June 24, 2024


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Interview with Zara McFarlane: … Working with the late Hugh Masekela was definitely a poignant moment in my career: Video

Jazz interview with jazz singer Zara McFarlane. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Zara McFarlane: – I grew up in Dagenham which is a town on the edge of east london. I was always interested in music. More to dance to. I loved to dance as a child.

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

ZM: – I am not really sure what turned me on to jazz specifically. I remember hearing Nina Simone’s voice in a movie and going out of my way to find out who it was. I remember I thought the voice was a male voice at the time! I had of course heard the like of Billie Holiday and Ella. I was familiar with Jazz standard repertoire more from my love of musicals as many jazz standards are from musicals.

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

ZM: – I have studied quite a bit over the years doing musical theatre and then my degree in Popular Music Performance and then my masters in Jazz Studies. I had a teacher who got me out gigging with him when I was at Uni. He would play piano and I would sing in restaurants in Essex. I remember having to learn about 30 jazz standards for the repertoire for the 1st gig. 3x 45 mins sets.

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

ZM: – My sound has developed a lot of the years for different reasons. I started singing because I started writing songs and putting myself into competitions when I was a teenager. Of course having vocal lessons help you to develop the voice in different ways a access new sounds and tools. But I think a lot of development comes from having the confidence to explore sounds in your voice, challenging yourself and taking risks vocally whether they be trying new songs and styles or exploring pure scat sounds.

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

ZM: – I don’t currently have a practice routine but I have in the past. It is important to warm up before you sing and singing regularly helps keep your voice supple but mostly have a good understanding of the voice and not over using it or pushing it when I am not on stage is very important.

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

ZM: – I have never had any specific harmonies that I love. I still enjoy exploring sounds that I hear in my head. Some are not always theoretically correct but if I like the sound of it I will go with it.


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JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2017: <Arise>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

ZM: – I really enjoyed the collaboration with Moses Boyd, working with a great group of musicians and exploring my caribbean heritage through music.

JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you this 2017 year?

ZM: – Really love Chronic album Chronology. Have had it playing on loop for the last few months.

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?

ZM: – Trust yourself, trust your instincts and your sound.

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

ZM: – Jazz has been a business for decades and will continue to do so I am sure.

JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?

ZM: – I haven’t done a lot of collaborating really but working with the late Hugh Masekela was definitely a poignant moment in my career and working with Gilles Peterson has been a very important collaboration in my career.

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

ZM: – As a singer and a lover of melody and lyrics jazz standards and the American musical songbook are some of the most well crafted pieces of songwriting. You can learn a lot from singing/performing these tunes particularly in a band context. I really enjoy do my own arrangements of the standards and other existing repertoire. But I started singing because I started writing songs so for me the exploration of music as a whole songwriter, performer, composer, producer, improviser is what entices me to keep making music.

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

ZM: – My expectations of the future fluctuate. More now then ever before. I have lots of thing that I would like to do in music and outside of it but I love performing and hope to continue to do so in the future.

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

ZM: – I plan to write a musical over the next couple of years and hope to work with an orchestra one day.

JBN.S: – So far, I ask, please your question to me …

ZM: – What inspired you to be come a jazz journalist?

JBN.S: – JAZZ and BLUES: festivals, and to fight in front of not good music.

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