May 20, 2024

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Interview with Vivian Lee: There is the intellectual side of jazz: Video

Jazz interview with jazz singer Vivian Lee. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Vivian Lee: – I actually grew up all over the United States.  My father was in the Air Force and I lived everywhere from California to Washington DC and Delaware.  I became interested in music and jazz during my last years in the Air Force.  I was in charge of the hospital Christmas party, which was an event with dancers, singers, comedians and a lot of skits.  I ended up with a tape of Billie Holiday tunes and sang them at the variety type show during the party and everyone liked it. Up to that point I had no idea I could sing.

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

VL: – My first band started out as a small big band – piano, guitar, drums, bass, sax and myself, doing mostly American songbook type tunes for dancers.  As time went on I knew I wanted to be a jazz vocalist and I started paring things down and stepping up my improvisational skills right up to now. Now my group is just four of us and it is totally mainstream jazz based.

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

VL: – In the other side of my life I am a surgery technician working in the local hospitals here.  When I am by myself in a room before the patient comes in I sing and work out arrangements, learn lyrics and things like.  I try different rhythms and mark in my head to show the band when we get together.  Once the patient rolls into the room I stop.

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

VL: – You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in? I’m not sure what you mean but I do like to experiment with different notes inside of the chords to make the endings feel different.  I also like to change notes and melody lines, change rhythmic patterns to give a little.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

VL: – So many things influence what we do in our music.  Our mood at the time, what is going on in our lives, what is going on in the world.  It colors how we present the song and that’s ok.  I don’t mind the outside world coloring things a bit because it makes the music and the song that much more meaningful sometimes.

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

VL: – I think they are both intertwined with each other.  There is the intellectual side of jazz that you listen to with your head and hear the improvisation and skill.  But then there is the heart and soul of what the musicians are doing. You can hear their passion in what they are playing.  It is a fine balance that just blend together and creates a complete picture.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

VL: – The audience wants to feel like they are a part of what you are doing. They want to feel that they are a part of you and so I give them little pieces of me with stories that introduce the songs.  They could be something personal about me kids that makes them think of their kids.  It might be something about what the song is about that makes them think – Ah yes I understand that – and then they are totally into what’s going on.

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

VL: – Once years ago I was singing I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face and there was an old couple sitting there a few tables back.  As I was singing he slid his hand to the side and he started rubbing the back of her hand and she slid her other hand up his shoulder and started rubbing his hair.  I saw this and thought – Ah yes they are remembering how they met, the things they have lived through and how they are still together.  It was beautiful to watch.

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

VL: – There are many young people that are interested in jazz.  So many schools around the country have killer jazz programs.  In the Sacramento area there are three high schools that have award winning jazz bands and within those programs the kids have created their own jazz combos.  The songs may be a half a century old but the feel and the swing never dies.

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

VL: – As a musician there is this light that you feel inside of you.  It’s hard to explain but it is there in the center of your being and others can see it, especially when you talk about jazz and how you feel about being a musician and what it feels like to play with your band.  I see pictures in music. A song will make me feel a certain way or it will conjure up an image or a memory.  Sometimes I’ll sing a song and an image of my boyfriend or one of my kids (depending on the song) will pop up in my head and the love that I feel for them  comes out in my phrasing and it’s like I’m talking to them or letting the audience in on how I feel and telling them to dig into their own memory and feel it too.

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

VL: – I would want to see more venues for jazz and more places where young people who are interested in jazz could come and play and be mentored by the more seasoned players to maintain and keep our jazz community thriving.  Some of that reality is happening with the advent of home concerts.  That is becoming a thriving avenue.

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

VL: – My musical tastes run across a wide field from some old rock music because my boyfriend is into rock and Reggae and jazz. But I listen to a lot of instrumental jazz to hone my improvisational skills – Coltrane, Miles, Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson, Carmen McRae, Madeleine Peyroux, Melody Gardot – so many who’s style I really enjoy.

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

VL: – I’d want to go back in time and be in that heyday of 52nd Street in New York because there was so much music out there and such a tight jazz family and community. To listen and learn from the greats.  It would be class time for me and I’d willing go to “school”.

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

VL: – Where does your love for jazz come from?  What is your early experience with jazz that has carried you through to what you do today?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. I’m all over in jazz from my childhood. Jazz and blues my life and my lifestyle!!!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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