Incorporating Jazz 

Bandleader Rosie Flores learns a few new tricks

If you have ears—and like to use them every once in a while to listen to live music—you’ve probably noticed that the music scene in Missoula is pretty damn strange. Except for the occasional Pearl Jam show and one visit from Bob Dylan, the really big names tend to opt for the larger venues of major metropolitan areas. The local scene tends to eventually eat its own because the town’s just not quite big enough to support great local bands, who respond either by imploding or relocating to greener pastures.

Where Missoula’s live music agenda tends to thrive is in the in-between spaces. The good ol’ Garden City seems to have no problem attracting the mid-level acts, bands whose music you might not have heard much of, but whose $10-$25 tickets are often well worth the investment if you just happen to have that kind of cash burning a hole in your pocket.

The next installment of the “I’m a big star elsewhere and if you give me half a chance you might end up collecting a half-dozen of my albums” set will be performed by one Rosie Flores, who graces the elevated stage at the Blue Heron this Friday. A singer, songwriter, lead guitarist and bandleader for more than 20 years, Flores has blended a number of musical styles into a smooth, saucy brew that promises to provide some tasty sipping for those who sample it live.

The Independent caught up with Flores by phone recently as she battled seagulls, a sinus infection, and an intermittent cellular signal while visiting San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. She began the conversation by talking about the variety of musical influences that she weaves together into her albums and live shows.

“Country, jazz, and rockabilly were all introduced to me as a kid and I’ve always loved them,” says Flores. “My mom and dad did a good job bringing a lot of music around my young ears. I used to go to sleep with a little transistor radio around my ears.”

While country and rockabilly have provided the foundation for Flores’ entire musical career, jazz has only found its way into her on-stage repertoire relatively recently, thanks in part to the help of Rick Vito, who shares the lead guitarist and producer roles with Flores on her most recent album, Speed of Sound.

“My father was a great lover of jazz,” says Flores. “In about 1995, I started figuring out how to play that kind of music and how to sing it. I played along with a lot of Billie Holiday records. When I got together with Rick Vito, I found a way to incorporate jazz with the rockabilly, country, and swing that I’ve been playing for a long time.”

The result is an infectious groove that is hard to simply sit and watch.

“We had 400 people dancing at a rodeo the other day,” says Flores, who will show that she’s still plenty country at an upcoming gig at the Grand Ole Opry. “We love it when people dance. Of course, if people just want to hang out and listen, we’ll play a pretty good show for them, too. But this is the perfect music for dancing.”

Flores grew up in San Antonio and San Diego, and got into playing music at an early age.

“I started to play back when I was about 13 or 14 and was pushed by my brother, who was also a guitar player,” said Flores. “It was more interesting for me to have a band than to have a boyfriend. It was more fun, and anyway, I could meet more boys that way. I was always encouraged to be unique, to be brave, and to break new ground.”

Despite growing up as a city girl, Flores holds a special appreciation for fans in less densely-populated areas.

“Crowds in big cities are maybe not quite as enthusiastic as in the rural areas,” she says. “Sometimes city people tend to be a little jaded because they get bombarded with so much of everything. It can take something really special to really impress them. Rural audiences can be more appreciative because they don’t get to see as much live music. Rural audiences also tend to be a little more rowdy.”

One gets the sense that Flores sure wouldn’t mind if the scene at the Blue Heron show was to get a little, well, western. After all, Flores seems to enjoy playing in a band as much as she did when she first started.

“This is the lifestyle I’ve made for myself,” said Flores. “I don’t feel like stopping anytime soon. I just want to keep playing around the United States and Europe.”

Yet Flores is aware that, as a musician who’s not yet a household name, she has to distinguish herself from other artists.

“I haven’t really met another woman who sings rockabilly and plays lead guitar,” says Flores, who is proud of any role she’s played in inspiring other female musicians. “I guess I still have that market cornered.”

Missoula music fans had better listen up! You would be wise to save your pennies this chance to see Flores. And make sure to bring your listening ears and your dancing shoes.

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