It’s a windy and chilly Wednesday evening at the elegant Aman Jazz Club in New York City, and Samara Joy, the sensational Grammy Award-winning singer is prepping for a performance. The 23-year-old artist who is a new face of Theory’s holiday campaign has officially marked her foray into the fashion industry. She tells me that she’s used to downplaying certain things and that she didn’t realize her face would be emblazoned on posters in New York City. “I feel really excited,” Joy says with her signature velvety soft voice. “Each look I wore made me feel empowered. The quality, the style, the structure, everything was on point.”
In the campaign, Joy wears recycled sequin and crepe in the form of a velvety high turtleneck dress with a subtle sheen and flattering effect. She also dons a chic blazer with matching wool trousers, these pieces perfectly complement one another. The campaign spot includes a special song that she wrote in dedication to her late mentor, jazz legend Barry Harris: “Now and Then.” Joy describes him as “sharp as ever” and “immortal” prior to his passing in 2021, from her years of working with him to cultivate her own sound.
Despite this being her first major fashion moment, she feels particularly connected to the industry. In fact, she declares that she’s been wondering what her entry into the lauded space would be. “I’ve seen the Met Gala, Paris Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, and it seems intimidating,” she said. “But I’m glad this is my [foray],” she adds. She brings up the beloved Billie Holiday during our conversation, being dressed so glamorously for the campaign reminded her of the iconic jazz singer that came before her.
The Theory imagery and campaign shot and directed by Tyler Mitchell serve as a reintroduction of sorts largely due to the fact that Joy is mostly associated with her stunning vocals. The Bronx native is a double Grammy winner who revealed her self-titled debut in 2021. Her Best New Artist and Best Jazz Vocal Album wins at this year’s ceremony catapulted her to the forefront of the modern jazz conversation. And for good reason, she has a voice that will catapult you to another planet. At Aman Jazz Club I felt like I had transcended to a different realm after hearing Joy perform–time also felt like it had stopped for a moment. Her Christmas-themed EP, A Joyful Holiday, is available now.
Below, we catch up with Samara Joy on her new Theory campaign, her mentor Barry Harris, the song she wrote and dedicated to him, and what she loves about fashion.
When did you first fall in love with jazz music?
When I got to college. I was introduced to it in high school. I first kind of went to college for the [music] program. I was like, ‘Okay, let’s learn all we can learn. I don’t know if I’m [going to] pursue dance, but at least I’ll learn a lot about it and a lot about myself in the process.’ But then I started to really get into [music]. I started learning about Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter and I [had] never listened to those singers before.
I never knew that there was so much individuality within the jazz spectrum. I guess the public or mainstream [conversation] about jazz [centers around] certain elements of it, but not like a full picture. So I love getting to learn about the full picture, and how it could apply to me.
Do you know how to compose?
Yes. I don’t do it as often anymore because I have a group of arrangers but I still like that when I play piano but I want to continue to add more to my repertoire.
When it comes to songwriting what’s your process like from lyrics to arrangements?
For me, it’s not very spontaneous. I’m sitting down at the piano and playing, either I just listened to a song and I had an idea or I’m just wanting to get some stuff off my mind. I think lyrics are my first go-to because I love other people’s melodies like Barry Harris, Charles Mingus, [and] Duke Ellington. So that’s my first medium of expression.
How would you describe your personal style?
Thrift, anything thrift, and I like streetwear because I’m traveling a lot. So, I like being comfortable. I feel like my style is comfortable. I love whenever I don’t have to iron. That’s pretty much it. There are a select few people that I really enjoy Zendaya, Lori Harvey, and Teyana Taylor. I really admire the fact that they could just pop out in anything and it’ll totally fit what they do.
Did you have any involvement creatively on the campaign?
We did a couple of fittings, you know, and I basically decided what I wanted to wear and what I felt comfortable in, what I didn’t. But they already had pieces that they felt matched my style already, like this. I’m wearing a blazer for cocktail hour and then the sequined mini dress for the performance. I feel like it perfectly matches.
Your song for the campaign is dedicated to your mentor Barry Harris, can you tell me a bit about him and why you wanted to dedicate it to him specifically?
The song actually is a composition by Barry Harris, who was an amazing mentor, pianist, and educator for years. He’s like an underdog, he had a whole community in New York City. [While in his 80’s] every Tuesday, six to midnight [he was] giving classes and teaching because he loved music.
I feel like that’s what I saw, I saw so much passion for what he did, and how much joy it gave him to offer that knowledge that he had. He was still learning, like he was making up stuff on the spot. Sharp as ever. So the holiday EP is kind of separate from him but, the song that is a part of the Theory campaign that we’re singing tonight, I love the composition so much, [it’s written by Harris].