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Interview with Julie Lyon: Music is very logical: Video

Jazz interview with jazz singer Julie Lyon. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Julie Lyon: – I grew up in central Florida.  My parents were not musicians, but they were music lovers and there was always music playing in my house. When I was very young I loved to sing along with my parent’s records.  My friends and I would have fun performing for our families. I have an aptitude for learning music and can memorize melodies and lyrics very quickly.  When I was a teenager my friends used to say that I knew every song because I was always singing along and always knew all the lyrics.

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?

JL: – I did not start out as a jazz singer.  In college I studied classical voice but also sang in a rock band.  After college the groups I performed with were mostly rock or blues.  I had been thinking about trying to sing jazz but had no idea how to go about it.  I really loved the old standards and the great American songbook especially Cole Porter.  My mother was a member of the Central Florida Jazz Society and so I asked her who I should listen to.  She gave me some records, one of which was a Don Lamond recording featuring his wife Terry.  Don and Terry Lamond lived in central Florida and were friends with my mom.  I started learning songs from that CD Around that time my best friend and band mate Betsy Serafin (a fantastic blues singer) met some jazz musicians in Winter Park and would go to their gigs and sit in.  We would always sing the same couple of blues numbers because neither of us knew any jazz.  One of the musicians, Tom Cabrera (drummer, who eventually became my husband) gave Betsy a Diana Krall CD to listen to so she could learn some jazz tunes for when she sat in.  Betsy gave that CD to me and I learned those songs.  When Tom and I started dating I asked if I could sing with his trio and that was it.  From then on I concentrated on learning to sing jazz.  Tom helped me more than anyone.  He told me who to listen to, helped me learn songs, we wrote arrangements together.  If it wasn’t for Tom, I probably wouldn’t be singing jazz.

Most of my teachers have been musicians that I performed with.  Tava Smathers, the lead singer in my very first rock band taught me how to run a band, how to be a band leader, how to write a good set list.  My friend Betsy really championed me as a lead singer.  She taught me to not be shy about my abilities and to be willing to try new things even when it was outside my comfort zone.  My mother and her friend Terry Lamond taught me how to present myself on stage and to respect the audience. Tom Cabrera taught me just about everything I know about jazz.  He taught me how to swing, how important phrasing is, and how to listen and learn from others and still have my own sound.

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

JL: – I listened. To myself and to others.  Larry Hutter the bass player in my first jazz quartet (and a gifted recording engineer) used to record all our gigs.  Being able to listen back to those recordings as I was learning to sing jazz was invaluable.  It was easy to hear what worked and what didn’t.  I progressed quickly as a jazz singer because of those recordings.  I also spent hours listening to other singers; Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Diana Krall, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Diane Reeves, Carman McRae, etc.  I listened and learned.

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

JL: – I don’t really have a practice routine.  When I’m working on new material I like to have a backing track to sing to.  But if I’m not working on new material, either learning or composing, I don’t practice.  I sing when I feel like it.  I’ve always had a good sense of rhythm, I think I get that from my mother.  Rhythm and groove come very naturally to me. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I’m married to a drummer. Tom and I spend a lot of time improvising together.

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

JL: – I love learning and hearing new ways to put notes together but I don’t have a clear preference toward any type of harmony or harmonic pattern.

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <Moonflower>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

JL: – What I love about Moonflower is how different it is. It’s not your standard jazz recording.  Moonflower began as a collaboration with Unseen Rain Records producer and guitarist Jack DeSalvo.  When Tom and I moved to New York in 2009 we wanted to put together a group similar to the quartet that we left behind in FL.  We reconnected with Jack who has been Tom’s friend since the 1990s and recorded an album of standards entitled Julie for the Unseen Rain Records label.  That album included a song by Dr. Lonnie Smith called Too Damn Hot.  When I first heard that song I thought, there should be words to that beautiful melody, so I wrote some and we recorded it with my lyrics.  With that idea in mind, Jack sent me one of his compositions and asked if I wanted to write lyrics to it. That song was Having Found which is the first track on Moonflower. That’s how it went for most of the album, Jack would email me a song and almost immediately upon hearing the melody words would come to me.  There is something about the way he puts melodies together that always inspires a lyric.  At the same time Tom and I were spending a lot of time in our basement studio free improvising with drums and vocal.  Soul Dance is a song that came out of one of those free improv sessions and Prelude is exactly that, a free improv with drums and vocal.

At this moment we are hard at work on a recording project called Poemas del Hogar (Poems of Home).  Tom’s grandfather, Juan Cabrera wrote a book of poetry in 1959.  The poems are all of his home, Puerto Rico, and his family and loved ones.  We originally started talking about it being an improvised work with the vocal improvising on the written verse but quickly realized that my Spanish skills weren’t up to the task so I decided I should write music for some of the poems.  I’ve been writing and re-writing for the better part of three years but finally have 7 pieces completely composed.  The remainder of the album will be drum and vocal pieces, not improvised but only loosely composed.  The singing on those will be more recitative style to really capture the beauty of the poetry.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

JL: – Music is very logical.  Music theory and the way notes and chords work together have a sort of geometry to them that is amazing and exciting.  The way notes vibrate and resonate affects us physically in both subtle and obvious ways.  It is only natural that music be soulful because that completes the circle of mind, body and spirit.  If you take away any one of those components, you have music that isn’t fun to listen to, music that doesn’t touch you, music that is flat.  I think we’ve all heard musicians who are technically brilliant but don’t really put any feeling into what they’re doing. That music might be pretty because it has a level of perfection but it will not have the power to incite emotion.  It won’t move us.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

JL: – I have a goofy sense of humor and would occasionally see if I could make the band laugh while we were on stage.  One time, with my band in Florida, we were playing a benefit for the Greyhound Rescue Association a group that rescues and helps find homes for former racing dogs.  I can’t remember the song but I scatted an entire chorus barking like a dog.  It was hilarious and yes, I made the band crack up.

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

JL: – Music has to evolve over time.  That which is timeless will remain.  Some will disappear into the ether.  Maybe the way to get young people interested is to stop playing and replaying songs that, as you said, are half a century old.  We need to be able to present to them music they want to hear.

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

JL: – Music is inextricably woven throughout my life and I could no more stop loving music than I could stop breathing. If the music that I create lasts beyond my lifetime then I will have made a small difference by bringing that beauty to the world.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

JL: – The devaluation of music and musical performance and the huge disparity between celebrity musicians and the rest of the creative musical world.

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

JL: – As I mentioned, we are deep into the Poemas del Hogar project so not much else is in my ears these days.  When I need a break from my current project, I enjoy listening to almost anything my husband Tom is playing on for the Unseen Rain label.  Especially his group Sumari because they make free improvisation sound so magical.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

JL: – Send me 100 years in the future.  I really want to know what’s happening then.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

JL: – What’s your favorite track on Moonflower and why?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers …

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

August 2015

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