Interviews

LIVING THE DREAM - R&B SENSATION BETTE SMITH TALKS

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 08:08 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Bette Smith is talking excitedly to me from Rome, Italy, where she's been shooting a promotional video for her next single, 'I Found Love.'  There's a palpable frisson of wonderment in her caramel-smooth voice as she describes going to visit one of the Eternal City's most famous historical sites, the Colosseum,  earlier in the day.  "It's such a mind blowing experience," she enthuses. "It was surreal to be inside of the Colosseum. There's so much history, so much architecture here." She adds with a self-deprecating chuckle: "This is a Brooklyn girl that has never been to Rome before so it's such a wonderful experience. I'm really getting deep into the tradition and culture."

Bette's Italian sojourn reflects the fact that she's opened a new chapter in her life. She had toiled as a receptionist for many years in her native Brooklyn while doing music as a sideline - but now, thanks to producer Jimbo Mathus, who discovered her, and Big Legal Mess Records, who signed her, being a professional singer - her childhood dream - is now the main focus of her life. "It's a very beautiful, Cinderella story," laughs Bette, reflecting on how her life has changed for the good in the last year. Bette admits that she almost gave up music but was persuaded to continue by her late older brother, Junior, who "got very sick with kidney failure" and on his deathbed "told me that I should not give up my childhood dream of becoming a singer."

Last Updated on Friday, 02 February 2018 11:09

 

Just what the Doctor ordered! A surgery with Hammond hero DR LONNIE SMITH

Friday, 26 January 2018 09:22 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

             altDr. Lonnie Smith remembers vividly that he experienced what can only be called a life-changing epiphany when he first sat down at a Hammond B3 organ. It was in a music shop owned by a man called Art Kubera. Smith was in his early twenties. "You know when you open up a Bible, and you see that they have a picture sometimes with the rays coming from the sky?," the organist asks me. "That's what it was like for me. I was sitting at the organ and then everything hit me, and I could hear the voices and everything."

 For Smith, it was confirmation that playing the Hammond organ was going to be his manifest destiny. He started going to Mr Kubera's shop everyday to practice on the keyboard from opening to closing time. The proprietor didn't seem to mind but one day, intrigued by Smith's perseverance, asked him about his fascination with the big, chunky piece of musical equipment in his shop. Recalls Dr. Smith: "He said, 'can I ask you a question, son?' I said 'yes, sir,' and he said, 'why do you come in every day and just sit until closing time?' I said 'well, sir, I want to learn to play the instrument and if I can go out and play it, I can make a living.'" Smith recalls that seemed to make a deep impression with Mr Kubera who a few days later, closed up the shop early, beckoned the young organ grinder to the back of the store where "he opened a door and the organ was looking dead at me. He said, 'if you get this out of here, it's yours.'"

Smith, who was born in the city of Lackawanna, New York,  was incredulous at Art Kubera's generosity. "I didn't pay anything for it, and they were like over three grand back then," he says. "I call Art Kubera my angel.  He watched my whole career. He just passed, a little over a year ago. We were doing a documentary on me and he died the next day before he even got to tell a story."

Last Updated on Friday, 26 January 2018 15:21

 

"As long as I'm breathing, I'll be making albums!" - Saxophone sensation David Murray talks to SJF

Wednesday, 24 January 2018 12:09 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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"I'm definitely old school, man," confesses David Murray, though it's not an admission that you expect to hear coming from this particular saxophonist's lips, especially one who's been in the vanguard of the avant-garde jazz scene for over forty years. But then again, Murray, even during his most fiercely iconoclastic sonic experiments of the late '70s, never sought to distance himself from the jazz tradition. Indeed, his tremendously varied discography - where edgy free jazz projects sit comfortably alongside cooking straight ahead sessions as well as outpourings of funk, Latin, and blues - offers ample proof that the saxophonist with the blowtorch technique does not exist in isolation in a category of his own but rather, is firmly part of the cultural and musical heritage that produced  heavyweight horn blowers like his forbears Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.

When Murray released his debut album, 'Flowers For Albert,' on the small India Navigation label in 1976, few could have predicted, perhaps, that this seemingly unassuming Oakland-born proponent of avant-garde jazz would rapidly rise to become the pre-eminent tenor saxophonist of his generation and go on to win a Grammy award and bag a Guggenheim fellowship as well as be the recipient of other notable accolades (including being named Village Voice's 'Musician of the Decade' in 1980).

One of the things that initially got Murray noticed was the sheer volume of work he was getting through back then - between 1976 and 1979, he released sixteen albums, and in the following decade he racked up a further twenty-six LPs in a frenzied flurry of recording activity for a variety of labels. But it wasn't a case of quantity triumphing over quality - Murray was a genuinely fecund fount of inspiration and creativity, who could play with anyone and in any format (be it duos, trios, quartets, quintets, octets or even big bands and string orchestras). His versatility and the sheer scope of his musical endeavours, as well as his prodigious technique, which incorporating circular breathing,  was breathtaking.

Stylistically, too, Murray resisted pigeonholing. Though he was categorised by some as a radical avant-gardist indebted to 60s icons, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp, Murray's music could be often be very accessible.  Though free jazz seemed his natural and preferred metier, he was also convincingly fluent in bop - he made some great straight ahead albums for CBS in the early '90s - and later, as his career blossomed, he explored the music of Africa and Cuba as well as funk and blues. His last studio outing, 2015's 'Be My Monster Love' was arguably Murray's most mainstream-friendly opus yet, featuring vocal cameos from Macy Gray and Gregory Porter, which helped to take the saxophonist's music to a new audience. 

Though he's not as prolific as he used to be, Murray is still releasing albums on a regular basis and the latest addition to his canon is 'Blues For Memo,' his third for Motema.  What's different this time around is that the saxophonist has teamed up with the wordsmith who is dubbed hip-hop's poet laureate, Saul Williams, for a unique fusion of jazz improv and the spoken word. It has resulted in a stunning twelve-song album whose high spots are plentiful. There's an almost palpable synergy created by the juxtaposition of Murray's probing saxophone with Williams' trenchant, staccato delivery.

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 January 2018 15:56

 

Trusting her instincts - Canadian jazz sensation Laila Biali talks!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018 07:58 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Canada's undisputed queen of jazz is the multi-Grammy-winning and multi-Platinum-selling Diana Krall but the 52-year-old singer from Nanaimo now has serious competition in her homeland in the shape of a young Vancouver-born female singer of whom a certain Gordon Sumner - that's Sting to you and me - described as "an exciting and unique talent," adding, "I admire her greatly." And Sting should know, as he's worked with the young woman in question.  Her name is LAILA BIALI and she sings and plays the piano. But that's where the comparisons with Diana Krall end. Unlike Krall, Laila doesn't sing standards and instead, prefers to write most of her own material. She does the occasional cover, but, as her new self-titled album  on ACT Records reveals, they're not what you'd expect from a singer who, for the sake of easy categorisation, is usually pigeonholed as jazz singer. But that description patently doesn't do her justice, especially after you've had a listen to her new album. It's a twelve-song set that reveals 37-year-old Laila Biali as a multi-faceted artist whose singular style defies neat classification and effortlessly straddles jazz and pop.

For Laila, the album is a culmination of what she's been doing during the last fifteen years. In that time she admits to having explored different roads and contrasting styles but now they've all led her to a point where she's finally discovered her real self in musical terms. "Basically over the course of ten-plus years, I've been exploring what my voice is as a musician," she says, explaining the back-story to her ACT debut. "I was raised a classical pianist but I've been singing all my life just for fun, the way that we all do. I started singing a little more seriously later on in my life when I'd injured my right arm. So voice, composition and arranging became really primary voices in terms of my artistic expression because I didn't have the full capacity of my arms. So that's how they got mixed in."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 January 2018 18:00

 

SHE'S WORTH IT - UK-BASED US SINGER/SONGWRITER JUDI JACKSON TALKS

Wednesday, 06 December 2017 14:39 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

        altFrom the city of Roanoke in south west Virginia you can clearly see the smoky-hued Blue Ridge Mountains which encircle it, rising majestically in the distance. It provides a picturesque rural backcloth that contrasts with the high-rise urban structures and shimmering neon signs of a busy modern American metropolis that boasts one of the best concert halls in Virginia - the Jefferson Center, a former high school converted into a state of the art performance space that plays host to classical, jazz, and pop concerts. It was there in 2007 that a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl called Judi Jackson who dreamed of being a performer - herself a Roanoke native - had a serendipitous meeting with jazz trumpet maestro, Wynton Marsalis, after a show he did.  "I met him there and he sent me some music afterwards," recalls the young singer, now 24, who has since relocated to London, a mere 3,800 miles away from her hometown. Wishing to encourage young Judi's aspirations to be a singer, Marsalis mailed a collection of music to her as a Christmas gift and it transformed her life. "He really changed the way that I heard music and thought about music," she reveals. "I studied it academically and really intensely. I learned about Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Mahalia Jackson, and lots of lovely artists."

Seven years after that - on January 31st 2014 to be precise - Judi, then 19, actually got to perform at the Jefferson Center in the Shaftman Performance Hall alongside US jazz/funk/soul aggregation Snarky Puppy. She performed who own song, 'Only You,'  accompanied by the band's leader, Michael League, on acoustic guitar, and keyboardist, Bill Laurance. But being something of a restless soul, eventually Judi's trajectory took her to the United Kingdom, where she now lives. She's about to launch her career as a recording artist with a classy 7-track EP called 'Blame It On My Youth.' It's been causing quite a stir in soul music circles thanks to the killer track, 'Worth It,' which has already notched up 40,000 hits on Spotify. It's a real earworm and features Judi's beguiling ethereal vocal floating on an irresistible, Maxwell-like groove driven by a sinuous bass line.

'Worth It' is a song written from personal experience and whose theme is perseverance and hope triumphing over despair - ultimately, a case of love conquering all. Explaining her song's message, she says: "I struggle with social anxiety sometimes and it's something that people don't always want to talk about, because they're ashamed. They think they're alone and they're the only ones that feel that way but I know that there are other people that are dealing with it as well, so I'm curious to just put this song out there to support each other and say love will keep us hopeful so keep going, it's worth it; you're not alone and you can make it."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 December 2017 16:14

 

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