With a Billie Holiday-style microphone, an Apple computer camera and her two bandmates on either side, Maggie Tobias transforms from a lively newspaper reporter into a sultry jazz singer.
“You can put on a mask a little bit; it’s very theatrical,” said Tobias, a 23-year-old reporter for The Sylva Herald and Ruralite.
Tobias and fellow musicians Michael Collings and Jeff Savage compose Maggie and The Romantics, a jazz band from Sylva.
Tobias described Maggie and The Romantics as a fusion band. Their original songs always have jazz roots but can also be classified as funk, salsa or singer/songwriter.
Sampling an idea
Last month, the band started an early resolution, the kind typically reserved for New Year’s — to write one original song a week. The exercise helps them hone their songwriting skills and learn to create new tunes quickly.
Although it may seem daunting, the task is easier than one might think, Tobias said. Just start with a single theme or idea, she said, and form the song from there.
“It’s not going to be perfect. There are going to be some things you wish you changed,” Tobias said.
Each week, a different band member debuts their new song.
“They (Collings and Savage) are really good,” Tobias said. “It always surprised me how they can take this little song I’ve been singing in my head and make it into a real song. That’s pretty cool.”
The group uses the camera on an Apple computer, an external microphone and five or six takes to record the original song and post it to YouTube.
The idea for the weekly song came from Savage, who told them about a more than two-decade-long project by They Might Be Giants, Tobias said.
From 1983 to 2006, the alternative music group They Might Be Giants recorded new songs each week, and sometimes daily, on an answering machine. People would call the answering machine to hear the band’s newest recording.
While Maggie and The Romantics original song project may not last that long, Tobias said the troupe will post “as many as we can.”
As of Monday, their four videos had racked up a few hundred views each and mostly positive comments.
“People have said they like it,” Tobias said.
Like any family, hers had a few critics, she said.
“My mom told me to stop being so sultry in my videos,” Tobias said, adding that one of her sisters thinks she puts on a different voice when she sings.
The trio hopes to include other local artists in their future videos and posted a call for guest musicians on their Facebook page.
Tobias is currently composing a folk song for Kelly Jewell-Timco, a hula-hooper and wife of a coworker, and is making plans to perform a Frank Sinatra-style song with trumpeter Boyd Sossamon.
The band’s genesis
Tobias began singing at the First Presbyterian Church in Sylva, where bandmates Collings and Savage also play.
“I’ve sung my entire life,” said Tobias, who was a member of her college jazz band. “My whole family is very musical.”
However, it wasn’t until high school that her first boyfriend — a fan of music icons Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and John Coltrane — kick-started her affinity for jazz and blues tunes.
“There is something just kind of sultry about jazz,” Tobias said. “It’s kind of a sexy, evolving art form.”
Some people think that the time for jazz music has come and gone, but artists such as Diana Krall and Corinne Bailey Rae continue to add a modern flair to the genre.
“I think people kind of see jazz as a museum art form,” Tobias said. “It’s like classical music; it’s untouchable. It’s hard to see it as the popular music that it once was.”
Collings, a bassist, and Savage, a guitar player, had performed together as a jazz duo for six years at Sylva establishments like Guadalupe Café, where they play for tips. And after meeting her at the church, Collings and Savage asked Tobias to join them for a jazz cover gig.
Tobias said she thinks being a girl helped with the tips during her first performance with the guys.
“I think that’s kind of why they wanted me to keep playing with them, because after that one show we got so many tips,” Tobias said.
Soon after her first gig with the duet, Tobias started writing original songs, which the troupe performed in addition to traditional jazz standards.
The trio decided to cement their partnership by creating a band name. After receiving such suggestions as Beauty and the Beats, The Lovesick Fools, and Lady and the Tramps did they settle on Maggie and The Romantics.
“It just kind of sounded right,” Tobias said.
The band plays at various Sylva locales for tips about once a week in addition to its weekly YouTube melodies but is looking at branching out to venues in other Western North Carolina communities.
“We really like playing,” Tobias said. “It’s not the main source of income for any of us, so we can just have fun and take our time.”
See Maggie and The Romantics in action
Where: JJ’s Canteen & Eatery on N.C. 107 in Glenville
When: 8 p.m, Jan. 27
What else: Tips are accepted
Like Maggie and The Romantics on Facebook or check out their YouTube channel, MaggieRomanticsMusic.