June 17, 2024

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Interview with Paula Lammers: Music gives us a way to connect with others: Video

Jazz interview with Jazz singer Paula Lammers. An interview by email in writing.

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

Paula Lammers: – I grew up in a small town in Minnesota (St. Peter).  I always loved singing as a child and when I was 8 years old started taking piano lessons.  Music was a big part of my childhood.

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

PL: – I worked for a number of years in classical music, but there were very limited solo singing opportunites outside of singing in choirs. One day I was introduced to the mother of one of my son’s friends and she was in charge of a singing quartet that entertained on a dinner train.  She invited me to audition and I got a job singing music from the 1930’s and 1940’s.  I realized that I really enjoyed performing music from that era and started doing gigs with big bands and small jazz combos.

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

PL: – I have mostly had classical training for vocal technique.  I have been a teacher for 30 years, and I have had to figure out my jazz vocal technique on my own.  I have attended some weekend workshops; one of them was with Tierney Sutton.  She gave me a private lesson and it transformed my way of singing jazz. What made you choose the jazz vocal? I enjoy the improvisatory nature of singing vocal jazz.  I also love the Great American Songbook and since that is the basis for much of vocal jazz, it is a good fit for me.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time?

PL: – At first my classical singing training was a big hindrance to singing jazz because of the style of vibrato and the “proper” treatment of diction.  Also the phrasing is so different between jazz and classical music.  Over time I have really learned to straighten out the tone and to make it more conversational. What did you do to find and develop your sound? I did a lot of gigs, I recorded myself, I listened to singers I respected, I went to workshops and read books. I feel like my sound is still developing and maturing. I am always striving to improve and be a better singer and musician.

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

PL: – I practice with an app that has a rhythm section playing.  It allows me to try out different phrasing in relation to the rhythm.  I also try to do songs in different rhythmic grooves than they were originally written.

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?

PL: – My piece of advice is to make sure what you are doing feeds your soul.  You have to love many elements of the business, not just the being on stage part.  You have to love the process, (song selection, rehearsal, finding musicians to play with). It helps if you like the promotion and marketing part (which is a difficult part of the business for me).

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

PL: – I honestly don’t know.  The world is changing so much, so quickly.  People don’t necessarily understand how to listen to music. I think jazz will survive, but in a niche of its own.  And I’m not sure making an art form into “business” is a good mix.

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

PL: – We probably need to take a cue from musical theater.  Many of my students know the show “Hamilton” and “Rent” and “Wicked”, but have not got a clue about “Guys and Dolls”  or “Oklahoma” or other Golden Age Musicals.  So jazz needs to evolve, to meet the culture where it is at if young people are going to get interested in it.  I do think having strong jazz-based ensembles in the schools will help a generation of young people to appreciate the art form.

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

PL: – I view creating music and sharing it with people as an exchange of energy. Something about music touches people at a level that draws out emotion and taps into memories and feelings in a way nothing else can. Music gives us a way to connect with others. If I can bring people joy, if I can move them at an emotional level, then I am fulfilling my purpose in life.

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

PL: – 2017 has been a difficult year for many people around the world. As an American living under the Trump regime, it has shaken me to my core to realize that the freedom that we have taken for granted is in jeopardy.  I feel we are walking a tightrope, and that our future and that of the entire planet hangs in the balance.  I unfortunately have a difficult time with expectations of the future.  I would like to think we are better than Trump and the evil and greedy people who have taken over our political system. I hope our better angels win out in the end.  I try to have optimism, even though it is very discouraging right now. I try to remember that there are A LOT of people of goodwill in the world.

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

PL: – I plan to record an album in 2018.  I also want to spend time studying the life and music of Cole Porter in depth. His life correlates with a similar time of unrest in the world and the rise of authoritarianism and nationalism during the 1930’s and 40’s. 

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

PL: – Jazz music has a lot in common with the klezmer music of Jewish culture.  The rhythms of Latin America have played a big part in jazz as well.  And folk music can be reharmonized to create some pretty cool jazz interpretations.

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

PL: – Tierney Sutton is my go-to singer when I want to listen to vocal jazz.  I also love listening to Shirley Horn.

JBN.S: – And if you want, you can congratulate jazz and blues listeners on Christmas and Happy New Year.

PL: – I wish for all of you a wonderful 2018!  Make the world a better place  starting in your neighborhood and community.  Little acts of kindness may be what will save the world.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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