Interview with Roya Naldi: Both intellect and soul are necessary for make affecting, beautiful, and meaningful music: Video

Jazz interview with jazz singer Roya Naldi. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Roya Naldi: – I grew up in a suburb of Seattle, WA. I never played music when I was young, besides the one year of piano lessons I took when I was about 7, but loved to listen. I grew up listening to what my parents liked- the Beatles, The Police, Ziggy Marley, Kraftwerk- and as I got older discovered that I enjoyed jazz. I was into swing era jazz early on but discovered, as I heard earlier recordings from the 1920s and 1930s, that I liked classic jazz a lot more. The energy, wildness, and often romantic songs captivated me. I felt like I had finally found the music that truly resonated with me! I’d found “it.” I didn’t know I was looking for it, but once I heard Al Bowlly croon “The Very Thought Of You” on the 1934 Pathe film I was hooked on classic jazz.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

RN: – I started out singing with the goal of sounding authentic to the 1920s and early 1930s tunes I sing. I’d say that over time my sound has evolved to be ever more authentic in the classic jazz style, incorporating the many nuances that singers exemplified back then. I always push to have better tone, more inventive phrasing, and my voice is always growing to be more refined and controlled. In order to develop my sound my most valuable asset has been my ear. I’ve done a lot of listening to original recordings of the classic jazz I perform and that has been invaluable. How am I supposed to sound authentic to the time if I don’t know what the singers of the day sounded like? I have a good ear, so I can pick up on musical subtleties pretty quickly and I do my best to use those singers’ stylistic flairs in my own personal way. Authenticity is important to me, and by incorporating the beautiful techniques and styles that singers used in the 1920s and 30s I can mesh with the era while still being myself! Performing has of course helped my sound develop as well. It gives me an outlet to express myself musically and has allowed me to become more comfortable with how I sound and, if recorded, listen back and hear what I do/don’t like in my own voice. I’m not my own critic in a negative way, because by listening to myself with an open mind I allow myself to hear flaws and improve them. On the other hand, by listening back with a critical ear I have heard things I like and know what to continue doing!

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

RN: – Listen, listen, listen! That’s huge for me. Being someone who sings a very nuanced, niche, specific style of jazz it’s very important for me to remain inspired by the style of music I perform and keep falling in love with it. As I listen, I become almost greedy and always discover new songs I want to learn and perform. So, learning these new songs builds off my current musical ability and expands it. New melodies, feels, notes, they all vary song-to-song and it’s a welcome challenge to learn each one! Some songs, especially in the 1920s, have very bizarre, counterintuitive melodies which challenge my voice and push my limits. Nailing every note and keeping my pitch balanced takes control and intention, which helps me grow as a singer. A lot of songs also require a larger vocal range than I am used to as well so practicing those before I perform them, making every pitch perfect, is another welcome challenge.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

RN: – Preventing these influences is actually quite easy for me. I’m so obsessed with 1920s and 30s jazz that I very rarely listen to anything else. However unusual it may sound, I don’t even have a desire to sing other genres of music. Hence, I’m very thoroughly steeped in the sound I’m going for and am not really concerned with being influenced by other vocal styles. I know what I love and I stick to it, for better or worse!

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

RN: – To prepare before a performance I don’t really have much of a routine. Unlike many singers, I don’t have a set vocal warmup to prepare myself.  I used to, and I found my vocal endurance was greatly reduced because of the pre-gig activity. Therefore, my little bit of preparation before a performance is usually a sip of water, some humming, a quick hair combing, and I’m good to go!

JBN: – Ism is culled from a variety of lives dates with various performers over the course of a few years. Did your sound evolve during that time? And how did you select the musicians who play on the album? 

RN: – I chose the Chicago Cellar Boys band, made up of Andy Schumm, Paul Asaro, John Otto, Natalie Scharf, John Danatowicz, and Dave Bock, to play on “A Night in June” because, truly, they are the most amazing band in this jazz style that I’ve ever worked with. Of course I wanted to record with them! It was only natural to choose that group also because I perform with them on a regular basis here in Chicago and we have experience working together. Having the bonus additions of Ethan Adelsman on violin and Hal Smith on drums was a special treat, giving the band a more lush, rich sound with the addition of their talents. Ethan is also local to Chicago and does a wonderful job on violin, creating an beautiful, romantic feel to the songs that he’s featured on. Hal Smith was so adamant and excited about being the drummer on “A Night in June” that he drove all the way from Arkansas to record with us! Hal is extremely passionate about classic jazz and has such a deep knowledge of the music. He is such a wonderful person and incredible drummer and I’m so honored to have had him on “A Night in June.”

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul

RN: – I would say that there is a constant push-pull between intellect and soul when it comes to music.  I think both are needed for music to be good, but they must be balanced, and that balance changes genre to genre. Music that is pure intellect is perhaps technically impressive but it can be mathematical and stale. When it comes to expressing soulfulness in music though you need that intellect in order to present emotional ideas. The more you know about ‘how’ to play, or the nuances of your instrument, the better and more effectively it can be used to present desired ideas. Both intellect and soul are necessary for make affecting, beautiful, and meaningful music.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

RN: – I think it’s important to always remember that you are playing for an audience and, to a certain extent, give them what they want. Reading the room correctly and choosing which tunes to play next, and how to play them, based on that keeps the audience engaged and interested. If you play an energetic, exciting tune at some point, it’s important to think, “Does the audience want another peppy tune or should we slow it down?” I make those decisions based on how the room feels and what the audience silently communicates. Nevertheless, as an artist I realize that the audience is there to hear me and the music I have to offer. Therefore, I should perform the material I choose to and in my own way because that is what the audience is there to see! However, keeping those I’m performing for in mind makes for a better, more interactive, and overall more enjoyable show for everybody!

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like toshare with us? 

RN: – The first gig that made me consider moving to Chicago was at Honky Tonk BBQ to perform with the Chicago Cellar Boys in January 2018. I was living in St. Louis at the time and met Andy Schumm, the Cellar Boys’ bandleader, there a month or so earlier. He invited me to perform in Chicago with the band and I was so excited to accept! I’d known about that group of musicians for a while, all of whom are also a part of the Fat Babies jazz band, and thought they were some of the best players I’d ever heard. I still think that! It was a bit of a rough trip getting to Chicago as I almost missed my train there, rolled my ankle walking onto the train so painfully that I could barely stand on the bandstand for the performance that night, and even missed my train home! However, performing with the band at Honky Tonk made it all worth it. It was a wonderful musical experience and the hang afterwards was legendary. It was great to spend that time with a group of such talented musicians who were just as passionate about classic jazz as I was. I felt so accepted, appreciated, and got to nerd out about this niche style of jazz that we were all into. A couple months later, Andy Schumm invited me back to Chicago to perform with the Chicago Cellar Boys at Honky Tonk BBQ again, as well as the legendary Green Mill Cocktail Lounge with the Fat Babies band. Again, I had an amazing experience at both gigs and, at that time, felt like it was some of the best music I’d ever been a part of. This series of gigs allowed me the time to get to know the jazz scene here in Chicago as well as spend some time in the city. I fell in love with both the city and the scene, so in May of 2018 I decided to make the move from St. Louis to Chicago.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old? 

RN: – I think a lot of young people would like jazz, the vintage jazz I do included, if they had the chance to hear it more often. I’m in my 20s and I love jazz; to me it is timeless. Just because the songs are old doesn’t mean they’re obsolete. The lyrics of the songs don’t lose their potency, as they tell stories about heartbreak, love, nature, parties, etc. which are all subjects everyone can relate to! Instrumentally, the music is dynamic and interesting. I’d say if modern clubs and bars started playing more jazz, people, even young people, would be into it because of that timeless appeal.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and themeaning of life?

RN: – I don’t think there’s one universal meaning to life, per se, but I do think that every person has to decide for themselves what they want out of life. To me, it’s important to do what I love and use for an artistic outlet, doing it as best I can. Those pursuits that I put my heart and soul into, music being one of them, have always ended up being extremely satisfying and meaningful. I say do what you love, put the effort in, and it’ll be worthwhile.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

RN: – That’s a tough question. The first thing that comes to mind would be that i wish classic jazz was more popular! It’s such beautiful, unique style of music that I’m sure many people would fall in love with if they just had the chance to hear it.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

RN: – These days I’m listening to a lot of Jimmie Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra. Jimmie Noone is one of my favorite Chicago jazz reed players from the jazz age. I really enjoy how dynamically plays the clarinet. He has a very emotional sound and bends notes in such a way that make it very reminiscent to how a vocalist sings. He was an extremely expressive musician and I’ve been focusing a lot on his music lately.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

RN: – I try to bring more of a ‘feeling’ rather than a ‘message’ through my music. I hope to bring a romantic, moody, deeply energetic feeling. I want people to hear my music and be struck by its drama and the heavy emotion interwoven in the songs’ lyrics and melodies.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

RN: – This one is easy: I’d want to go to Chicago in 1930, find whatever hotel or club the Frank Sylvano is singing at, and spend the evening attentively listening. Frank Sylvano is my favorite singer of all time. He sang and recorded in Chicago in the 1920s and ‘30s with some incredible bands of the era and has the most emotional, beautiful, smooth vocal style. It would mean more than I can express to hear him perform live!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Cellar Boys with Roya Naldi @ Phil Pospychala's "A Tribut to Bix", Racine, WI, March 10, Final Set. - YouTube

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