Interviews

HORN OF PLENTY - RISING JAZZ STAR JAZZMEIA HORN TALKS.

Friday, 09 June 2017 13:48 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

           alt            "Jazzmeia has one of the best voices I've heard in over 40 years" - Jon Hendricks

"My heart skipped a beat... I didn't know what to do. I was just kind of screaming for days." These are the words of JAZZMEIA HORN, arguably the most exciting new vocalist in jazz right now. She isn't recollecting a nerve-shredding nightmare or reliving a traumatic experience that changed her life but is explaining how she felt  when her producer, Chris Dunn, at Concord Records, told her that they were going to release her debut album, 'A Social Call,' on the re-launched Prestige imprint, one of the leading modern jazz labels of the 1950s and '60s. "I thought about Miles Davis and John Coltrane," continues 'Jazz' (as she's known to her friends and familiars), "who were both artists on Prestige. It was super-heavy thing being on Prestige so I didn't know how to carry myself...it was very exciting."

Just 26-years-old, Dallas-born Jazzmeia Horn shows an astonishing maturity on 'A Social Call,' channelling the spirit of classic horn-like vocalists like Sarah Vaughan (her idol) and Betty Carter but fusing those influences with her own contemporary style and sensibility to arrive at something that is simultaneously traditional and modern. She succeeds in marrying virtuosic skill with a soulful sensitivity, achieving a perfect union of technique and deep feeling. Her repertoire on the album ranges from straight-ahead swingers ('Tight' and 'I Remember You') and luminous ballads ('The Peacocks') to sanctified gospel-inflected soul-jazz numbers ('Moanin'' and a medley that includes 'Wade In The Water') to classic '70s R&B songs - the latter are represented by  a wonderful take on the Stylistics' Thom Bell and Linda Creed-written 'People Make The World Go Round,' and Rose Royce's Norman Whitfield-penned 'I'm Going Down' (which was also a '90s hit for Mary J Blige). What unites her disparate material is her supple, athletic voice combined with her unique storytelling abilities.

Accompanying Jazzmeia is an ace group of musicians, including bassist Ben Williams, pianist Victor Gould, drummer Jerome Jennings, and saxophonist, Stacy Dillard. Together, they make a beautiful and inspiring noise. The singer's deal with Concord (Prestige's parent company) was a direct result of her winning the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition - in fact, it was part of the prize, along with a cheque for $25,000.  

Two years on, and Jazzmeia Horn - who balances a music career with looking after her two young children - is beginning to make some noise internationally, thanks to her sensational debut album. The British public have a chance to see her in person in November when she will perform at Ronnie Scott's as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Here, she talks at length on a range of subjects with SJF's Charles Waring... 

Last Updated on Saturday, 17 June 2017 13:31

 

A JOURNEY OF SELF-DISCOVERY - QUINCY JONES' PROTEGE OLLIE HOWELL TALKS TO SJF ABOUT HIS NEW ALBUM 'SELF-IDENTITY'

Wednesday, 07 June 2017 13:00 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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"When I spend any time with him, I come away feeling this resurgent optimism for human beings." - Ollie Howell on Quincy Jones.

OLLIE HOWELL is a rising young talent of the UK jazz scene. He started out as a "sticks man" but eager to follow in the illustrious footsteps of drummer-composers like Max Roach, Paul Motian, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Cobham, and Terry Lyne Carrington before him, Howell also harboured aspirations to make his mark as a writer of music. He composed all of the material on his critically-lauded second long player, 'Self-Identity,' just released on the hip US label, Ropeadope, which features a dozen elegantly-wrought compositions played by the drummer's versatile and well-tuned sextet. It followed in the wake of his 2013 acclaimed debut, 'Sutures and Stitches,' a record whose title referred to the trials and tribulations that the drummer endured when he had to undergo several life-saving brain operations.       

Now fit and well again, 28-year-old Howell - whose desire to compose really began when he was recuperating in his hospital bed - has a fan and mentor in the shape of the venerable US record producer, Quincy Jones, 83, who describes the young in glowing terms: "he's an unbelievable drummer. So creative I couldn't believe it...he really is a 360-degree beautiful young cat."  The two met in Cardiff during 2009 when Jones received an honorary doctorate from the Royal Welsh College Of Music & Drama, where Howell, then 19, was studying. They became fast friends and kept in touch. Last year, in 2016, when Jones was set to unveil  his own jazz club called Q's in Dubai's Palazzo Versace Hotel, he invited Howell and his band to be the opening act with a week-long residency.

Howell was also the first recipient of the Sky Academy Arts Scholarship, which helped to kick-start his career, and also led him into the realm of composing TV and film music. Not content with that, the young drummer/composer has also appeared on the radio as a broadcaster, narrating Quincy Jones' life story.

Here, in an in-depth interview with SJF's Charles Waring, he talks about his new album in fine detail, reveals the influences that helped to shape his own musical identity and the warm friendship that he enjoys with Quincy Jones...

 

Last Updated on Friday, 09 June 2017 11:58

 

DARING TO BE DIFFERENT - JASON MILES TALKS ABOUT 'BLUE IS PARIS'

Friday, 02 June 2017 11:01 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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"There's an art to making an album and it's a craft that is totally lost," opines JASON MILES, who laments the fact that we are living in the age of the digital download. The 65-year-old native New Yorker grew up in an age when the LP format was king and came through the ranks in the Big Apple session scene in the '70s and '80s, rising from keyboard programmer to record producer. "I am a real producer," he states. "I spent 15 years in the New York studios as an apprentice doing synthesiser work for Luther Vandross and Marcus Miller but I was also learning in that period also about being a producer and what it really takes and how you make an album. So I learned the craft and one of my strong points is that I learned is how to make everybody sound like they're in the same room, even though they're not. That's something that I've learnt and all my records feel like that. They feel like we're all playing together. That's very important to me to give it a kind of sense."

Miles is intensely loquacious and brimming with energy - "keep asking questions because I can riff forever," he tells me - and is a musician who has worn many different guises in his long career. They range from producer, recording artist and composer to arranger, synthesiser programmer and session musician. He learned his craft from the some of the biggest and best names in the business, including a jaw-droppingly talented Holy Trinity comprising the great Miles Davis, the late Tommy LiPuma and super-soulful singer Luther Vandross. They've all passed on, of course, but they left an indelible mark on Miles and undoubtedly helped to make him the man and musician he is today.

The Big Apple-based musician has appeared on countless albums over the years and worked with the finest talents from worlds of jazz and R&B music. As well as appearing on albums by Luther and Miles Davis - he worked on the iconic trumpeter's late-'80s albums, 'Tutu' and 'Amandla' - he's worked with Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, David Sanborn, Al Jarreau, Anita Baker, George Benson, Grover Washington Jr, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, and Michael Jackson. It's a impressive CV, charting Miles' rise from pioneering synthesiser programmer to go-to, in-demand record producer. As a producer, Miles is famed for putting together critically-acclaimed tribute albums  (namely 'Miles To Miles,' 'Celebrating The Music Of Weather Report,' 'To Grover, With Love,' and 'A Love Affair: The Music Of Ivan Lins') and more recently, helmed a track on Maysa Leak's new Shanachie album, 'Love Is A Battlefield.'  

He's also released a steady stream of albums under his own name over the years and his latest project is 'Kind Of New 2 - Blue Is Paris,' a unique album that offers ten different instrumental configurations of a song that the keyboardist/producer wrote in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attack in November 2015. It features notable guest appearances from trumpeters Theo Croker, Michael 'Patches' Stewart, Jukka Escola, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, guitarist Ricardo Silveira and singer, Maya Azucena.

In a detailed interview with SJF's Charles Waring, JASON MILES talks at length about 'Blue Is Paris' and also recalls other aspects of his career, including his work with the legendary Miles Davis...

Last Updated on Monday, 05 June 2017 20:53

 

COMING FULL CIRCLE - NIKKA COSTA GOES BACK TO HER ROOTS

Sunday, 28 May 2017 09:25 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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"It was all downhill from there," says NIKKA COSTA, who follows this self-effacing, tongue-in-cheek, statement with a loud, raucous cackle. Witty, engaging and smart, she projects a vivacious personality that is without any hint of pretentiousness - evidenced by a combination of self-deprecation and  frequent laughter, signs of someone totally at ease with themselves. She's laughing loudly because she's reminiscing about the time that she performed with one of the bona fide legends and icons of 20th century music - none other than Frank Sinatra. It was 1981 and Nikka, then just nine, sang a duet with the 66-year-old crooner. "It was crazy. We did a charity function that (then First Lady) Nancy Reagan was doing for grandparents being able to adopt and be like foster grandparents," explains Nikka. "We actually recorded a single for the charity, 'To Love A Child,' and then we performed it on the White House lawn."

But Nikka wasn't just some lucky local kid plucked from obscurity just for the day. While Sinatra's career was on the wane at the time, hers was rising. And fast. She was already a star in Europe, where her version of 'On My Own' from the musical, Fame, had topped the charts in three countries, while its parent album ('Nikka Costa') went Platinum in Spain. It helped, of course, that her dad was Sinatra's go-to arranger, Don Costa - who had worked with 'Ol' Blues Eyes' on several recording projects, including the classic album, 'My Way' - but it wasn't just a case of 'keep-it-in-the family'-style nepotism: the truth was that young Domenica Costa actually possessed a prodigious musical talent and a pair of lungs beyond her tender years.

Fast forward thirty-six years and Nikka, now 44, has successfully made the difficult transition from precocious-talented child star to credible adult performer. She found her niche serving up funk and soul-infused platters in the early noughties but now releases an album that takes her back to the days of her youth and conjures up vivid memories of her father and Frank Sinatra. It's called 'Nikka & Strings - Underneath And Between' and its musical keystone is a vintage standard that has a strong Sinatra association. The song is Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's  'Come Rain Or Come Shine' written in 1946 and significantly, adapts a string arrangement that Nikka's father originally wrote for the 'Chairman of the Board' many years ago. Combining elegant jazz sophistication with Nikka's powerful, soul-drenched voice results in a compelling musical drama that sets the tone for the rest of the LP,  which includes striking renditions of both vintage and more recent material. Helmed by Nikka's husband, Justin Stanley, with noted rock producer Bob Clearmountain, the album's songs range from jazz standards ('Stormy Weather') and '60s soul sides (Solomon Burke's 'Cry To Me' and Marvin Gaye's 'Ain't That Peculiar')  to tunes by Prince ('Nothing Compares 2 U') and Jeff Buckley ('Lover You Should Have Come Over'). Some of Nikka's own songs are also present, among them 'Love To Love You Less' - a bluesy ballad from her 2008 Stax album, 'Pebble To A Pearl' -  along with 'Headfirst,' and 'Silver Tongue,' the latter a song that she co-wrote with Prince that he released as a B-side in 2004.

A radical stylistic departure, 'Nikka & Strings' finds the big-voiced Japan-born singer ("my mum was nine months pregnant when she went to the Tokyo Music Festival with my dad," she reveals) morphing into a bluesy song siren with a jazzy side. Here, the chameleonic chanteuse talks in depth to SJF's Charles Waring about her latest studio venture and reflects on her life and music during a long career that remarkably stretches back almost forty years...

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 11:40

 

SIDEMAN TO RICH MAN - DOYLE BRAMHALL II REVEALS HIS SPIRITUAL SIDE

Monday, 22 May 2017 19:00 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Scruffily hirsute, slightly dishevelled, and sporting a look that some might call Bohemian Chic, 48-year-old DOYLE BRAMHALL II appears every inch the archetypal rock star. Except that he's not - or at least not quite yet. But that situation could change if his new album, 'Rich Man,' gets the exposure it deserves. He's been a diligent session-guitarist-for-hire for many years - he's played with everyone from Eric Clapton, Elton John, Sheryl Crow, Roger Waters and Willie Nelson to Bettye LaVette, Meshell Ndegeocello and Erykah Badu - but now, after putting his own career on the backburner for well over a decade, he's intent on establishing himself as a solo artist.

Bramhall is the son of the late Doyle Bramhall Sr, a songwriter and drummer who played with blues maven Stevie Ray Vaughan. He first made his mark in the late '80s when he spent two years serving an apprenticeship on the road in Jimmy Vaughan's band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He then became part of a cult Texas blues band called Arc Angels in the early '90s and then released his first solo album in 1996, followed by 'Jellycream,' two years later. It wasn't until 2001 when Doyle released his third LP, 'Welcome,'  a searing blues-rock outing, that he really made some noise.  

21 years later comes his Concord debut LP, 'Rich Man,' which shows Dallas-born Bramhall to be a gifted, thoughtful singer/songwriter as well as a talented fretboardist with a penchant for soulful, blues-infused material. The album ranges from searing, earthy funk - 'Mama Can't Help You,' featuring the legendary R&B sticks man, James Gadson - to brassy R&B ('November'), atmospheric blues covers (Jimi Hendrix's 'Hear My Train A Comin''), African-tinged grooves ('Saharan Crossing')  and deeper, long-form conceptual pieces ('The Samanas,' a tri-part suite). Norah Jones also lends her velvet tones to the aching acoustic ballad, 'New Faith.'

On this evidence, then, he is certainly a man of many different musical facets, and they all glint brightly on 'Rich Man,' a well-wrought album that deserves to find a wide and appreciative audience. The fact that the guitarist is about to appear at London's Royal Albert Hall for three night this week as Eric Clapton's support act (on 22nd, 24th and 25th of May) will certainly help in familiarising the public at large with his name and music. Bramhall is also due to play at London's Under The Bridge venue as a headliner on Saturday 27th May as part of his first European tour.

SJF's Charles Waring recently caught up with the affable Texas troubadour, who talks in depth about his new recording and sheds light on his influences, history and what he likes to do when he's not focusing on music...

Last Updated on Monday, 22 May 2017 19:44

 

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