June 17, 2024


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An interview with Emilie-Claire Barlow: I think the word jazz can scare people off – but really it covers … Video

Jazz interview with jazz singer Emilie – Claire Barlow. An interview by email in writing.

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

Emilie-Claire Barlow: – I was born in Toronto. Both of my parents are musicians. My mother is a singer and my father, a drummer. They were ‘first-call’ session musicians in the 70’a and 80’s which was an incredibly busy time for recording in Toronto, jingles, albums. They worked all day, every day! I grew up around music and musicians, and spent a large chunk of my childhood in recording studios. I learned to read music around the same time I learned to read words. Music has always been a huge part of my life.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the jazz vocal?

ECB: – I would say that my interest in jazz blossomed when I was in high school. I went to an arts school and majored in music theatre. So I became more familiar with the standards that came from music theatre. I also started listening to Holly Cole Trio, and was heavily influenced by the way that they re-invented standards.

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the jazz vocal?

ECB: – I never had any formal private training, vocally. High school was a time of learning a lot of repertoire, as was college. In college, I would say that my most influential vocal teacher was Lisa Martinelli. I was in her jazz choir, and we had a lot of very important assignments, such as learning instrumental solos from the Kind of Blue album. Those tasks really helped me develop my voice. But I mostly learn by doing. I learn by listening to the best (Ella, Bobby McFerrin, Stevie Wonder, Rosa Passos) emulating what they do, and then finding my own voice.

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

ECB: – My sound has evolved in several ways. My voice has deepened as I’ve matured, and though it remains a generally pure sounding voice, there is more texture to it now than there was in my 20s. I can hear the evolution of my approach to a song emotionally as well. I’ve simply had more life experiences, so there is a deeper well to draw from when telling a story.

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

ECB: – I don’t have any regular routines, but I recently did a series of videos that explain the process of keeping my voice in shape. You can find them on my YouTube channel in the playlist ECB Voice. Basically, I sing along with other artists to work on certain aspects of my voice. I may focus on vibrato control by singing along with Dan Timinsky from the bluegrass group Alison Krauss & Union Station. He sings with absolutely no vibrato. Or I might sing along with vocal group Take 6 to work on tuning and control by singing an inner part. With respect to rhythm specifically, there is an example where I am singing along with Brazilian vocalist/guitarist Rosa Passos, who has the hippest rhythmic phrasing.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

ECB: – Well, I really love the Lydian scale. Also,  I’ve noticed that in the last 2 albums, I’ve used more open harmony – no 3rds. In terms of my approach to arranging – I’m very bass line driven. I love to write bass lines, and they are often the starting point of an arrangement. And in terms of song structure,  I’ve been incorporating more ‘pop’ sensibilities into my arrangements such as a verse-chorus structure, as opposed to a more ‘standard’ AABA style. Another trick is to take a verse of a song and turn it into a bridge section. Of course, that’s not my idea. I first heard that done by Marty Paich – but it’s fun to play around with structure like that. Or tag a bridge to the end of the song, like an epilogue. (we did that in Midnight Sun)

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

ECB: – I think the best advice I could give is to really take this seriously as a job. Don’t ever be waiting for the phone to ring. Get up early every morning and start working. Work all day. Eat lunch at your desk! Create opportunities for yourself – and for others around you. Apply for grants, send your music everywhere, start a band, make videos, turn your apartment into a music venue. Be creative and don’t take no for an answer.  Be determined. Be a squeaky wheel.  Also – Own all your masters. Own all of your product always. Maintain control.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

ECB: – Of course! It’s the same music business. I think the main difference between the jazz music business and the pop music business is that a jazz artist can sometimes have a longer career because age is not as much of a factor. – it might be a longer slower burn in terms of a career.  Of course I’m generalizing and there are plenty of exceptions everywhere.

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

ECB: – There are a lot of older tunes for sure, but in terms of the state of jazz at this moment, I feel like there is more focus on new(er) repertoire actually. There are a lot more modern ‘songbooks’ now.. Many modern jazz artists are writing their own material and/or revisiting popular songs from more recent decades. In my repertoire, I would point to my “The Beat Goes On” and “Clear Day” albums as examples of this. I think jazz festivals are important. Or music festivals in general. Festivals provide an opportunity for people to get a taste of music that they might not seek out on their own. It’s like a sampler platter.  I’ve often had people come up to me after a festival show and say “ I didn’t think I liked jazz! – but I really love your music”. I think the word ‘jazz’ can scare people off – but really it covers such a wide range of music. I’m never upset when Jazz festivals include non-jazz acts. It gives everyone an opportunity to broaden their audiences.

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

ECB: – I’m going to have to get back to you on that one! Haha!

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

ECB: – I hope to continue making music. I hope that streaming and platforms like YouTube will offer musicians fair compensation in order to sustain a career.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

ECB: – Right at this moment, my head and my heart are with my newest album Lumières d’hiver. I’m getting ready to go on a 27 date tour and it’s a completely new show. I’m excited to bring the album to life on stage, and to re-visit some of my repertoire from my previous Christmas album, Winter Wonderland.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

ECB: – Well, From a historical angle, many of the jazz legends of the 20th century were enamoured by classical composers like Stravinsky, Debussy who used folk melodies widely in their compositions. My repertoire is a mix between jazz/pop and Brazilian music.  Our versions of some of the Brazilian or latin flavoured tunes definitely feel like a hybrid of jazz and world in that we use jazz harmony, acoustic bass, improvisation but rhythmically we’re in Brazil! There are there are many similarities and overlapping influences.

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

ECB: – James Taylor is probably my favourite artist of all time. So I listen to him a lot. I also love modern bluegrass. I listen to a lot of Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, Sara Jarosz. For a bluegrass / jazz crossover the Chris Thile / Brad Mehldau collaboration is incredible. I love the vocal group Pentatonix. My musical tastes are quite varied. I do a weekly themed playlist on my Spotify page. Every Thursday I feature a different theme. It’s a great opportunity to discover new artists.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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