called up to Mrs. Gravengood, but there wasn't any answer. Disappointed, she hung up the phone and turned to Henry. "She's not home," she told him. "I don't know what we're going to do now."

"Watch more cartoons," Henry suggested, recognizing an opportunity when she saw one.

Now, Tiffany really felt down. "I can depend on you kids to get to school on time," her father had said, and she'd blown it. He'd be disappointed. Maybe they'd get punished, something like no TV, or not being able to run the dog team.

"Get your snowmobile suit back on, and turn the TV off," she told Henry. "We're going to school."

"How?" Henry asked.

"We're going to take the dogs."

It was a little scary to think about. She'd run the dog team several times, and had done everything that needed to be done to get them hooked up, but her father had always been there. To do it by herself, with only Henry helping was a big step, but she knew she didn't have much time, and didn't have time to stop and think. She and Henry went back outside, took the sled out of the barn and tied it to a pole with a timeline. She laid out the gangline, and told Henry to get squares of straw out for the dogs to lay on while they were in school, and to get a big, heavy blanket to wrap up in while he was in the sled, while she went to get Ringo.

All the dogs were cooperative, lifting their legs up to help her put the harnesses on them. In only a few minutes, she had George harnessed into the wheel position, the last dog to be hooked up. She and Henry closed the barn door, then she got Henry into the sled and wrapped the blanket around him.

The only thing that worried her was the first mad rush that the dogs always went through until they got settled down, and she hoped she could handle them. "Please, Beatle Hounds, take it easy," she pleaded, hoping they'd understand, then slipped the tieline and let up on the sled brake. "Up! Up!", she called, as quietly as she could, not trying to excite the dogs. "Hike!"

To her amazement, the dogs started down the driveway at a gentle pace. Giving Ringo credit where credit is due, he realized that this was not a time to get into a mad rush, and he held the team down to a reasonable pace. At the end of the driveway, Tiffany called, "Haw!" and the five dogs turned out onto Busted Axle Road.

"Daddy's going to be mad," Henry prophesized.

"No, he's not," Tiffany said. "He said he could depend on us to get to school, and we're going to make it on time." She raised her voice. "Hike! Hike! Go!" she yelled to the dogs, to speed them up.

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An afternoon with one of Spotify’s ‘Badass Women,’ a 20-year-old New Yorker with one pop-rock anthem

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Samia is a self-published singer-songwriter trying to make it in the age of algorithms

Twenty-year-old singer-songwriter Samia has three songs on Spotify, and each has basically nothing to do with the others.

One is a folk ballad about friends dying young from drug abuse, painted with broad strokes Biblical imagery. Another’s a life-or-death torch song for Father John Misty, titled “The Night Josh Tillman Listened to My Song.” The third, released this April, is “Someone Tell the Boys,” a bubbly pop-rock tirade about dudes who won’t stop talking. You could call it an anti-mansplaining anthem — one that offers up a handful of pretty good burns. The chorus is simple enough to be immediately satisfying, and the first time it hits, its delivered in a flat, pleasantly rude monotone: “someone tell the boys they’re not important anymore.” The second time, the delivery builds from a snarky lilt into a full-on belt.

It’s this song, its unlikely placement on one of Spotify’s curated playlists, and the flurry of tweets it elicited from amped-up young women on the internet, that made me ask her if she might want to hang out.

On a Thursday afternoon in September, when Samia wanders up to my picnic table on the corner of 1st Street, she’s dragging a backpack and wearing a Mötley Crüe Girls Girls Girls t-shirt cut off in the middle. It was clearly broken-in a long time ago, and probably not by her, and she’s paired it with pinstripe pants, white high-tops, and tall orange socks. She’s also carrying a black jacket that she slides into as the afternoon turns colder, saying, “there’s a cool thing on the back.” It’s a portrait of David Bowie.

It’s a look, for sure. A young-and-making-music look. She also has a balloon of dark hair, a surprisingly low, confident voice, an oddly comforting presence, and soft spots for Kesha, Charli XCX, and Miley Cyrus — though she just downloaded Nirvana’s entire discography onto her phone and also worships Courtney Barnett. Also Janis Joplin. And Rihanna and Bob Dylan.

Samia says she wrote “Someone Tell the Boys” in response to a bunch of male musicians she was collaborating with “who fancied themselves really knowledgeable and important.” She woke up one morning determined to write away all the boys who were rude or condescending, whether professionally or romantically: “I was like, forget it, I’m never going to work with anybody who’s mean to me again. And also never date anyone who’s mean to me again.” A few weeks later, she found out that “Someone Tell the Boys” had been plopped onto Spotify’s “Badass Women” playlist. She was sitting in her parents’ bedroom, scrolling through the stats on her distribution site, and noticed that she’d jumped from about 3,000 streams total to 13,000 streams for just that day.

Five months later, “Someone Tell the Boys” has been streamed about 160,000 times, which is nothing more exciting than “respectable.” Spotify’s playlists have made much bigger hits than this, and a bonafide Cinderella story on the platform would see “Someone Tell the Boys” perform well enough to get bumped up to bigger and bigger playlists. So far it hasn’t, though it made its way onto Discover Weekly playlists throughout the summer and hasn’t been cut from “Badass Women” yet.

What’s interesting to me about Samia — a New Yorker who can’t wait to turn 21 just so she can get into a bar to charge her phone, never mind getting her friends into 21-and-up venues to see her play — is that this little blip might determine the course of her career anyway.

I found Samia in my Discover Weekly playlist in July — not on “Badass Women,” which I don’t follow. But it’s likely that her placement in my Discover Weekly was a ripple effect from that initial placement. As The Verge’s Ben Popper reported in September 2015, Discover Weekly takes advantage of the fact that Spotify’s 100 million users are making their own playlists constantly. Simply put: the algorithm can find other users whose taste is similar to yours, then pull tracks from their playlists, taking cues from how they’ve arranged and paired songs you might like, then repackaging them and serving them to you as a personalized Monday morning treat. In Discover Weekly’s algorithm, Ben wrote, “Each time a user with similar taste playlists a certain song, it’s a vote that the song will sound good to you when paired with other tracks on that playlist.”

Samia’s song was likely plucked from “Badass Women” and indirectly picked out for me by some stranger who, like me, listens to a lot of guitar music made by women, has put Mitski’s Puberty 2 on at least 14 playlists in the last year, started digging back into Taylor Swift’s discography in June (like a sucker), and has never met a kiss-off track she didn’t like. That would pretty much explain why Samia noticed that almost all of her new fans are young women.

It took weeks to pick out an afternoon for us to meet, because even though Samia left her contemporary music program at the New School last year, she’s been incredibly busy. To make money while she figures out the music stuff, she’s been doing a lot of acting. (It helps that her mother is Kathy Najimy, a character actress best known for Hocus Pocus and Sister Act). She’s part of the ensemble in Sarah DeLappe's new play The Wolves, a New York Times Critic’s Pick about a high school soccer team, and she has plenty of friends who need warm bodies for short films.

A representative from Spotify told me that Samia’s song was discovered by the “Badass Women” curator by pure chance: “She has an internal tool that can group tracks according to sub-genres, and she basically was listening through all the new releases that week looking for songs that fit the mood of the playlist she curates.” Obviously the origin story of any musician is full of these weird little moments of luck and happy accident, but in the streaming age it’s possible (and pretty simple) to click a few links, send a few emails, and easily trace things all the way back to the beginning. There’s a little bit less magic involved, as there’s a digital record and a logical series of events.

The algorithm has other little consequences too. Samia considers herself a folk singer first, interested in writing “lyrically obscure, verbose, Dylan-esque songs,” and that’s the vast majority of what she’s been performing, bopping between Midtown lounge The Cutting Room and any Lower East Side or Williamsburg 100-capacity venue that will have her. “Someone Tell The Boys” is totally different. It’s a bouyant, forceful, slightly over-sung command that’s punching up even as it’s inviting Samia’s new teenage fan base right on in. You can imagine a nouveau feminist pop star like Hailee Steinfeld singing this song. In fact, Steinfeld’s most recent single — “Most Girls,” released the same month as “Someone Tell the Boys” — is also meant as a rebuttal to dumb boys talking.

Now Samia is getting attention from management companies and record labels, all of which want her for something along Steinfeld’s lines. “They’ve all come through Spotify,” she says, “which means they’ve come through ‘Someone Tell the Boys,’ which is the song that’s done well there. It’s interesting to see what those companies are interested in me for, based on that song.” She tells me she doesn’t plan to choose between folk and pop, but then she contradicts herself a little bit: When I ask if the popularity of “Someone Tell the Boys” will affect how she thinks about what to write next, she nods, “certainly.” “

Of the “constructive criticism” she’s heard so far, she says, the recurring theme is: “Who the fuck are you? You need to be more clear.”

Wandering around the Lower East Side, past bars we can’t go into, though they radiate historical significance pertaining to many of Samia’s musical heroes, I tell her about the morning I played “Someone Tell the Boys” for a dude. He rolled his eyes like of course you would like this song and then he said “Of course you would like this song.” She laughs, but she’s unsurprised and unmoved. “There are a lot of dudes who feel that way about the song,” she says. “And that’s fine. I was just watching the Lady Gaga documentary and she said something like ‘My threshold for dudes has considerably shrunk in the past couple of years.’ I really empathized.” She adds that she noticed that her song was shared on Reddit, but she didn’t bother to read any of the comments.

“I love social media, I spend a lot of time on social media, but I have no idea how to use it to my benefit,” she says. “I sort of just post shit, and stare at it, and try to not delete it.”

On that note, I ask her, what’s she doing about Twitter? “Someone Tell the Boys” has attracted a small but eager fanbase of teenage girls, who Samia hears from mostly in tweets. She wasn’t expecting them, after years of playing folk songs in New York and opening for her friends’ band AJR, a sort of Vampire Weekend-aspiring trio of brothers with a small claim to fame thanks to a lead single that sampled SpongeBob Squarepants. But as an effusive Harry Styles fan herself, she has a lot of respect for the power of a fandom made up of young women. “I love teenage girls,” she says emphatically, shaking her head while she bumps the ice cubes around a glass of tea. “Everyone expects them to be crazy, so they give themselves permission to be ridiculous. That’s kind of empowering.”

She admires Harry Styles she says, because nobody else in the world is “trying to be a rockstar right now.” His ‘70s pastiche debut album came out in May, and her favorite song is “Kiwi,” a doofy classic rock banger about a girl who pairs “hard liquor” with "a bit of intellect."

I tell her what I tell everyone the first time I meet them, which is that that there’s a life-size Harry Styles cut-out on the wall in my bedroom and it’s a joke but only kind of. Without breaking eye contact, she ups the ante with a truly remarkable story about fandom, recounting how she begged her boyfriend to sublet the apartment of a female musician she admires, so that she could go over and touch the woman’s things. “I should stop telling people that the first time I meet them,” she laughs, ripping a bite off of a croissant. This is the moment in our conversation where it hits me that Samia can be massively popular if she wants to be. Teen girls love her now, with one not-quite-viral song on the books. They don’t even know yet that she totally gets it.

It probably doesn’t even matter that she had no idea that Spotify playlists could make a difference for a song until “Someone Tell the Boys” ended up on one, or that she had no idea that she could have a teen girl fanbase until that playlist served her to them. “The algorithm stuff is awesome, but I’m so not a mathematical person and I don’t understand marketing,” she says. “I’m confident in myself as a performer so that’s what I’ve been doing.” She made her website herself, and the music video for “Someone Tell the Boys” was shot by her friend Kayhl Cooper.

They haven’t really figured out how to put it online yet.

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