Jazz interview with jazz singer Susannah Adams. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Susannah Adams: – I grew up in London, England. I was in my teens when Britpop came on the scene in the 90’s and that’s when I really discovered music. I was introduced to other genres by my friends and their parents. Singing along with friends in the car to 60’s soul and blues classics was a favourite past-time!
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?
SA: – I didn’t know a thing about jazz until I was in my twenties. A friend gave me a couple of albums – Billie Holiday’s Greatest Hits and Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’ and my world turned around. Immediately I knew I had to sing this music, no question about it. I remember at the time my sister was taking singing lessons. I asked her to help me find a teacher in my city. I was ever so nervous about singing in front of someone, but my teacher was kind, patient and reassuring. She told me I had a natural talent and started booking me gigs right away!
I was introduced to the music of Sheila Jordan, who I fell in love with immediately. A few years later I travelled to USA to study with her. What a dream! I have learned a huge amount from Ms Jordan, not only regarding her musicality but also the deep personal expression she brings through her music. I am so inspired by her boldness in forging the bass/vocal jazz duo and being the first vocalist to record on Blue Note records. Her tireless dedication to the music is incredible.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
SA: – As well as listening to Sheila Jordan, I listened a huge amount to the classic jazz singers Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. Nina Simone, Diana Krall and Eva Cassidy were also very influential. I went to the library and just kept on borrowing albums. Mostly vocalists and mostly jazz and blues. My style has evolved out of adopting certain phrasing, intonation or improvisational flare from many, many musicians. I emulate what I hear and then put a twist on it. This is how I continue to evolve my unique sound.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
SA: – We are forever learning, deepening our capacity to hear, to understand rhythm, melody and harmonics. I am self-taught and so I learn from the players I work with. Each performance brings me into a greater understanding of musicality. My practice is to listen hard and to keep moving to the music – anchor the rhythm in my body.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
SA: – I do not have a music theory basis, so I cannot articulate which harmonic patterns I prefer. I go wherever I am led in the moment.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: As The Morning Light, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
SA: – I spent a long time preparing for this debut recording, visioning every detail. I decided to do it really well and pour every ounce of myself into it. I hired some of Canada’s finest jazz players and an incredible producer. After clarifying my philosophy around the production of the album I decided to record live off the floor to encapsulate the raw energy of improvising in the moment, which I believe is the essence of jazz. I wanted the album to be an authentic portrayal of my live performances. As The Morning Light really is everything that I hoped it would be. I am delighted!
And now, I have a lot of new material coming through me which I am excited about. I am starting to collaborate and will prepare to go into the studio next Spring to get these ideas solidified.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
SA: – For me, music takes me out of my head and into my heart. It surpasses intellect and speaks only from the deepest place of the soul.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
SA: – It is my greatest intention to give myself fully to the music. That is my gift to bear. Music is at its most powerful when it comes from that place. One audience member reflected to a mutual friend that seeing me so free in myself gave her permission to do the same. That is what it’s all about.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
SA: – Jazz standards are the foundation of modern music. It is the stuff that we have cut our teeth upon. Our job as jazz musicians is to bring all that inspires us about that music into contemporary compositions and arrangements. If we infuse our music with love and joy, no matter how old the tune, it will speak to people of all generations.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
SA: – What a big question! I feel that music is my spirit too. I live and breathe music – it gives me life, and performing my music with such vitality instills life in those that behold it. Making music together is an ancient thing, a language that surpasses all else, and it brings us closer to our truest spirits.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
SA: – I would like to see diversity represented within popular music.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
SA: – Cyrille Aimee, Erykah Badu, Aretha Franklin, Ludovico Einaudi, Herbie Hancock. My listening is all over the place!
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
SA: – Back to the birth of the blues – the music that inspired the jazz standards that we are so familiar with. It is important to have a deep knowing of where the music that we play has come from.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
SA: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers and interesting question. Music is fundamental to the functioning of a society. Since ancient times that whenever a new society is born with it a new style of music appears. It is well known that music has great power over the emotions and the human psyche. Thus, it can be used to manipulate people. Music is a powerful weapon that can be used not only for entertainment but also the political and cultural level, can help to overcome problems and difficulties, raising the critical power of listeners. Can be used as a Universal Language: Music is indeed a language common to all people, can easily convey emotions or feelings easily universal level. In its present music therapy can be used to treat many mental disorders: Various mental disorders, such as autism or cerebral palsy can be cured through music therapy with the use of various techniques for the own effect. I believe in the power of the music!!!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan