Jazz Interview with a bad musician, as if singer Andrew Heller. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Andrew Heller: – I grew up in Scarsdale, NY and had an interest in music from the time I was 5 years old. My mother played piano and socialized with many Metropolitan Opera singers who lived in Westchester. I studied accordion, piano, and voice and by the time I was seven years old had a singing role in a summer stock production of “Our Town” playing the preacher’s son.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the jazz vocal?
AH: – I have sung many genres over the years but almost all of my vocal training was in opera. I had always had a special love for songs that told believable stories including some of the old country songs(like the ones by Marty Robbins), many of the great inspirational songs (like Ervin Drake’s “I Believe”) and many of the songs from musical theatre and the Great American Songbook. Over time I was drawn to the flexibility and the freedom of jazz interpretations of many of the songs I love and found the freedom to tell the story as I felt it when performing jazz styled vocals. Jazz opened up the door for me giving me the freedom to sing the story and not be bound by the precise notes and timing as written by the composer but rather use the music as part of a greater tapestry that together (vocal and music) convey the story and the passion associated with the song. Also the ability to tailor the phrasing to both fit my instantaneous mood and that of my audience makes performing much more exciting both to me and to the audience.
JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the jazz vocal?
AH: – My vocal teachers have all been women, The first was a great mezzo soprano who lived near our house and later the head of the Long School of the Met. More recently I have been coached by a very skilled performer near Nashville, Tn. and faculty members at University of Texas
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
AH: – That is a difficult question to answer. I evolved from being a singer tied to the rigid constraints of operatic music to eventually becoming a singing storyteller. Along that path I had many stops singing inspirational music (I was a nominee for entertainer of the year by the Inspirational Country Music annual awards},traditional Country, and at the same time enjoyed singing Broadway musical pieces and many of the pop pieces from the 1930s to the 1980s. I love the sound of a big band or a full orchestra and have done many of my performances with both. While I admit I am still evolving, I have found a very special delight in singing the stories from the 1930s to the 1990s especially those with great orchestral or big band arrangements like those of Nelson Riddle and Billy May.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
AH: – While I generally vocalize for about an hour a day, I spend most of my practice time going over songs that I am going to perform or record in the near future and work to get the story in my head and let the phrasing evolve as my relationship with the story grows and changes. I will often try tens of different ways to sing what I feel before getting comfortable that I can just let go and move where the story and the music take me. I love to practice while I am alone in my car driving. I will often wake in the middle of the night and run thru variations of several songs in my head (my wife would not be happy if I sang out loud at 3:00 am) until I am satisfied. Almost all of the subtle variations are based around moving the rhythm around the underlying music to make the song feel “real”.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
AH: – It varies widely based on the particular song and message
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?
AH: – The music business is a tough business. There are many talented people competing for a small number of big performance centers. Keep focused but be willing to move where the music and the audiences take you rather than being inflexible. Also have some other source of income so that you do not quit in desperation and give up completely. Most “overnight successes” were trying to breakthrough for many years before actually attaining fame.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
AH: – Yes, but it is a tough one.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
AH: – Expose them-when young people hear the great old tunes, they generally fall in love with the music. The problem is, the schools are not offering “music” classes and exposing students to a broad spectrum of great music and their peers are only exposing them to rap. Find ways to encourage schools to offer musical theatre which will in turn expose hundreds (thousands) of fellow students to good music. Encourage local universities to offer free or very cheap tickets to jazz and musical theater productions to their local middle and high school students
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
AH: – I look forward to touring with a great jazz band again in the near future, not just random performances but rather a structured tour. My biggest fear is sickness (cold, flu) that inhibits my ability to give a great performance and really reach my audiences.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
AH: – Wherever God takes me. I love to sing to and audience and watch their mood change for the better. I am always learning and growing my skills, my passion, and my feeling and understanding for the music and stories that I sing.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
AH: – Absolutely! Both Jazz and folk music are music based on telling stories from the heart. While the instruments used in jazz tend to focus more on brass and woodwinds, and that of folk on guitar, banjo and other stringed instruments
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
AH: – I am spending more and more time with my old Riverside vinyl collection including many of the great big bands of the 60s and 70s (Cannonball Adderley, Bobby Timmons, Jimmy Smith, etc). Also I am spending more time studying and enjoying the big band arrangements of the great arrangers of the 50s 60s and 70s. I also love to listen to the music of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, Anita O’day, etc.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan