Georgia Anne Muldrow laughs easily when she speaks. The charm of her laughter does not come from anything silly, although she can be downright funny in frank conversation. Rather, the breathy chortle you hear when speaking with the free, funky progressive jazz/R&B/hip-hop multi-hyphenate expresses sheer joy at the fact that music is an everyday part of her self-empowered existence, and that all of her sound and all of her life flows into, and from, one towering tributary: her soul.
“Thank you so much for knowing that, because it is all ongoing and going on, all at once,” Muldrow says from her forever home in Los Angeles, a studio-house environment where she’s been letting loose with spirited left-field jazz and sumptuous space soul ever since her 2006 debut, Olesi: Fragments of an Earth. “There really isn’t demarcation, a place where one stops and the other begins. I’m always making music.” And it is always making Muldrow.
In discussing that which she does under her own name as a vocalist/instrumentalist (e.g., albums like 2010’s Kings Ballad), as showcases for her Technicolor production skills (three VWETO albums, the latest being VWETO III), or through the pseudonym Jyoti, a name given to her by free-jazz giant Alice Coltrane (the latest album to use that moniker being 2020’s Mama, You Can Bet!), Muldrow has found herself compared to Lauryn Hill, early Roberta Flack, Geri Allen, Amina Claudine Myers, Erykah Badu (with whom she’s worked), and the late great Mrs. Coltrane. Yet listening to the multitudes that fill VWETO III (everything from cool postbop and thundering dub to Blaxploitative soul) or the transcendental jazz of Mama, You Can Bet!—both albums recorded with nary a collaborator save for voice and sax—leaves the listener without any real comparison, despite all of the possible influences. Everything Georgia is a genre apart: positively Muldrow-nian.
“She really is her own universe,” says saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, Muldrow’s longtime friend and lone outside contributor to Mama, You Can Bet! “And to be invited in to be part of that is rare, and a pleasure.”
One of the first clues to Muldrow’s everything-all-at-once-ness comes from her selection of favorite music. “Coming up, I loved anthologies, like Curtis Mayfield’s, that showed his ride from his time with the Impressions to his solo-career vibes at Curtom,” she says. “Box sets like James Brown’s Star Time, Motown reviews with the Four Tops and Martha and the Vandellas, and Rhino soul collections from the ’60s with Dyke and the Blazers, Otis Redding, and Jackie Wilson. You could hear the growth of an artist. It was an affordable way to do so too.”
When I tell her I hear some raunchy Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-style synth bass lines in her work, she screams with happiness. “OF COURSE I AM A JAM & LEWIS JUNKIE,” she yells. “Without question. Their production of the S.O.S. Band influenced how I sing.” And while she slips in Stevie Wonder’s Secret Life of Plants (“hands down my favorite Stevie”) and tracks by Bahamadia and KRS-One, Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (“that album changed my life”), Bobby McFerrin’s Medicine Music, Salif Keita’s Soro, and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (“Take your pick of which album … he made me want to be a drummer”) are at the head of her psychic mixtape.
Jazz, in particular, gave young Georgia Anne additional exposure to the aesthetics of her parents. Her late father was jazz guitarist Ronald Muldrow, famed for his gig with saxophonist Eddie Harris; her mother Rickie Byars-Beckwith co-founded the Sound of Agape and worked with Pharoah Sanders and Roland Hanna. “My mother and father lend me my coherence,” Muldrow says. “Their influence keeps me from going off the deep end. My dad lent me my melodic coherence and my mom gives me harmonic coherence. Phrasing and the way the words fit the melody—my mom gave me that too. Instead of being too hip for the blues, I’m modifying the blues.”
Georgia Anne studied jazz at Manhattan’s New School, where she majored in voice; she dropped out. She then worked with mentor/former Mothers of Invention keyboardist Don Preston, who encouraged all levels of experimentation. A picture of dissatisfaction at any form of status quo develops. “Who likes to do things the so-called correct way?” she says with a laugh. “It was about getting away from the grid.”