Jazz singer Sunny Ozell: 'Yes, I'm married to Sir Patrick Stewart, but who cares?'
PUBLISHED: 08:00 05 May 2016 | UPDATED: 09:45 05 May 2016
Acclaimed jazz songstress Sunny Ozell is well-established on New York's club circuit and has been honing her craft for more than 20 years.
Last summer, she released her debut album – a mature covers record with a soul-infused Americana twist – and is now about to embark on her first full UK tour supporting folk-rock musician Teddy Thompson, which includes two shows at the Union Chapel.
And, as she almost immediately brings up, she is also the wife of Star Trek and X-Men star Sir Patrick Stewart.
It’s a label that will always inevitably be attached to her name as her music career gains more and more mainstream traction, but that’s one thing the 37-year-old is completely unafraid of.
“When we first started dating, it was something I was really concerned about,” she admits. “And sure, people say things like ‘you’ll know her...’ or ‘the captain beamed her up’ or some other s*** Star Trek quote – I can’t tell you how totally uncreative people continue to be. Ok, we get it! He was captain of the Starship Enterprise!
“But I got to this point where I thought: ‘You know what? I don’t care actually!’ It’s like anything else in life, it’s about how you feel in your own meat and potatoes, your own bones, and f*** what the rest of the world thinks. I know I’m a real singer and that I’ve been working my a** off for 20 years.”
She slyly adds: “And frankly, if people are only curious about me because I’m Patrick Stewart’s wife, and that gets their butt to buy a seat, then hey, I don’t care.”
Ozell’s album Take It With Me, is imbued with this frank maturity. Upon first listening, it’s hard to believe the record is a debut from the band’s tight musicianship and her effortlessly soulful voice.
The covers are carefully and deliberately chosen. You won’t find the jazz classics here – these are obscure but beautiful tracks by established artists like Leon Russell and Randy Newman.
Certainly not new kids on the block, then. “We’re like one of those kids that doesn’t talk and then suddenly at three years old starts talking in complete sentences,” she laughs.
So why has it taken Ozell so long to release her first album?
“Life happening,” is the short answer. But despite pursuing music from a very young age, it was only a few years ago that Ozell was still juggling her singing with waiting tables in New York restaurants in order to keep a roof over her head.
After meeting Sir Patrick while still working in the service industry, she then had to balance a long-distance relationship before beginning a new career in food writing, further delaying the dream. “Then you ask: why? Why bother in this day and age when so few people seem to be interested in a proper record anyway?” she questions. “It almost seems like a romantic old fashioned notion to put out a record, but I’m in a position now where I can do things like that, and it’s a total pleasure.”
Albums must be like buses, because Ozell is already due to make her second with her band this summer: this time, recording original songs.
Though they’ll record it at the house Ozell and Sir Patrick regularly rent out in LA, their sound will still be deeply rooted in New York City.
“We played a show in California about a month ago,” she says.
“The club owner stuck around for our first gig and afterwards said, man, you guys sound like New York City.
“To me that was the highest compliment, that he could distil from the music we’ve been making that we’ve been working our a**es off in New York City for over a decade or more in many of our cases.”
Despite the fact she is now a full-time professional musician and settled in Brooklyn with Sir Patrick, Ozell says her life is still a balancing act.
On top of her music, she maintains a deep passion for food and wine from her writing days: buying jarloads of her favourite Calabrian chillis in oil from Borough Market for friends whenever she’s in the UK, and touring vineyards with her husband on holiday.
And then there’s trying to keep up with Sir Patrick’s “non-stop” show business schedule.
The couple are soon to part ways for six weeks while he rehearses Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land with best friend Sir Ian McKellen for an upcoming UK tour and run at Wyndham’s Theatre, the longest time they have spent apart for a while.
“We’ll be fine. That’s what Facetime and cellphones are for,” she shrugs.
The only saving grace is that the pair can enjoy a fairly private life together, particularly in their home neighbourhood, though she knows there will always be the inevitable tabloid stories scrutinising the couple’s relationship.
“I did sign up for it. By the time Patrick and I got married, I was very conscious of what I was marrying, what the conditions were going to be, and what it meant for my private life.
“That’s why it took so long for us to get married, because I wasn’t sure I wanted that.”
In an interview with The Evening Standard, Ozell said she tried to sign Sir Patrick up to be what she calls her “merch b****” on tour.
But when I ask her if we can expect to see Captain Picard selling T-shirts with her face on them at the Union Chapel, the answer is sadly ‘no’.
“Unfortunately not, he’s working. But can you imagine how many T-shirts that would sell?” she laughs. “Oh well, next time!”
Yes, Ozell is Sir Patrick’s wife (and proud). She’s also determined to show you why it doesn’t matter at the Union Chapel this month.
Ozell supports Teddy Thompson and his collaborator Kelly Jones at the Union Chapel on May 7 and 19. The May 7 show is sold-out but doors open for the May 19 gig at 7pm for a 7.45 start. Tickets.