Grant Hehr, an independent music producer who records out of his Elmhurst home, first heard Annalee Hooson's music at the French Market in Wheaton.
"It's something that needed to be recorded," Hehr said.
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Now Hooson, a 19-year-old singer and guitarist from Carol Stream who recently returned from a year in Los Angeles, has just finished her first demo record with Hehr's help.
Hooson sings with a raw, folk quality inspired by her latest music idol, Esperanza Spalding. The recent Grammy winner for best new artist influences Hooson's style when she improvises around the melodies in her songs.
Like Spalding, Hooson takes her music very seriously.
"When I was in California, they wanted the Katy Perry pop thing from me," explained Hooson. "I'm more about the music. I don't want to be on 'American Idol.' I don't want people to forget me in 10 years."
This could explain why Hooson, whose father was a musician and grandmother was a cabaret singer, says her music is for ages 8 to 80.
"I want to bring back the old, real music," she said. "I want to bring back the old with a new flare."
Hooson has been playing the guitar and singing since she was 9 years old and first heard a Joni Mitchell album. She played a lot of folk until she discovered jazz.
"Jazz was so hard," she said. "But that's why I wanted to play. I love the uniqueness of the chords."
Hooson's new album has traces of both jazz and folk.
After graduating from Wheaton Academy in 2009, Hooson went to Zambia with World Bicycle Relief, where she was touched by people's passion for music.
"The kids loved music so much, they made their guitars by hand," Hooson said. "I remember giving my guitar to a kid there before I left."
That fall, Hooson moved to California where she worked at a retail store that supports artists and played music in bars, and then recently returned to Chicago.
"Chicago is my favorite city," Hooson explained. "It's classy but not overbearing."
Nick Thibault, a jazz musician who played with Hooson in California, described her voice as having "a polished vibe, but not over the top."
"She has a comfortable, at-home sound," Thibault said, "but she is a good musician, too."
Now Hooson is looking for a label and a band to continue her singing. In the meantime, she will be playing at markets, outdoor venues and weddings throughout the summer, including two upcoming gigs at Chicago's French Market April 15 and 29 at the Ogilvie Transportation Center.
"It's easy to get discouraged," Hooson said when asked what she will be doing in the future. "But, I'm going to sing for the rest of my life. I don't believe in backup plans."