One of Jenna Camille’s first musical memories is learning to sing “You Gotta Be,” the 1994 smash hit by Des’ree, at 4 years old. “My mom tells me I was all over the house singing it,” says the 27-year-old singer-songwriter. “That was the first song I fell in love with.” It certainly influenced Camille, and not just musically: Its hook — “You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser” — is a message of self-confidence that Camille clearly took to heart.
Camille, a classically trained pianist who attended Washington’s esteemed Duke Ellington School of the Arts and studied at the New Sewell Music Conservatory, has been playing in and around the District for a few years. Her music is a heady mix of R&B with elements of jazz, hip-hop and electronic music, and it evokes the anything-goes apotheosis of neo-soul.
In 2014, she released “RED,” converting all the “pent-up frustration” of a breakup into an album that sublimates animosity and passion into sultry, syrupy jams. “It was all about me and this guy, and I was kinda lost,” Camille recalls of the relationship, which started in high school. “It was that super-critical point from your teenage life to your adulthood: This is the defining moment for you, and it slips from under you, so you don’t really know who you are anymore.”
After a period of “spiritual exploration” during which she studied religion and began meditating, Camille was able to re-center herself. “I got to know who I was,” she says. “It gave me the space to make my own path that I could feel confident about.”
That confidence illuminates her latest material, such as the frisky, funky “Up & Down.” Just don’t expect to hear the song as recorded when you see Camille in concert: Thanks to her improvisational jazz background, she favors spontaneity over the routine. “It’s about feeling what you’re expressing in the moment,” she says. “My style is, what can we do tonight? How can we make it happen tonight?”
Show: March 26 at 6 p.m. at U Street Music Hall. $15.