Singer makes Thursday nights ‘Savory’

Singer Jacqui Hylton is a fixture on Thursday nights at Savory Restaurant. Michael Aushenker / TMT

The Point Dume restaurant’s resident chaunteuse Jacqui Hylton performs everything from Billie Holiday to Johnny Mandel to The Cure every Thursday night.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

As waiters circulated during happy hour on a recent weeknight at Savory Restaurant, the live entertainment—a striking, slender brunette in a shimmering black-and-silver gown—softly croons “Love Come Back to Me.”

It’s a song about new moons, cold nights and old loves, and the singer repeated the lyrics over and over, shimmying down the narrow aisle and mock-flirting with the male patrons knocking back cocktails at the counter.

It’s just another Thursday evening for Jacqui Hylton.

A natural beauty of Jamaican-Jewish descent, the Toronto-born Hylton moved to Los Angeles in 2002, before relocating to Malibu Park four years ago. After serving as BeauRivage’s house singer, she grew roots at Savory last summer and has been planted there ever since. Visitors to the restaurant can find her there every Thursday, crooning jazz tunes with her trio.

“I’d heard a lot about her through [Malibu-based songwriter/producer] Gary Miller,” said Malibu Music Awards and Festival founder Terrence Davis at Savory. “Jacqui really honors Johnny Mandel,” the first artist given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the festival’s inaugural 2008 ceremony. Hylton enjoys performing several Mandel standards, such as “Where Do You Start?” and “Shadow of Your Smile.”

From her own compositions, to covers of Billie Holiday, to her lilting, bittersweet rendition of The Cure’s “Love Song,” Hylton shuffles through a 40-song repertoire. She mixes things up weekly, perhaps swapping in “Girl from Ipanema” and “My Funny Valentine” for cinema-spawned classics “Over the Rainbow” and “Moon River.”

Electicism is a product of Hylton’s past. Mozart and Chopin have been lifelong influences dating back to her classical piano training at age six. A Royal Conservatory of Music graduate, she composes her own songs on piano and guitar. “As a child, I was always writing,” she said. “I had songs in my head.”

An indirect influence was her father. The daughter of an air conditioner engineer and a high school teacher, Hylton grew up in Markham, a Toronto suburb, surrounded by music. From Dad’s formidable jazz record collection, Hylton gleaned her gožte for Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Shirley Bassey, Dinah Washington, Rita Reyes, Anita O’Day, Thelonious Monk and Ray Charles.

Hylton also drew on a rich local scene in her formative years. “There’s a plethora of great jazz musicians in Toronto,” Hylton said, citing artists such as Judy Jazz, Nawlins, and Kenny Skinner and the Jazz Mongers. “I’m grateful for the Toronto scene.”

Despite access to her father’s albums, Hylton did not gain full parental support when she decided to make music her profession. She often had to pep-talk herself: “Yes, you are an artist. You can become successful.”

When Hylton moved to L.A. in 2002, she began by “surrounding myself with excellent musicians” at Genghis Cohen, Molly Malone’s Irish Pub, The Mint, Highland Grounds and Talking Stick. A few neighborhoods later, she settled down in Malibu Park. With her trio, which includes keyboardist Sunny Payson and Carol Chaikin on woodwinds, she’s made Malibu her scene.

Recently, Hylton began exploring self-empowerment themes in her songwriting, citing influences like Fiona Apple, Joni Mitchell, Sade and Empire of the Sun. The result has been such original compositions as “Beautiful,” a female-empowerment anthem in a world where “we’re devalued because of our age or our looks’” “Powerful Woman” and the exquisitely titled “You Don’t Know Me Like You Should.”

Today, Hylton loves her current status as Malibu music-scene fixture and draws inspiration from the surrounding nature. She performed at a British-American Business Chamber event at The Sunset last month and will play this year’s Malibu Music Festival in September.

Additionally, the Malibu Film Society member acted last summer in a two-actor scene from David Mamet’s “Race” for Malibu Stage Company.

But her home is behind the microphone, a setting where Hylton blends beauty, strength and vulnerability in both performance and song choices. Her speaking voice may drop out, but when she really puts it on, her vocals hit the restaurant’s rear.

This evening at Savory, Hylton winds down the second half of her set with soaring standards such as “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “My One and Only Love,” peppered with several originals.

During her rendition of “You Don’t Know Me Like You Should,” Hylton leans hard on “you” and “like,” stretching the words out to velvety perfection. As any true songstress knows, in jazz, you first must learn to slow down.

“The person that I was attracted to was perhaps more into flirtations,” she said, explaining the lyrical origin of her song. “I said, ‘You’re moving too quickly, take your time to get to know me.’”