Entertainment

When folk meets jazz, with a little Keillor

What does California jazz singer Inga Swearingen have in common with folksy storyteller Garrison Keillor?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

“The way he just spins a story right in front of you with no script and improvises it is so similar to jazz and scat singing,” she said.

Swearingen, playing Saturday in Olympia, first appeared with the host of “A Prairie Home Companion” when he visited San Luis Obispo, where she lives.

“I think that having a Swedish name may have gotten my CD to the top of the pile,” Swearingen said. She’s performed with the show a dozen more times since.

“We really hit it off,” she said. “We sang a duet the first night that I was on the show and had a great rapport.”

Keillor has offered his praise of Swearingen. “Inga has a gorgeous voice, very fresh and evocative and note perfect,” he said.

“I wondered at first, ‘Are we going to work on that show?’ ” Swearingen said. “At that time, we were doing pretty much straight-ahead jazz with not too many original or folk influences. That was in 2004, and now when I look at where we are and how much folk we have picked up, we definitely fit.”

Despite the folk influences, though, Swearingen clearly fits primarily in the jazz mold.

“When I was in high school, I was in a little jazz choir,” she recalls.

“My teacher gave me a cassette tape of Ella Fitzgerald, and it just rocked my world. I couldn’t believe somebody could do that with her voice.”

Swearingen’s talents aren’t limited to the vocal, though. She writes and arranges songs and plays guitar and piano.

“I’m really influenced by Michael Hedges and Joni Mitchell and these kind of open-tuning songwriter types and Ani DiFranco and others in that folk vein,” she said. “I studied classical choral music and went to school for conducting, so that continues to be a throughline.”

She is touring in support of her second album (“Reverie”). Her third (“First Rain”) is due out in the fall. It, and this tour, feature harmony vocals by her sister, Britta Swearingen, who is touring with her. Jeff Miley (on guitar) and Dylan Johnson (on stand-up bass) round out the quartet.

“She’s a beautiful addition to the band,” Inga Swearingen said of her sister.

And yes, music does run in the family.

“Both of my parents play music,” Swearingen said.

“Both of my parents sing. They were in a little trio before my sister and I were born, and my papa played piano and my mom sang.

“They listened to all kinds of music.”

So does Swearingen.

“I love African music,” she said.

“I would love to go there someday and just be a sponge and absorb as much as I can.”

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