Tumut musician’s star on the rise

Jess Crossman will be part of a lineup featuring The Beach Boys and The Temptations in Wagga next month. Photo: Jade Norwood.

With a legendary career spanning over 50 years, 100 million album sales and endless sunshine, the Beach Boys need very little introduction.

They are in fact the top-selling American band of all time.

Summer is synonymous with their cool breezy music.

Motown legends, The Temptations, with their tailored suits and detailed choreography, paved the way for the Jackson 5 and Boyz II Men and have won three Grammy awards in their distinguished career, including the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award back in 2013.

These two icons of American music will join on stage on Saturday February 11 at McDonalds Park in Wagga Wagga in what promises to be an historic night of nostalgia for music fans.

The other two acts on this bill though should capture the attention of those focusing on the present and future of local music.

For joining the Beach Boys and the Temptations are two musicians from Tumut.

We’ve documented the ascent of our own local troubadour William Crighton in the past and know that it’s now become commonplace for him to appear on the same bill as Paul Kelly or Neil Finn these days.

His self titled album of emotive alt-country/folk music won widespread acclaim upon release last year and William has created a strong buzz around his songs and live performances.

The woman who is the opening act on the bill is still pinching herself.

The biggest stage on which Tumut local, Jess Crossman, had formally sung would be Tumut’s Rock the Turf Festival or Tumbafest and the journey their was one of overcoming odds and self discovery.

“No one really ever sang in my family, there was no real history of musical talent other than my pop who could play just about any instrument by ear,” Jess said.

“I always enjoyed singing but my first true passion was guitar. I never thought that I could really sing but I always had a real yearning to learn the guitar.

“In fact it is probably the one hobby in life that I’ve never quit. There were times I wanted to, but the guitar wouldn’t let me quit and so I stuck to it.”

Jess would learn a few chords at a time and hurry home to write lyrics to them and as time and her talent progressed she was eventually invited to the Wagga Wagga Music School.

“I was a student there for guitar for three years and it was there that I was encouraged to sing.”

It was her attachment to her original material that swayed her.

“I’ve written songs since I was about 12 and was encouraged to sell my material to other artists as I, myself was reluctant to perform them.

“The thought horrified me however as I just couldn’t imagine anyone other than me being able to properly portray my music. They were too personal to me and I couldn’t handle someone else telling my story.”

There is a moment in the great sports movie ‘Moneyball’ where the character played by Brad Pitt watches his daughter gently strum a guitar in a music shop and encourages her to sing.

She is reluctant, but as soon as she does, quite exquisitely, you are all in on their relationship.

It’s but a few moments of the movie as a whole but it’s all we need from them to know their relationship will be just fine. It’s the power of music and belief captured beautifully.

For Jess that moment finally came in 2011, after years of refusing others her songs.

Jess was in Year 9 and had finally felt she had grown into her voice enough to perform live at CAPA, the annual Tumut High School production at the Montreal Theatre.

“No-one knew I could sing and I mean no-one.”

Music teacher Sue Bailey allowed her to perform one of her original songs and Jess (laughing) remembers the event clearly as a life changing “Hey everyone, oh yeah, I can sing a little bit” moment of catharsis.

“It was the corniest song in the whole world, please don’t look it up, but it gave me the confidence to enter a few competitions and put myself out there a bit,” she said.

Jess won the recording studio prize two years in a row at Wagga’s Got Talent for the person who had written the best original piece and soon after that people started asking her to play live shows.

Then Ben Richards asked for a year of her life.

“We had already been friends, but he insisted that if I gave him a year of my life he would help me take the next step.”

Her response?

“Yeah, whatever mate.”

But she gave him a chance.

Ben Richards has an ear for talent and, with the right connections and backing up his promise, it was his introducing her to producer Dale Allison in Wagga Wagga that changed the narrative of Jess’s ambitions.

There was much trepidation at first as Jess felt the pangs of loss most artists experience when handing over their work for examination and adjustment.

However after the three got in the studio together it soon became clear they were headed in the right direction as Dale brought Jess’s music to a new level of radiance and completeness.

“We just laughed when we heard the results. You know that happy laugh you give when something is just right?”

Jess admits it’s a strange experience handing your work over to someone to add layers and build upon but can’t deny the results have been amazing to her.

“When you know it’s good it’s just the best feeling. Everyone just starts laughing, It’s a beautiful, infectious feeling.”

Jess is still in the infancy of her development and enjoying every moment of discovery.

“We have recorded all sorts of music from rock stuff to slower music and it’s still very much a process to understand what best works for me. I can’t yet give you a label on the style of my music but hopefully within the year Ben, Dale and I will find the right story to tell. My music is very personal to me and isn’t always happy, but I like to think it offers a message of hope.”

When asked if she knew what she was going to sing on the 11th next month as the Temptations and Beach Boys waited backstage, Jess smiled and admitted “not really. But it’s going to be exciting working that out.”

I’d say she is right.

From a girl reluctant to sing her own material to performing with the Beach Boys is already a story and journey to be proud of.

The best part is, it may just be the beginning.