10-Year-Old Jazz Singer Doing It Her Way

10-year-old jazz singer
Photo by Janine Ngai

Lola Castellano has stunned crowds across Jersey City with her beautiful singing which brings old jazz standards back to the stage in a powerful way that’s rare to hear these days. Even more rare? Hearing that tone, energy, and impact straight out of the jazz era and from a 10-year-old girl!

While most modern 10-year-olds are playing Fortnite or watching YouTube slime tutorials, Lola, born with music in her blood and a love for jazz, would much rather put on an album and sing along to classics like “Pennies from Heaven” and “Autumn Leaves” in her kitchen. But singing for her parents alone is not enough for this driven middle schooler. Lola’s ready to make a name for herself in a big way as one of the youngest jazz singers out there, and to start, make a big impact on the city she calls home.

Singing Sinatra from the Start

The first time Lola remembers singing was when she was just over one years old, listening to Frank Sinatra’s “At Long Last Love” with her dad, David Castellano. It was like a game of fill in the blanks where David sang parts of the song and Lola chimed in with the rest. Even if she couldn’t understand or fully pronounce the words, Lola knew the sounds and was able to reproduce them easily from an early age.

“I sang before I could talk or walk or do anything,” said Lola. “Looking back, I knew in my heart, in that moment, that I had to sing when I grew up. I knew it was going to be my thing.”

10-year-old jazz singer
Lola speaking with EJC writer Colleen. Photo by Janine Ngai

Nine years later, Lola’s love of jazz has only grown and matured alongside her, with her top artists to perform being Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. Lola keeps her options open, however, and won’t pick favorites knowing there’s always something new for her to discover while digging through the family’s extensive record collection.

“It can never get old, that’s the thing,” said Lola. “The way it was sung back in the day was so beautiful, and you could do so much, like swing it or take it slow. A lot of music today sounds the same, so you lose so much of what makes a song special, but that’s not the case with jazz.”

For Lola, when deciding what to learn next, it’s all about what gives her the chills and making her audience feel those same chills too. But it’s not only the song selection that brings them goosebumps. When Lola opens her mouth to sing, the voice of a woman well beyond her decade is not what anyone expects to come out, but it does. Her age paired with a natural gift for pitch and melody, choice in genre, and being surrounded by music all her life gives her an edge that makes people stop and take notice.

Born with Music in Her Blood

Photo by Janine Ngai

Growing up, Lola has never known a day without music in her home, which she shares with her parents and two younger brothers near Downtown. Her parents, David, a professional flamenco guitarist and singer, and Laura, a professional flamenco dancer, perform and tour as FLAMENCOflavor are happy to see their oldest child following in their music-loving footsteps, though Lola’s drive and determination have always been all her own.

“When you see this kid at such a young age with that ability, you have to nurture and encourage it,” said David. “She had a very clear, very focused picture of what she wanted, and I don’t know many kids who know what they want to do at five or six years old. If you have that at a young age, there’s no stopping you. She’s serious business.”

Lola’s natural proclivity for jazz has also kept David on his toes with learning more jazz songs for guitar to keep up with his daughter. It’s an everyday activity for David to start playing as Lola instinctually joins him while continuing to go about her chores. Their relationship has evolved far beyond just father-daughter to a musician-to-musician dynamic, with David giving her pointers of how to interact with the band while on stage, booking gigs, and still making sure she’s in bed before 10:00 on a school night. Future plans include the pair collaborating and recording together, but right now, David happily assumes the role of proud dad on the side of the stage recording his daughter’s performances. While he admits that his nerves are through the roof whenever she first gets on stage, Lola couldn’t be more calm and comfortable with a microphone between her delicate hands.

Finding Her Place in Jazzy City

Having a passion is step one to success, but step two is finding an outlet to showcase that passion. Lola found that outlet about one year ago at Brightside Tavern’s Monday night jazz nights. Owner Tommy “Two Scoops” Parisi, a 20+ year resident of Jersey City and former Paulus Hook-based gelato store owner, expanded and opened Brightside in 2011. He brought a piano over from his home and started the weekly open-mic jazz nights seven years ago. Since then, 20-30 regulars – like the amazingly talented singers Wilma Ann and the legendary Mary Aiken – and “talented strays” gather every week for a jovial night of singing, dancing, and celebrating amazing musicians keeping the spirit of jazz alive.

“Mondays are strictly jazz nights. No one’s going to mess with that ever,” said Tommy. “We have a lot of characters, like Lola now … everyone comes in and jams because that’s what they do. This is therapy. It’s great for the soul.”

Photo by Janine Ngai

With the encouragement from her family, supporters, and the Jersey City jazz community behind her, Lola takes the stage on Monday nights with a confidence that’s hard to achieve for most adults, let alone a middle-schooler. Among the full-grown men playing instruments larger than her, it would be easy for Lola to get lost in the fray. However, the 4-foot-nothing, skinny blonde in a furry jacket does everything but fade away. When the song begins, she immediately has a presence much larger than herself that takes up space in a meaningful way. She moves deliberately, adding hand gestures to the lyrics, smiling as a voice with the timbre and growl of an older woman comes out of her surprisingly small body. Faces around the room look astonished as one woman sits with her mouth open while Lola gives her a literally jaw-dropping performance. Even with a Giants football game going on in the background, she doesn’t let cheering and yelling distract her as she dances and sings through her three songs, ending with applause that’s undeniably meant for her, not Eli Manning.

Having the jazz nights at Brightside has been a big help to Lola in getting practice and recognition for a genre not typically given a big platform anymore. It’s helped provide a sense of belonging that’s important not only to those just beginning to share their craft like Lola, but also to a young woman growing up and finding her place in the world.

“Now when I walk in Brightside, everyone is my friend,” said Lola. “When I go there, I feel acceptance, like they’re my family, for real.”

The Future of Kid Jive

10-year-old jazz singer
Photo by Janine Ngai

The life of this 10-year-old singer is a busy one between leading her school’s musical theater production of Frozen as Elsa, auditioning for singing and acting roles in NYC, practicing her songwriting, dreaming about performing with Billie Eilish someday, and of course, doing homework. With her drive and supportive parents, don’t be surprised when Lola’s name is in lights much sooner than later after following her friend Frank’s advice and doing it her way.

In addition to Brightside Tavern, you can catch Lola performing on January 1st at Headroom Bar & Social with Mary Aiken. For bookings or future performance announcements, you can follow and contact her directly on Instagram at @iamlolacastellano.