Jazz interview with a bad musician, as if singer Alexandrina Simeon. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Alexandrina Simeon: – I was born in Varna (Bulgaria) and lived there for the first six years of my life, before my parents – both classical musicians (viola) playing in the orchestra – moved with me to Germany. For me it was great luck to grow up in a family full of music – not only classical pieces, but also jazz tunes, because my parents like both. My first love was the violin, I played it from the age of 5 till 19. I loved – and still love – the wonderful and brilliant sound of this instrument and likewise the perfection in the minimalistic kind of work you have to invest, in order to make it sound and swing. It is somehow like singing, but in this case through an instrument.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the jazz vocal? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the jazz vocal?
AS: – At home my parents and I often used to listen to classical music and analyze it – even listening to the same piece of music, comparing it with different performers you will always find interesting nuances, which can inspire you and give you some idea, how it also can be played. Classical music might have variations. But – while listening to some of the great jazz musicians, like Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holliday, Django Reinhardt or Stéphane Grappelli, I realized, that in jazz there is an endless freedom. A freedom of interpretation, sounding, phrases, changing the basic melody into something absolutely new – that was fascinating, I became a fan of vocal jazz and at the age of 17 started taking lessons in singing, first in classical singing and then jazz singing. I focused my studies in jazz singing by taking lessons with Karen Edwards, Harriet Lewis and Sandy Patton. Especially Sandy Patton showed me a lot of new ways to improve my jazz singing style and to keep on searching. As a singer, and especially as a jazz singer, you always have to be curious and search for new combinations of musical types and sounding in your own voice. It was the freedom that I did not feel that much in classical music. The freedom made me choose the jazz vocal.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
AS: – Since I started singing with a Big Band in Augsburg, I soon became part of several different band projects. First of all jazz bands with standard jazz repertoire, but also modern jazz bands, where the voice has to merge with the instruments. A very interesting experience as a singer, I love modal jazz! So a new challenge was waiting for me – adapting to the style of the jazz music, I am singing at the moment. Singing with a Big Band is very different compared to singing with a modern jazz band. I started working more on the sound of my voice, took lessons also with blues and rock singers. What widened my singing horizon was working with a friend of mine, Njamy Sitson (from Cameroon), who does African polyphonic singing. Not only the way he sings, but also the music and rhythms enriched my singing and feeling for this kind of music. Finally the Bulgarian traditional music with its irregular rhythms and special way of singing made my sound complete, so meanwhile I feel free to switch between these styles, while combining them with jazz phrases. I love rhythm and I love this mixture, it fits somehow to the diversity of jazz itself.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
AS: – The understanding for rhythm has been always there, I grew up with it. I was really very lucky having musicians around me the whole day. Not only my parents, but my grandmother Mary (she has an American name, because her mother was a fan of the U.S.A. – at her time maybe the only “Mary” in whole Bulgaria J), she was an opera singer, my uncle, a conductor at the Varna Opera, my aunt also a singer at the opera…in summer we used to meet in Varna and we always were singing and playing instruments, wonderful memories. I could steadily improve in music, but also in rhythm by “training” with my parents and relatives. What enriched my feeling for different kind of rhythms, than the Bulgarian ones, was working with my friend Njamy Sitson (see also answer No. 3).
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
AS: – I prefer to mix up harmonic patterns from jazz music with Bulgarian patterns and rhythms, but also simple melodies with straight harmonies. As a singer I try to find the balance between the different styles I like to sing, like jazz, modal jazz, soul and Bulgarian traditional patterns and combine them with each other and with the instruments playing in the band. Being inspired by jazz phrases while mixing them up with my roots and their rich heritage of melodies and rhythms – that was the inspiration for the second album.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
AS: – There are some jazz albums to be mentioned, like:
- Mario Rom´s INTERZONE – Truth is simple to consume
- Avishai Cohen (tr) – cross my palm with silver
- Jan Garbarek – Places
But not only the year 2017 was interesting. I am a big fan of Jan Prax, a young tenor saxophonist, he is really great and has an overwhelming power when performing live – same as Jackie Terrasson with his never ending phantasy. The actual jazz vocalists I like very much are Dee Dee Bridgewater, Viktoria Tolstoy and wonderful and inspiring Esperanza Spalding!
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
AS: – In order to write the music deep from my heart, I have to immerse into my inner soul and explore, what touches me at the moment. Or – what kind of themes I still have to walk through and therefore need the music to make my heart and soul speak. In order to make it not only audible, but understandable, as a singer I can use the language. This enables me to reach the listeners in several levels. Skillfully combined music and language can stimulate the intellect of every listener, if she or he is willing to think about it. So there is always a kind of interaction between musician and audience in order to keep the balance.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
AS: – It is always very fascinating to work together with musicians from different countries. This can absolutely inspire and widen the own musical perspective – like working with Rhani Krija. He brought a lot of interesting and original percussion instruments to the gig several years ago and while playing, he always stays creative and gives the band an enormous energy. Playing with him was fantastic! I love to be inspired not only by melodies, but also by new and changing rhythms. On the other side it always touches me working together with string instruments, like the “Szimanowski (string) quartet” last winter. I love the swinging sound, as a singer you can easily float on this wave.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
AS: – The collaboration with several musicians during the last years was very interesting and inspiring for me. Starting with Wolfgang Lackerschmid (vibes), over Gerd Dudek (sax), Rian Carnieux (tr) or Rhani Krija (perc.) – all of them inspired me with their energy and endless musical ideas. Furthermore working with classical musicians, like with the Szymanowski (string) Quartet and combining it with jazz gave a new and different perspective on playing together.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
AS: – From the perspective of a singer I can say, that in particular the standard tunes are very interesting to sing for young people, because they not only have a beautiful melody and chords, but also tell a story about themes, that are current even today. I observe this change of interest in jazz vocal tunes for a long time now. I think that the young people feel when music is deep and good and beautiful, how for example “Polka dots and moonbeams” can be. The human being needs harmony and nice melodies in the end.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
AS: – For me music as a whole is the source of feeling better, calming down, letting your soul and heart speak – it is my source of inspiration and balances me through every situation, especially through the difficult one. For me as a musician and singer music is the spirit of my life, it carried me for so many years now through the ups and downs of my own life and always gives me hope and rest. I am very thankful for having chosen this wonderful profession. As a musician I can create something special each time I am on stage or in the studio, give this energy to the audience and am happy to have touched also their hearts sometimes. That makes (my) life worth.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
AS: – I hope that music – and especially hand made music like jazz – keeps on touching also the young generation, while bringing out new styles and mixing up influences from all over the world. In the end we all are one, we are human beings with one heart and soul, with feelings and – most of us – conscience for the world and its needs. I wish that one day music can heal the world and give hope to those, who struggle in wars or famine. That is why I dedicated the song “Glasperlenspiel” to all children in the world who lost their parents. While playing with the “glass beads” they create an own little community and that makes them strong to go on and gives them hope.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
AS: – Slow down a bit in order to give the heart and mind more possibilities to assimilate all the different music and styles – so in the end: more consciousness.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
AS: – I would love to be on stage with an orchestra and perform some of my songs. That would give a great energy to my band and me.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
AS: – Jazz music has always been a melting pot of diversities – be it the different style of playing it (east and west coast, Blues…) and the individual way of the musicians for the interpretation of jazz tunes. So I think that it is a kind of further inspiration to mix up world and folk music with jazz, because jazz works like a kind of “glue” between these different styles of music and combines them for the audience. In Bulgarian music you can also find some modes that fit very good to jazz.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
AS: – It is the new album of the Jan Prax Quartet “Ascending”. It has an enormous energy, I like his way of playing and also the modern jazz approach.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
AS: – If I could beam myself back in time, I would love to experience and listen to the beginning of the Blues and then to inhale the energy of Big Band music of the early 1920’s swing era. And: to listen to young Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong or Oscar Peterson. I visited one of his last concerts in Munich in the late 1990’s, it was gorgeous! I think that experiencing great jazz musicians live can give you a very special kind of energy. Unfortunately I was born a little too late…
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
AS: – First of all I want to say thank you for inviting me to this interview, I appreciate this very much. Over the last years you built up this wonderful and very informative platform JazzBluesNewsSpace – who or what was your inspiration to do this?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. I started jazz in 2003 as a critic. 2008 I created a group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/JazzSimonBlues/, where today there are more than 78,000 subscribers. There’s little place for articles, for this, 2010 I created this website and the site develops. Now we elebrating jazz 24/7 since 2007. Editorial offices in Boston – MA – USA, Paris – France and in Yerevan – Armenia, the website is read all over the world. It has 33,587 followers and it is every day visited by more than 58,000 readers by visitor counter Google Analitics!!!
We publishing articles about jazz festivals, jazz concerts, every day publishing one interview, a review of the new compact dicks, but only those who want to collaborate with us. We have all the new compact discs that have come to light in these years and of 2018.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan