With her amazing voice, glamorous persona, and swagger-to-spare, Tianna Hall is not only one of busiest musicians in Houston, but a proud mom, wife, autism activist and LGBTQ ally—something you don’t see every day in the alpha-male world of jazz.
“I’ve been involved in the community since I was a kid,” says Hall, who grew up singing musical theater and went on to perform professionally in regional theaters. “It always struck me as so strange to see how hateful people could be to people I loved.”
The native Houstonian’s transition from Broadway to jazz happened almost by chance, back in 2004, when Hall was in her mid-twenties and Houston pianist Paul English heard her singing in a cabaret performance at Main Street Theater.
“He told me I had a natural phrasing for jazz,” recalls the singer, who was unfamiliar with the pianist until she Googled his name and discovered he was the real deal. She gave English a call, and to her shock, he already had a jazz gig waiting for her.
“He told me, ‘Okay, you have a gig in three weeks, and I need you to be able to sing at least 30 songs from The Real Book. See you then!’” says Hall, laughing. Though she felt intimidated at that first gig, she loved the music, and within six months was performing every night.
“What got me hooked on singing jazz is, I was given more license to be creative with improvisation,” says Hall. “In musical theater, there is a structure and tradition that has to be adhered to. With jazz, you’re encouraged to be creative and find your own voice with each song.”
Hall has recorded six albums, including Noel (2013), a collection of Christmas songs with guitarist Chris Cortez, and Hit Me With a Hot Note (2015), one of the last recordings to include the late great Sebastian Whittaker on drums. Other projects include her band Mighty Pretty Mixtape, known for its renditions of such ’80s pop classics as “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “Sharp Dressed Man.”
“I can be a bit over the top, in some people’s opinion, when it comes to interpreting a song,” admits Hall, “but that’s my primary goal, to be an open book and provide an outlet of joy and sorrow. I wear my heart on my sleeve, both musically and in my day-to-day life. It makes me a lot better at my job, and gives me more opportunity to achieve my goal as an ally for so many communities.”
That includes the city’s jazz community, which is in danger of losing its vitality if venues continue to go down the path of “pay to play,” in which musicians perform for tips or nothing at all, even as the cost of living continues to skyrocket.
“I am adamant about adhering to a certain pay rate,” says Hall, who herself hires both seasoned and young musicians. “If a venue is seeing a profit while not paying the musicians, it hurts all of us. We all need to stick together and support each other.”
Tianna Hall with guitarist Gerhard Kraus. Free. Wednesdays in December 6–9. Marriott Westchase, 2900 Briarpark Dr. 713-978-7400. With guitarist Paul Chester. Free. Thursdays in December 6–9. McCormick & Schmick’s at CityCentre, 791 Town and Country Blvd. 713-465-3685. tiannahall.com