Carlotta Schmidt’s self-titled debut dropped a mere three months after her sixteenth birthday. Some background first– Carlotta met the founder of the JSJBF Youth Open Mic, the late Mark LaRochelle, and his daughter Allison, through the Rockit program when she was eight years old. Mark became friendly with her parents, and because she has always been driven to be a multi-instrumentalist, she wanted to learn more from different teachers, including Allison for vocals. Allison was a senior and received a scholarship from the Foundation to pursue her studies at the prestigious Berklee School of Music. Carlotta continued their lessons via Skype, and the next year Mark started our youth open mic.
Carlotta was a regular at the open mic, and her older brother Denton was the emcee until he went off to college at George Washington University. Her parents Ed Schmidt and Heather Bedenko, along with her grandma Nancy Bedenko, became an integral part of the open mic, bringing treats, setting up and breaking down at the Woman’s Club each month. She was also taking guitar lessons and being mentored by Charlie Rugirello, whose wife Sandy Sasso and their band have been long-time members of the JSJBF.
Last summer Carlotta was part of the ensemble that was chosen as the opening act in the Jazz Arts Festival performance of Jon Faddis and his band at the Two Rivers Theater. Jon was so impressed with her playing and singing, he invited her to sit in with his band and later recommended a vocal coach, Anne Phillips. Destiny Diggs, who played bass at those shows and is on the CD.
Earlier last year, lifetime JSJBF member Sandy Mack reached out to us looking for a youth to open his Wednesday night Asbury Hotel residency. Joseph Riggio, a current board member and successor to Mark LaRochelle as the person in charge of the youth open mic, recommended Carlotta. The first night she opened, Sandy was so impressed, he asked her to sit in with the band on a few songs, and she has been a regular ever since. Sandy, along with drummer David Moore, complete the band members appearing on the disc. Her Brother Denton, an accomplished photographer, shot the pictures on the dust jacket, while her parents co-produced the CD along with Carlotta, making it a real family affair. The songs that make up this collection are all over the musical map, showing the range of material in Carlotta’s repertoire. The one thing they all have in common is her original presentation.
The seven covers and three originals span nearly a century, from the tune “Sweet Loraine,” to Melissa Etheridge’s song “Ruins,” to the three tunes written for this disc by Carlotta. The first cut on the disc is the original, “Same Old Face,” a perfect example of her voice and lyrics with playing that belies the fact that you’re listening to a teenager. Joe DeMaio has done a superb job with the recording, allowing her voice to be front and center with her guitar, and the rhythm section lending just the right amount of support to let her shine both vocally and on a short but pleasing guitar solo. “Chain of Fools” is a song you’ve heard many times before, but never like this. Featuring Sandy’s expressive harp and what sounds like group backing vocals but are all Carlotta. She has reworked the song without losing any of the power of the original but taking it to a new place that is all her own. The Al Green classic “Love and Happiness” is given the full sonic treatment with stunning results. Carlotta’s solo is a product of her dedication to the craft, and for me the musical highlight of the disc. Leon Russell’s “(This) Masquerade” is replete with scatting that George Benson would be proud of. The languid vocals fit the song perfectly. The vocal strides she has made are a combination of Jon Faddis’ suggestion for a voice coach, and Carlotta’s effort to be the best she can be. Taking the “way back” machine to 1928, she does a rendition of “Sweet Lorraine” that sounds like it could be contemporary if you don’t listen too closely to the lyrics. The original “Unapologetically Me” highlights her skills on the acoustic guitar and song writing ability, very well done. Another song that she has worked out in live performance, Emily Sailers “Ghost” is wonderfully performed by Carlotta accompanying herself on acoustic guitar and double tracked vocals with excellent results. A great guitar riff opens a funky version of Melissa Etheridge’s “Ruins” that really brings the song to life, another song that she has made her own. The last original song, “In Their Minds,” shows the depths of her writing ability on the human condition, again with a maturity well beyond her years. It’s the most complex of her three tunes musically, and displays the full range of her vocals. The last track, Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen,” is a thoughtful homage to one of her musical influences. The first half of the tune spotlights her vocal and guitar, then gains momentum when joined by the band, to convey the intensity of the original without resorting to copying it.
This is an incredible first effort by Carlotta. I have watched her blossom through hard work and dedication over the years I have known her. The full support of her family and of the musicians who have come in contact and worked with her has helped to shape her into a musician with a great future.
She will be appearing at Salty’s in Lake Como on June 4th at 4:30 p.m. for her CD release party. If you want to see the future of music, I suggest you be there.