Jazz interview with jazz singer Lena Prima. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – I was very inspired in jazz by your father, Louis Prima, if possible, a little memory of him?
Lena Prima: – He was a charismatic and joyful man at home as well as onstage, which is so apparent in his music. A very big heart and a very loving man. I believe it’s why his music is so loved by all.
JBN.S: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
LP: – I was born in Las Vegas and grew up in both Vegas and New Orleans. There was so much music in our home always, so I was just interested in it from a small child.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the jazz vocal?
LP: – Because it is in me naturally due to my upbringing. My mother and father were both fans of other great artists and we had a lot of records in our home. Music was on constantly, so I was hearing a lot of great vocalists.
JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today?
LP: – My high school music teacher Marcia Neel was an excellent and inspiring teacher who recognized all my talents and brought out the best in me. She was named National Performing Arts Teacher Of The Year by the Disney Channel in 2013. What made you choose the jazz vocal? I was naturally drawn to Jazz because of my upbringing.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time?
LP: – I started out my professional singing career as a rock singer working in clubs, writing songs and ending up in heavy metal bands. This gave me a discipline of being in good physical shape to be able to sing over the loud music. I also protected my voice because it was important to me. I had the great pleasure of recording with Geoff Workman who engineered many famous rock acts (Journey, Foreigner, The Cars, Queen) and he taught me how to build my vocal performance within a song.
JBN.S: – What did you do to find and develop your sound?
LP: – I just kept working. I got tired of working two day jobs to support myself and singing at night. So I auditioned for a working lounge band in 1991. It missed singing rock, but I was able to work 6 nights a week and make a good living. This also taught me how to sing in a different way to be able to not lose my voice. I was also singing a wide variety of music, so I learned different layers of my sound that way.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
LP: – At one point in my career, I lost my upper register and I studied the Seth Riggs method at home, which helped me to fix the problem. Again, working constantly has been the best way for me to stay in shape vocally. For the last year I have studied with Antoine Diel in New Orleans, who is a wonderful singer himself and a great teacher. I wanted to expand upon my abilities and study the classical style. It has been an excellent experience and has definitely helped my voice to improve further. I plane to continue. As for rhythm, either you have it or you don’t!
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
LP: – Some local New Orleans musicians, Lawrence Sieberth Quartet – Silhoueaes, Dysfunktional Bone – Start This Party and an artist I saw in NYC, Denise Reis – Alfandega.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
LP: – I believe the intellect part is the learning of the crab, then it is automatically there for you, so the performance can be from the soul.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
LP: – My favorite memory is dancing onstage with my father to his version of “For Once In My Life”.
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?
LP: – Get in front of an audience as much as possible. Get in the recording studio. Surround yourself with great players. The things you will learn are invaluable. Be a business person too, get paid
for what you are doing. There are so many books out there on different ways to earn money in music. Read them. If you believe in what you are doing and have the passion for it, you can make a good living. There are ups and downs and you have to just realize that and keep going. It is a great time to be a musician because there are so many ways to market yourself now. Boaom line is you have to stay motivated and be willing to adapt. The best advice I ever read was from Jim Rohn, a business man. He said that your success in your field is determined by the demand for what you do in the place in which you live. So, you may have to be willing to move to where your music fits in and you can have more opportuni,es.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
LP: – I believe any type of music is a business, if you are working and earning money at it.
JBN.S: – Which collaboraIon have been the most important experiences for you?
LP: – Every time I go in the studio it is important. Recording is a great teacher if you are willing to learn and grow. Albums to me are like scrapbooks depicting a time in one’s life. Each one has been an example of where I am at the time as a vocalist and what I wanted to say at that time. Each different musician brings something creative and inspiring. Each engineer teaches me something about the process. Songwriting with others is a great experience too. To bring together ideas and create new music is amazing.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
LP: – By gefng out there and performing it in venues. When I am
performing, I talk about the songs, the writers, what movie the song might have been in or who recorded it that the audience may recognize. The more it’s out there, the more people will hear it.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
LP: – I believe we are given gibs and that life is about love. Sharing our gib is our spirit and an act of love. Mine is music and I perform it with love. My father believed this too and is quoted as saying so. That’s why there is a saying “Do what you love” because then your are in line with your spirit and with your purpose in this life.
JBN.S: – What are your expectaIons of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
LP: – I had a serious illness last year and was in the hospital for a long time. What I learned is that life is short and everything could be taken away in a moment. I am so grateful to be alive and able to be healthy now. So I am just continuing to work, to set goals for my career in every area of my talents and to enjoy the journey of achieving them. There’s no time for fear and worry. Staying in joy is the thing.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
LP: – That clubs would be required by law to pay a certain amount to bands so that musicians could make more money. The pay is not fair and musicians are still making the same amount in clubs for decades. Music is what brings people into the club. It should be respected and reflected in the pay.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical fronter for you?
LP: – I am finishing a book about my memories of my father and I am planning an Italian Pop/Jazz album for the fall.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
LP: – I listen to all kinds of music from the 50s and 60s to the 70s. I love great lyrics and interesting melodies and I love the funky horn bands like Sly and The Family Stone. I love watching music documentaries. I recently saw Simon and Garfunkel on a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert on Neklix and was brought to tears by their amazing vocals and the words and melodies of their songs. I also love to watch Barbara Streisand concerts and listen to all the great vocalists from the past, Shirley Bassey, Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, Anita O’Day, Rosemary Clooney and Edie Gourmet. I love Tom Jones and Sarah Brightman and I am a big fan of Lady Ga Ga, she is a great singer and musician and she’s Italian!
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
LP: – I honestly would love to go back to the 1930s/40s and follow my dad around through his whole career right up to his last night onstage in 1975. What an experience THAT would be!
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
LP: – I would like to know what your favorite thing about my dad is? What makes you a fan?
JBN.S: – Thanks very much for answers. In the years of my youth I heard a lot of this music but did not know that it was jazz. And when one of the concerts of another artist listened Louis Prima’s song: I Ain’t Go Nobody, it inspired me and from that started my deep connection to jazz. The first CD that is consciously I buyed in the jazz, It was Louis Prima: Louis Prima & Keely Smith – Just A Gigolo.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan