Jazz interview with jazz singer Donna Burke. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Donna Burke: – I grew up in a beachside suburb in Perth, Western Australia.
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?
DB: – I loved watching musicals from the 30s, 40s and 50s when I was a child. I was a huge fan of Judy Garland, Peggy Lee and Dean Martin.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
DB: – At first I used to try and sing as loud as possible (so that I could be heard above the other kids at school!) I sang in a folk choir at church from the age of 17 and learned to harmonise by listening to Jackson Browne and Eagles albums in my teenage years. I realized when I was in my early 20s that I needed to stop imitating other artists but it was a hard habit to break. I had an inner belief however that one day I would just sound like me. I think that happened when I was about 38!
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
DB: – Listening to my cat’s purr. For vocal warmups I love the app Warm Me Up- it makes the tedium of practicing to a recording from a vocal lesson obsolete. You can decide how long you want to warm up for and it makes a different program for you every time.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
DB: – I rarely listen to music. I just love driving around in complete silence. I don’t have music on at home- it is too pervasive and I cannot help but listen to it. When I go for a massage I ask them to turn it off.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
DB: – I think music transcends the intellect. Babies, children, people of diminished intellect awaken and instinctively move to rhythm, tone and melody.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
DB: – Yes, I love to please! Sometimes old ladies end up booking a table at a jazz venue I often perform at in Ginza- they have no idea that Ganime Jazz is playing an iconic anime hit. They thought they were getting a nice jazz standard night out! I ask them what their favourite song is and sing it for them to make them feel special and cared for.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
DB: – GanimeJazz recently performed in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Compared to a Japanese audience, they were so lively and it was a lovely experience to see my band member’s delight in having such immediate communication.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
DB: – Great question. Put jazz into game and anime and tv shows that they are watching. Music should be communicating the incommunicable and adding to the story. An unforgettable melody matched with an unforgettable voice at the right moment in the story…this is how we fall in love with a song.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
DB: – I understand my spirit. Performing and singing, creating a melodic message that transcends language and is a vibration that can touch someone without speech or language, this is what I am here for. To communicate through sound to another person’s spirit. A lot of the songs I have written and sung in video games have very dark, deep themes, of loss, hope and despair. The songs and the stories from the game and anime they are born from, speak to people all over the world. It is truly astonishing and beautiful how universal we all are. Of the one Spirit perhaps?
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
DB: – The belief in young people that they have to be famous when they are young.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
DB: – ER … my cats, the hum of an airplane in the distance, the sound of children’s voices passing my house in Tokyo, the distant sound of my husband practicing guitar in the basement. This is my music.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
DB: – I would whisper to 10 year old self, with the short hair and the aching dissatisfaction of her life in her eyes, ”Hey Donna! You are on your way to living your dreams! Don’t worry!”
Interview by Simon Sargsyan