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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Jenna Esposito, Vocalist

Born and raised in Middletown, NY, Jenna Esposito grew up knowing two things: she wanted to be a performer, and she wanted to live in New York City!  Jenna grew up surrounded by music: her father, Fortune Esposito, always had a band and would gig regularly on evenings and weekends, and during the week, he was a public school vocal music teacher.  Jenna and her sister Kelly grew up singing with their dad, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to them!  While Dad was busy gigging, Mom would take the girls to auditions and rehearsals for local theater and opera productions, as well as voice lessons and dance classes. 

By the time she was ready to go off to college, Jenna was still determined to be a performer and to live in NYC, so she chose Sarah Lawrence College, which has a terrific performing arts program and is close enough to the city that Jenna was able to travel in for weekly voice lessons and also to take in a show or two whenever she could.  Upon graduating from Sarah Lawrence, Jenna spent several years doing regional and touring theater, and finally landed in NYC in 2003. 

Since her move to the city, Jenna has slowly but surely made a name for herself in the performing arts world of Manhattan.  She is a 3-time MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs) Award nominee for Outstanding Female vocalist, and 2010 has seen her nominated for FOUR different MAC Awards (Female Vocalist, Open Mic, Open Mic/Variety Show Host, and Recording).  Jenna made her New York nightclub debut in August 2004 and has since performed at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, BB King Blues Club & Grill, The Metropolitan Room, The Laurie Beechman Theatre, The Duplex and Danny’s Skylight Room. Her shows That’s Amore: Jenna Sings Love, Italian Style; Jenna Esposito Sings Connie Francis; Takin’ A Chance On Love; A Hint of Rosemary: The Songs of Rosemary Clooney; SMOOCH!; and I Hate Men: Songs for the Scorned have all received critical acclaim, and her annual “All-Star Birthday Bash” is a fun-filled evening during which she has shared the stage with a number of New York’s finest performers.   We have previously recommended her:

In addition to performing her own shows, Jenna has made contributions to NYC nightlife in a variety of ways.  She is the host of MetroJam, the popular open mic at The Metropolitan Room, and is a regular performer at Jim Caruso’s Cast Party at Birdland, for which she received a mention in the NY Daily News!   Jenna also appears regularly at a number of other variety shows and open mics in town, including the Salon at Etcetera, Etcetera; Wednesday Night at the Iguana; and the exclusive Café Thursdays at the famed Friars Club.  She is in her second year on the Board of Directors of MAC, and she writes a weekly column for called “The Cabaret Chronicles.” Jenna can be seen out and about in Manhattan on just about any night of the week, whether it’s performing, taking in a show to write about in her column, or simply enjoying a meal at Patsy’s Italian Restaurant, her favorite NYC eatery! 

Jenna recently celebrated the release of her second CD, To Connie…Love, Jenna. The CD is a live recording of Jenna’s Connie Francis tribute show, which was recorded during her June-July, 2009 run of the show at The Metropolitan Room and is available through her website at, as well as and iTunes. 13 Men…and Me, Jenna’s debut CD, showcases her silky, wide-ranging voice and stylistic versatility with well-loved standards such as “Just In Time” and "Down With Love," pop hits including “One Less Bell To Answer” and "Since I Fell For You," as well as contemporary jazz/pop songs. The album also features the debut of an original jazz/swing number, “Remembering September In July.” The disc is available at iTunes and

Jenna’s New York theater credits include Little Mary Sunshine, Godspell (Wings Theatre), How I Learned To Draw (Cornelia St. Café), A Sheep and Bad Girls by Joyce Carol Oates, as well as Twelfth Night in London.  Her regional credits include Anything Goes, West Side Story, Sleeping Beauty and Guys and Dolls. For more information, please visit
.  We are pleased to present her as our latest Mover and Shaker!

Peachy Deegan interviewed Jenna Esposito for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What are your best musical memories growing up?
Jenna Esposito: A lot of my favorite musical memories involve spending time with my family and making music together.  My dad was a public school vocal music teacher for 33 years and he also had his own band AND ran the folk choir at our church (which my sister and I both sang in), so there was ALWAYS some kind of music being made in our house.  We actually have a tape from when I was less than a year old and my sister was 3.  I did my best to sing "Copacabana" and "Can't Smile Without You" and my sister, Kelly, sang some songs she'd made up like "Holly Hobbie Went To Her Grandma's" and "Be Like The Bluebird."  It's funny how some things never change.  When I go visit my family, my dad still pulls his guitar out and will just doodle around, and my sister and I will chime in, and the best part is that my 2 1/2-year-old nephew, Charlie, is joining in the fun as well!  He has his own guitar and his own drum set, and knows almost every song on each of my CDs, so he sings and plays along with all of us now!  It's really fun to see the musical family tradition being carried on.

Is your mom musical as well?
She says she's not, but we know better!  When she thinks nobody is paying attention, she'll let it rip!  But really, what she loves to do is help me with the business end of things.  She's a classic Virgo - extremely organized and prompt, so she helps keep the "artists" in the family on track - and thank goodness she does!

What are your favorite songs to sing and why?
"Al Di La" - for me, it is the ultimate expression of love - an indescribable, exhilerating, other-worldy, love.
"A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square" - this was the only song that could get my nephew to sleep when he was a baby - his first favorite song!  For that reason, it will always have special meaning for me.
"That's All" - just gorgeous in its simplicity, a beautiful expression of romance
"Down With Love" - just pure, unadulterated fun!  And a reminder that joy can be found even when things go wrong.
If you were stuck on a desert island and could bring only 5 cds what would they be and why?
The Beatles - Abbey Road.  I grew up listening to The Beatles, and from the time I was six years old through my senior year of high school, I couldn't fall asleep at night unless I had my Beatles tape in my tape player.  It's SO hard to pick a favorite album, but in the end (so to speak), Abbey Road wins it in my book.  The entire album is a masterpiece, but from "Because" through "The End" is musical genius at its best.        
Connie Francis - Connie Francis at the Copa.  It's hard to narrow it down to one Connie Francis album, too, but Connie at the Copa has a lot going for it - fantastic energy, Connie's beautiful voice LIVE, and some of my absolute favorite Connie songs including "Many Tears Ago," "Jealous of You" and "Mama." 
Rufus Wainwright - Want One.  I love all of Rufus' albums, but Want One has the distinction of having my absolute favorite Rufus song on it - "Go Or Go Ahead."  It's such a powerful, passionate song, and it always makes my day when I listen to it.
Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Duke Ellington Songbook.  This was the first Ella album I ever listened to, back when I was in high school.  It was what made me fall in love with Ella, Ellington, and jazz in one fell swoop.  Unbeatable!
Ben Folds - Ben Folds Live.  Ben Folds is one of the best pop musicians out there today, and, like Connie's live album, this album really captures his terrific energy.  This was recorded live at a number of venues during his tour, and although the only accompaniment was Ben himself playing piano, at times, it sounds like an entire band.  This was actually the album that got me through a season of touring children's theater.  When things in the van got stressful, I turned Ben on and it just made it all better.
How would you describe your sound to those that have not yet heard you?
Bright, full, wide-ranging voice with a lot of passion and energy.  I pride myself on authentically covering many different styles of music, although my favorites tend to be retro-pop and jazzy standards.
Do you perform internationally?
Not yet, but I hope to within the next year or so.
What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My dad.  I'm very lucky to be able to make music with my father, but his influence reaches way beyond simply making music.  He's taught me to dream big, push myself to be the best I can be, never settle for less than my personal best, never give up...AND to keep a postive outlook.  He's one of the most optimistic, "glass half-full" people I know, and I truly think that's a great way to go through life. 
What are you proudest of and why?
I'm proudest of my integrity.  I work hard and strive for excellence, but never compromise my values or who I am as a person.  Sure, there are easier ways to make it big or make money.  But I need to look at myself in the mirror every day and be proud of what I see.
What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Sing the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium!
What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
-  I am a 6-time MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs) nominee.  Four of the nominations have come this year, which is very exciting! (I'm nominated for Female Vocalist, Open Mic, Open Mic/Variety Show Host, and Recording).
-  My debut CD, 13 Men...and Me! was named one of the top 50 CDs of 2008 by WHLI in Long Island
-  My new CD, To Connie...Love, Jenna, was runner-up in Cabaret Hotline's CD of the Year contest in 2009
What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
Greenwich Village on a sunny afternoon.  I could spend hours wandering around all of the pretty, peaceful side streets and feel like I've taken a mini-vacation!
What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
Sephora.  I love that I can go into any Sephora and come out looking like a million bucks without spending a dime (if I don't want to!).  I have a mental map of my favorite Sephoras, and I chart my course accordingly: stop at Dior for foundation, Nars for blush, Urban Decay for eye makeup and sparkles, Benefit for under-eye cream, and Phyto for hair smoother.  And then, of course, I pick a perfume on the way out!
What is your favorite drink?
Maker's Mark Manhattan
What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
Patsy's Italian Restaurant.  Amazing food, incredible history, and run by one of the nices families you'd ever want to meet!
What is your favorite Manhattan book?
Forever by Pete Hamill.  I love magical realism, I love, historical fiction, and I love New York - and this book combines all of these things!
If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
A nightclub - since I've spent so much time singing in nightclubws and seeing other shows in nighclubs, it feels like it would be an appropriate legacy!
What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
Personally?  Ummm...running to/from the subway in 4-inch heels.  Great for the quads and calf muscles!  Unfortunately, I have a tendency to run late, so this form of excersise takes place far more often than one might imagine.
As an observer?  Sitting courtside at a few Knicks games.  My former boss had amazing seats that he would share when he couldn't go to a game.  Does it matter that the Knicks were awful?  Nah - still a great experience!
What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Entertainment double- or triple-headers!  I love that there are so many entertainment options in this city that I can go to a Broadway show and follow it up with a cabaret act or even two, depending on the day!  Or two Broadway shows and a cabaret...or three cabarets!  I've done pretty much every possible combination, and every time I do, I find myself saying, "only in New York..." and it's true!
What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
Jim Caruso's Cast Party at Birdland - hands down.  I am absolutely addicted to going!  It's been dubbed "extreme open mic" and it really is!  On any given week, you don't know who is going to walk through the door and get up and perform.  Broadway stars, jazz legends, folk name it.  I've seen Liza Minnelli perform there several times, Linda Lavin, Janis Ian, Dave Koz, John Bucchino, Michael Feinstein, Lucie Arnaz, Ricki Lake, Ann Hampton Callaway...and in the audience, there have been people like Tony Bennett, Joel Grey, Parker Posey, and countless others.  It's an adventure every week, and I absolutely love it!
What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Underrated - Brooklyn!  It's a short ride from Manhattan, has a great, neighborhood-y feel, and tons of great shops and restaurants!
Overrated - Cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery.  Sure, the frosting is yummy, but the cupcakes themselves are bland!  Give me homemade any day!
Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
Champagne Wishes - first of all, what a lovely title for a column!  It just sounds happy.  Secondly, I always enjoy recommendations for wine & champagne!  I usually try to keep my fridge stocked with moderately-priced champagne - I think it's good karma to be prepared to celebrate something at any given time!
What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I LOVE to bake - if I could just sing and bake for a living, I'd be the happiest girl in the world.  I also love the Yankees - I've got a 12-game season ticket plan, and usually add on a few games on top of that.  I have such a great time going to games.
How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Facebook or email (

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