Most artists can cite an inspirational teacher who told them to stay in school, to take classes to hone their craft. But breezy new Blue Note singer Priscilla Ahn had a professor who urged her to do the opposite.
After auditioning for a music academy back in her native Penn-sylvania, the Los Angeles-based thrush was pulled aside by the overseeing instructor and told to get on with her life.
“He was this really cool guy, a sort of outside-the-box thinker, and he totally changed everything for me,” says Ahn, 24, who opens for Marc Broussard at The Independent in San Francisco on Saturday.
“He must’ve seen something in me, because when I auditioned, I sang the classical pieces, but I also took my guitar and played a song that I wrote,” she says. He told me that college would always be there, and he encouraged me to start performing instead and really take it seriously. Finally, someone believed in me, and had the guts to tell me to just go out and do it.”
Ahn heeded the advice. And her talents were quickly recognized.
From her small town, she regularly made the nearly two-hour drive into Philadelphia, performing anywhere she could. One night, some fellow folkies invited her down to a local studio, where Blue Note artist Amos Lee was tracking his first EP. Ahn still isn’t sure why, but his people offered her an intern gig on the spot.
“So I’d drive out there every day, stay till 3 a.m., drive home again, then get up and go to work in the morning,” she says. “And I really watched the recording process, and it wasn’t like ‘Oh, what’s this cable plugged into?’ I was more like, ‘Look, he’s doing a guitar track, and he’s going to do a scratch vocal and then a lead vocal.’”
Lee’s producer urged Ahn to move to Hollywood. Again, she did as she was told, just in time to hook up with the city’s thriving Hotel Café songwriting scene. Within a year, she was working on her folk-jazz debut disc, “A Good Day,” with legendary drummer-producer Joey Waronker.
It was a perfect match, exemplified by the smoky, cabaret-cool cocktail of a single “Dream,” already an iTunes smash. She’ll hit the road again this fall, first as opener for Adele, then as part of the Hotel Café package tour with Rachael Yamagata and Ingrid Michaelson.
Has Ahn sent a CD to that crucial teacher yet? She laughs. “I just did, actually! And he wrote back saying, ‘Congratulations!’ It was very sweet,” she says. “And thank God he told me what he did, because two years ago I would’ve graduated, and I definitely would not be where I am right now.”
IF YOU GO
Priscilla Ahn, opening for Marc Broussard
WHERE: The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., San Francisco
WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday
TICKETS: $23 to $25
CONTACT: (415) 771-1422, (866) 468-3399, www.ticketweb.com