Jazz interview with jazz singer Esther Kaiser. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Esther Kaiser: – I grew up in Freiburg i.Br., South of Germany and started to play the violin at an early age of about 6. Not because my parents wanted me to but because it was my biggest wish to play music… Later when I was 13 years old I discovered my voice and started to sing and take voice lessons with a jazz teacher… so I got to know jazz music and fell in love with it. This love relationship still goes on!
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?
EK: – When I first listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan I totally fell in love with this kind of singing and music… „How high the moon“ sung by Ella opened my eyes for vocal jazz and its possibilities. My first vocal teacher Bertrand Gröger, quite a well known jazz vocals and choir educator (Jazzchoir Freiburg) had a big impact on my early development. Later I had some more important teachers like Judy Niemack (who was my professor at Berlin University of Music) and trombone player Jiggs Whigham and also my dear colluege Céline Rudolph (who was by the way not my teacher but I worked with her a lot) had a big influence on my work.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
EK: – My sound developed in a way that it got more and more individual and free, close to how I talk. Singing is just a different form of speaking and communicating. Vocal wise it helped me to practice with the Estill Modell of Voice and also with the Functional Theory (Gordon) … I keep my voice healthy with LAX VOX (or singing through a straw)
Very important for me is to let life into my voice… including also some scars that I got over time…
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
EK: – Articulation exercises which are quite important for us singers…. Body percussion also helps to develop rhythmic independence.
And I just sing and perform as often as possible, as performing is the best practise, especially with a great band that helps you to reach the next level by their superb playing and musicianship.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? 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?
EK: – I like modal jazz, I like music with inherent sound and space. I also like dissonance, but of course in a balance with Harmony. (like Ying and Yang) And I try to tell stories with my songs so I choose the musical surrounding for the stories in order to fit them.
At the moment we are working on two different live Line Ups one with piano as a harmony instrument and one with guitar as the main harmony instrument. It is quite an adventure to combine these common jazz instruments with the oriental sound of Hasan Al Nours kanun.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
EK: – Soul should come first – it gives heart, feeling and meaning to the music. The intellect influences the structure of the music and the stylistic and harmonic choices.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
EK: – I don´t know what people want. People are different. I just know what I can give them. And I try to give what I can give in music in an authentic way. It is an offer to the audience, of course, they can choose if they like it or not. That´s the only honest way for me.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
EK: – There was one gig quite a few years ago when a girl came to me afterwards and told me: „Hi I am Esther Kaiser, and I liked your concert.“ I was stunned because she had exactly the same name than I have (and this name is not so very common in Germany).. So I asked her, if this was a coincidence that she was here at my Gig and she said: „No, I was following your career for quite a while and now I wanted to get to know you. I myself am a nurse.“
And then I asked her to sign my autograph card – with her name that was just identical with mine… Very funny, nice and strange at the same time!
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
EK: – I think we must allow them to find their own contemporary way to approach jazz. They must be allowed to mix and to create new forms and styles to jazz. Jazz for me, is not only defined by the old jazz standards. There are also modern compositions and crossover projects with soul, hip hop and so much more. They just have to see the variety of music they can create in Jazz. Because Jazz is more than a musical style, it is a mind set for me where you have an open, curious and experimental approach to music. You must not see jazz as a historical style you want to come as close as possible in imitating the old masters. Of course you can learn a lot from Miles, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and so on but there is a point when you have to go your own way.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
EK: – I think, in every living thing there is a spirit, and it is also in the creations of living creatures… So – if we create music, there is a spirit to it. We don´t know what comes first: If the music is there first (as a kind of spiritual being), and we receive it or if we are there and create the music… That will stay a mystery, I think…. (with the words of Abbey Lincoln: „The music is the magic“…).
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
EK: – I would wish that musicians would receive more value from our societies. We are often payed so badly, many of us work so hard and still have to really fight to make a living… Music is often looked at as a nice background for other things…
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
EK: – At the moment I am listening to a danish vocal a Cappella project called „Vocal Line“ conducted by the wonderful Jens Johansen from Aarhus. And I also listen to the new solo album of jazz vocalist Kim Nazarian, the soprano of the New York Voices, whom I met personally this year, so we exchanged our albums…
And my all time favorite is Joni Mitchell who I really adore! She´s a master!
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
EK: – I would like to get to know german composer Johann Sebastian Bach and would just like to talk to him, watch him compose and play his music… and celebrate with him, what – as I was told- they did a lot these days…
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
EK: – Thanks for you philosophical questions, I like that. (for I am reading quite a nice book at the moment called „The music lesson“ by Victor L. Wooten).
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers.
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
EK: – Fine – thanks for the interview!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan