Jazz interview with a bad musician, as if singer Gabriela Diaz. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Gabriela Diaz: – I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I lived until I was 10; we then moved to Mar del Plata which is about 400 km from the capital city. I come from a family of musicians; my cousin is the amazing jazz pianist, Grammy-nominee Mariano Diaz, my uncle was a prestigious jazz musician and my dad played the guitar and the bass in a rock and roll band and was also a piano teacher, so there were instruments at home and especially lots and lots of records so It all came quite natural to me. I was surrounded by fantastic music practically since I was a baby, like The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Rodgers and Hart, etc. Jazz came a little bit later when I got drawn to the great American composers from the Tin Pan Alley such as Gershwin, Porter, Kern or Harlen through musicals and from that to the Real Book so I started to become more and more attracted to these composers and the performers who popularized their songs. The whole thing was really natural to me.
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?
GD: – I don´t remember any moment in my life when I did not sing, in fact, I couldn´t really say when I started singing because I have always done it. I would imitate everything and everyone: people, instruments, singers, sounds, voices, whatever came to my ear as a child I would just imitate. But to be honest, I have to say that there was a moment which changed everything for me and that was when I first saw The Sound of Music. I was completely entranced with the movie, the songs and of course with Julie Andrews. I remember coming from school every day and playing the movie from beginning to end. I would repeat all the lines and, of course, sing all the songs. I would look at Julie Andrews’s mouth and try to imitate her perfect articulation and pitch; I think I can say she was the one who marked my life. I have always kept her as a model although she is definitely not purely a jazz singer. From then on I started listening to Ella, Carmen McRae or Chet Baker but Karen Carpenter, Dusty Springfield, Carly Simon, Sinatra and of course Joni Mitchell were on my playlist all the time. I have had lots of music teachers who inspired me, particularly piano or drum instructors, but singing came to me naturally. I guess I learnt how to listen.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
GD: – I think I have learnt not to belt out as much as I used to and have also learnt to use my lower register more naturally and to open up certain back vowels and explode plosives in attacks so much better with time. I think it all lies in your ear and breath control. I have also achieved a better equality of color. Some words feel good in the mouth and you just have to try to make them as intelligible as you can for the listener. I also think I now understand the dramatic effect of the lyrics better than when I was 18 or 20, especially some which are meant to be said after having acquired certain maturity in life, for example Lorenz Hart´s lyrics. I think I have become a better singer with age.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
GD: – I have always been obsessed with rhythm. In fact, there was a period of my life when I played the drums in the jazz band I was singing at and loved it so much that started taking classes and bought myself a set. I have the feeling that singers are by nature drawn to melody and harmony and somehow forget rhythm or are always performing in the same pattern, but for me it has always been the other way around: I focus on rhythm first and foremost, then work on the harmony and finally focus on melody. My routine involves sitting at the piano and finding the right meter. I sometimes use the metronome but just as a lead, then I just get rid of it, finally work on chords starting in the lowest key possible all the way up until I feel I confident enough to sing, especially before a recording session, but I`m very unorthodox in methodology. I usually sing before or after eating, or after I´ve talked a lot or in the morning! I strongly suggest taking up a percussion instrument in order to develop your singing abilities, it makes you feel confident and know exactly what´s going on behind the melody.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
GD: – Having started as a jazz singer, I was early exposed to typical jazz harmonic progressions, thus, no matter the song I often find myself adding 7ths but I must also admit that I love some of the Beatles´ apparently-easy-but-actually-complex chord progressions, especially the tonal changes. John´s going from major to minor in Real Love for example gives me the goosebumps.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
GD: – That is a tough question indeed. I do not know if there is a certain balance that should be achieved purposefully but off the top of my head I´d have to say that soul should always be the guiding light for any artist, especially for singers who are so exposed through the uniqueness of their voice, yet, I feel that a disciplined work of the mind should be put into performing too. I have personally found myself improving my skills after being more in touch with the how and the why of expression, but I think there is a direct channel between your throat and your heart that cannot be overlooked. It has to come from the heart.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
GD: – Lots of fun and nice memories! I remember when I was only 19 I had been invited to perform at a jazz festival in Mar del Plata with an amazing big band and it suddenly started raining in the middle of my song, so when I went to get the mic off the hook I got an electric shock! Thank God nothing serious happened to me, but the concert had to be called off. Then, one of the most cherished memories I have of a recording session was the time I recorded I´ve grown accustomed to his face for my first album with Argentinian legendary jazz pianist Jorge Navarro, who had so generously offered himself to play a song for my debut album. He came to the studio, we went over the song just a few times, decided that it would be best if we recorded our parts together and we nailed it on the first take. Later on he stayed to listen to playback and to the whole album! He was amazing. I´ll never forget it.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
GD: – That is true but I think that the songs are so incredible that will live on for future generations of musicians yet to come and will still have the same appeal they do today and will then inspire new musicians to make their own contribution to this timeless music. Personally, I think that jazz music is enjoying a wonderful moment of popularity particularly in South America, where the jazz scene is constantly enlarging with new and talented performers and also very creative composers who may well make their own “standards” on their own right.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
GD: – As any musician would tell you, life is not understood without music, and thus, both mean pretty much the same thing to me. Not a day goes by that I don´t sing or play or listen to or talk about music or just think about music. It is always there, always on my mind, competing with any other sound I might be hearing, there is always a melody. It is who I am and what I am certain will always be no matter what. It is the one thing that makes sense in the chaotic ever-changing nature of life. Of course I´d have to agree with Coltrane, it is our soul and spirit.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
GD: – I think that one of the most common things these days is that we are fed our own preferences, and that is such a shame because you end up listening to the same kinds of music that you like and completely overlook others that would blow your mind if you were only exposed to them, but it is one of the ills of these days, and it does not happen only in terms of musical preferences, unfortunately. I wish we could bring back the habit of listening to the radio. That was pretty much what made me know all sorts of musicians and albums I wouldn`t have known of otherwise.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
GD: – I´m very eclectic. My playlist these days includes Miles Davis, Radiohead, Sinatra, Dylan, Bowie, Dusty Springfield, Greenday, Tom Petty, Chick Corea, Carole King.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
GD: – Liverpool. 1960. The beginning of the Beatles. I would have loved to see them in the Cavern or in one of the bars where they started playing when the whole thing began. I think the sixties were everything in terms of the music and the culture that was produced and not just because of the Beatles. Nothing has ever topped that…
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
GD: – In your opinion, which are the top three jazz albums that everybody should listen to?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Keith Jarrett trio: Jazz standarts, Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints: Scandal, Dave Holland: Conference of the Birds and more etc.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan