Katie Lott Schnorr Celebrates the Release of ‘Blue Shoes’

“I relish everything about [jazz] – the improv, the melodies, the playfulness of the lyrics, and the history of the songs,” says Katie Lott Schnorr. Photo by Kelly Avenson.

Who knew our long-time contributor of the Peninsula Pulse and Door County Living had a sweet, jazzy voice to match her personality? Not I.

Katie Lott Schnorr – multi-talented, wildly creative mother of two – lends her skills to many occupations and artistic endeavors: serving, writing, acting, teaching and, of course, singing. The recently appointed Door County Visitor Bureau’s Arts & Culture Insider is releasing her first album, Blue Shoes, a collection of jazz standards featuring guitarist George Sawyn, on May 4 with a performance and party at Greco Gallery in Sturgeon Bay beginning at 7 pm.

I spoke with Lott Schorr about her new album, the recording process, and the story behind the blue shoes.

Sally Slattery (SS): I’ll admit, until I saw you perform at an open mic, I didn’t know you were musically gifted. Where does this talent come from?

Katie Lott Schnorr (KLS): I’ve been singing my whole life. One of my earliest memories is my mom playing the record Ella in Berlin and me singing along and jumping on the couch. My mom loves music, and was always taking us to concerts and schlepping us to music lessons. I studied piano, did musicals in high school, and learned to play some guitar. In college I studied classical voice, and also had a musical duo with a friend who played guitar; we played classic folk stuff, like Joni Mitchell and Traffic. We used to open for Lisa Loeb at a coffeehouse on campus – that’s my claim to fame.

When I moved to Chicago in my early 20s I became fascinated with the jazz scene. I spent late nights at the Green Mill, and hung out at a local jazz joint on Division Street, now gone, called the Bop Shop. I had always loved listening to jazz, but when I started sitting in once in a while I realized how much I loved singing it, too. I relish everything about it – the improv, the melodies, the playfulness of the lyrics, and the history of the songs. If I could’ve grown up in another time, it would definitely have been the big band era of the ‘40s and ‘50s.

SS: What inspired you to create your first album?

KLS: It was about six years ago that I got this bee in my bonnet to record an album of jazz standards. At the time I had a preschooler and a new baby, so maybe it was my way of fantasizing that there was another life for me beyond diapers and blocks and board books. I knew I had to find the right partner for the album, though, and that took a while.

George Sawyn collaborated with Lott Schnorr to create her first album. Photo by Kelly Avenson.

SS: How did the recording process go?

KLS: The recording process was fascinating. Being in the box with the headphones on and the big giant microphone makes you feel like a rock star, no doubt. George [Sawyn] is a pro, and he can play anything – I mean anything! In any key, and any style. And Hans Christian is like a Zen Captain Kirk. He sits there at this giant console and flips switches and pushes buttons, but he’s so calm and warm and intuitive. In the end, the record sounded just like I wanted it to sound.

I love the simplicity of the guitar/voice combo – we can really listen to each other and we each get a chance to shine. Check out Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass doing this – they recorded several albums with voice and guitar when they were in the twilight years of their careers, and they are incredible.

SS: The album features a variety of jazz standards – how did you go about choosing the songs?

KLS: All of these songs have special connections for me. The first track on the album is “Bye Bye Blackbird,” not a well-known standard. I first heard it performed by a Chicago singer, I don’t even remember his name, but he was wonderful. He went around to all the open mics and sold cassette tapes out of a suitcase. And wow, could he sing. I still think of him when I sing it.

“Scotch and Soda” is a tune I first learned listening to the Kingston Trio in the car with my mom. I taught that song to a bunch of my friends, and we’d sing it together.

I love songs about seasons – there are a few on this album, songs like “Tis Autumn,” that is just a great tune and you hardly ever hear it, and “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” which is a heartbreaking song about love, the lyrics are clever and funny and gorgeous; it’s one of my favorites. And there are a few surprises, too!

SS: George Sawyn lends his great guitar work to your lovely voice – how did you two find each other?

KLS: I met Hans Christian of Studio 330 about a year ago when I was interviewing him for a story. I was in awe of his studio, and at the end of our interview, I shared with him that I was a singer and that I had this dream. Hans suggested I get in touch with George, and then my friend Jeanne Kuhns told me the same thing.

George and I got together and played at his house one day, and at the end of our session, we looked at each other and said, “This is fun!” George and I both moved here from Chicago, and we found each other in little old Door County. And we recorded the album at Studio 330, Hans’ studio, which was a great experience.

Lott Schnorr purchased these blue shoes when she decided she wanted to record an album. Photo by Kelly Avenson.

SS: Tell me about the title, Blue Shoes. Is there a story there?

KLS: Right around the time I concocted this dream, I found a pair of gorgeous blue peep-toe pumps in a catalog. If you are a shoe lover like me, just try saying the words “blue peep-toe pumps” without getting excited. They were a splurge, but I told myself that I was not going to wear them until I followed through on my dream and made the album. Six years later, here’s my record. And I finally get to wear my blue shoes.

Greco Gallery is located at 24 N Third Avenue in Sturgeon Bay. The album release party will include live music, food, and drink. All are welcome!