Nayo Jones


May 24, 2016


How old are you?

I never discuss my age. Not because I’m ashamed of it but because it seems to add a little bit of intrigue when people don’t really know how old you are. Some people know and some people guess and I let them go whichever way they want to go.

Where are you from originally?

I am originally from Chicago but I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona from grammar school through high school.

And how long have you been in New Orleans?

I had come to record a CD and it didn’t work out with the producer that I had a lead on unfortunately. But through my discouragement, I said “Well, you know, I’m here,” I checked out the scene. I wanted to know what everybody was talking about anyway because the New Orleans music scene is world-renowned so I did want to see for myself. I just started sitting in with bands and I did not mean to move hear but by luck, by chance, whatever you want to call it—blessings, divine intervention, I don’t know—I had a chance to sing with Kermit Ruffins and he gave me a shot to sit in with him and I told him I would only be in town a few days or a few weeks and he said “Oh no, I’m going to put you to work.” And he did. Two weeks later, I was in New York and he started giving me gigs and before I knew it, I got rid of my house and shipped my car. And that was four and a half years ago.

And why are you still here?

Because in terms of my career I’ve done fairly well. I’ve done really well, actually. I’ll go ahead and say that. New Orleans has been definitely a launching pad, a springboard. I’ve been doing this for twelve years professionally and the last four years have been extremely fruitful in terms of experiencing different stages, different musicians and artists and just being able to expand myself artistically and musically. New Orleans has given me that opportunity.

In what capacity are you a part of the music community of New Orleans?

I am a vocalist. I’m known as a jazz vocalist because mostly I sing a lot of jazz onstage and that comes from that’s what I heard growing up. My dad is a musician and a music educator. He’s a jazz musician and when I started singing, those are the songs that he taught me and I did well. I don’t consider myself a jazz singer because jazz singer are just phenomenal vocalists. However, I can sing jazz well so I have become known as a jazz singer.

Can you define sexism as it presents itself to you? How do you define sexism?

Once my dad realized that I was going to stick with this music thing, he gave me the ins and outsand made me aware—one of the advantages of having a dad in the business for so long. First of all, the music industry is a male dominated industry, like most industries and male musicians get looked at differently than female musicians. I no longer play an instrument but as a vocalist we’re probably objectified even more just being the singer. My dad told me going in “You have you prove yourself to be a vocalist because you just don’t get the same respect. And even when you do get the respect, you’re going to have to fight for it because most of the men want to sleep with you.” I love men and I expect their characteristics to be just who they are and not every musician has hit on me. But for the most part, just like my dad said, most of the musicians want you. He said “You just cannot get romantically involved with them. It will change your experience musically,” and I always held true to that. Even to this day, I don’t date musicians. I love musicians but I don’t date musicians.

Do you remember what age you were when he started talking about that side of the music business?

We didn’t have those conversations when I was younger but then also, no dad really wants to talk to their daughter about their involvement with boys. As I got older, I think he probably started noticing because I started by singing with him on his shows. A lot of his friends and colleagues would say “Oh your daughter, she’s kind of hot,” and he was fighting them off. So he started talking about it more and more when he noticed them hitting on me. It started off with a gentle “be careful” and then it turned into very candid conversations about the mind of a musician and a man. He’s always been very forthcoming with that. 

How does being treated in a sexist or unequal way make you feel?

I don’t know why that’s a hard question. I couldn’t even answer it to myself. I’ve learned to not let things get under my skin too badly. Some things do because I am a very sensitive, emotional person. Most artists are very sensitive people anyway. But when it comes to that I think I’ve grown to be so confident in who I am as a woman that certain things that happen in terms of sexism or what we view as sexism don’t typically bother me and the things that do, I’ll ponder on it and let it roll off. In fact, something just happened recently that actually came from another woman. So it’s not just a male interaction that could be deemed as sexist and I am very careful how I view other women or speak to other women because you never know how that will affect her or what her experiences are. 

Do you always notice when individuals are acting in a sexist way? Do you think it’s possible that there are different forms of sexism that are so engrained in our experiences...

That you think it’s normal? Absolutely. I would say that. And being a performer opens you up even more. It makes you so much more vulnerable to people. Part of what we do is people feeling like they know us or are close to us, that they have a personal connection with us. So for whatever reason, that gives people the OK to say things that are actually not OK. And sometimes I don’t catch them. Sometimes it is subtle. I’ve learned to block certain ignorant comments out so well that sometimes it doesn’t even hit me. Sometimes it’s very subtle, sometimes it’s from a fan, it’s not always from fellow musicians.

Can you recall any specific occasions when you experienced sexist behavior against you?

I think I’d prefer to speak about music or the industry in general. I don’t even know her music really, but what’s happening with Ke$ha? The story sounds highly likely, to be honest. A guy told me, “You’re phenomenal, you’d a lot further in your career if you’d just get on your back.” And I thought “My God!” How bold can a person be? I guess I do get offended, going back to the question about how it makes me feel. I’m offended because I’ve always conducted myself like a lady and carried myself in a way where certain situations just don’t come looking for me. And that’s not a judgment on people that carry themselves differently. But I can remember as a little girl, my mom saying “You always act like a lady whether me and your dad are around or not,” and that’s been engrained in my head since then. So even now, I enjoy being feminine, I enjoy being a lady and being perceived as a lady and so it’s offensive when someone approaches me in a contradictory way. That’s how it makes me feel.

I always wonder if I’m being kind to people because I want to be kind or because that’s what a girl is supposed to do. I’m not going out of my way to be mean to someone...

But are you going out of your way not to? People assume that I’m going to date someone in my band or I’m going to date a musician and it’s always the exact opposite and it’s so interesting. In that situation for the most part, I just kind of laugh it off. I could call them out on it but it’s gotten to a point where I’ve learned how to find the humor in the ridiculousness of it.

Another instance that pisses every woman off is “You should smile more.”

OH GOD. Who walks around just smiling? Make me smile! And who says that if I’m not smiling, I’m unhappy? It could be anything. I’m not frowning just because I’m not smiling. God I hate that, you’re right. I never thought of that as this subject but you’re right! No one ever walks up to a man and says, “Why aren’t you smiling?” You’re right! Huh. Wow. And it’s little things that are engrained in us and we don’t even know it’s there.

I am able to initially speak against it but if the person is apologetic, then I have that guilt that I’ve said anything. But maybe because I’ve said something, it won’t be said to someone else.

Not that I walk around frowning, but I don’t walk around with a Kool-Aid grin on my face either. I don’t know anyone who does. I’ve had people come up to me and say “Oh you’re so pretty, you should where this or you should do this or you should do that,” and it’s like, what makes you think you have the right to influence or even speak on how I’m dressed. It’s very odd. Well, cheers to enlightenment.

Do you think New Orleans is a progressive place?

I don’t think the city is progressive. I think the people who are coming in are forcing those things to happen but the city itself wants to keep a lot of the tradition and the nostalgia that was there in old New Orleans. But this conversation is opening up something internal and I’m paying attention to what is going on. But even with all the experiences that I’ve had that have not all been positive, overall New Orleans has been good to me and that’s why I’m here four and a half years later. I had no intention of moving here at all and I definitely did not think I’d be here almost five years later. But musically it’s been great. That’s one of the reasons why I love what I do. New Orleans is definitely helping me expose and grow my brand.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

The feminist in me would hate me for saying this but I have learned to ignore a lot of things and I don’t know if that’s ok. And that’s not ignoring it just from men because most recent experience was actually from a woman. That probably has gotten more under my skin that any sexual advance [from a man]. My recent experience with sexism from a woman has lingered the longest and I think that part of sexism and part of the discussion is that we’re taught to learn to have this thick skin where it doesn’t bother us anymore. I think that’s definitely part of the conversation and I appreciate you for bringing that up as part of the conversation. It makes it more of a broad dialogue and I like that it’s a broad dialogue more than specific stories. Also, there’s been so many, how do you pick one?