Jazz interview with jazz vocalist Carol Welsman. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Carol Welsman: – I grew up in Toronto, Canada, in a very musical family. My grandfather was the founder and first conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. My mother taught piano and my Dad was an amateur clarinetist, saxophonist and pianist.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
CW: – I have always accompanied myself on piano while singing, so after extensive performance studies in piano at Berklee College of Music in Boston and vocal training following that time, I developed the skills to arrange my own music for quartet, and this helped to establish a sound that was my own.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
CW: – Practicing is not regular for me. I’m not very good at routines. I worked very hard at Berklee and since then, I have developed skills recording in Logic and doing my own demos of standards arranged my way, and original songs. This is the most fun way to practice for me; playing the bass, drum and guitar parts in and then singing and playing piano. I have always had a good sense of rhythm being a piano player, as part of the rhythm section of the band.
Fortunately, I am surrounded by excellent musicians who are all of Latin descent. And, up until the pandemic, I have enjoyed regular performances with these musicians who push me creatively to play more rhythmically in such idioms as Latin jazz and salsa music. They have helped me understand this genre of music which is paramount since my new release is a Latin jazz album.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
CW: – It’s important, I believe, to follow one’s heart in terms of what is wrong and right musically. I tend not to listen to others because it muddies the waters. There is a very strong message to be delivered when you play and sing. Wearing two hats is a challenge, and over time, I have developed improvising techniques that are not generally heard like singing the lead line of block chords in a sol shout chorus for example. It’s fun and different and I don’t want to listen to too many opinions. It’s working fine I think.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
CW: – I try to not do anything on the day of a performance except walk my dogs. The music line-up is prepared the day before and this allows me to deep breathe, prepare wardrobe, hair and make-up which are essential. The major preparation for me has always been done on planes when I have time to do lyrics revision and memorization, and looking over the arrangements, especially if they are challenging.
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JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
CW: – I don’t know, and I have never thought of this. Interesting. I think right brain and left brain come into play. Right brain is creative and expressive. Left brain is more mathematical, but music is both creative and mathematical. Soul comes with age I believe. People will feel your soul if you are able to expose it to them.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
CW: – I am absolutely Ok with it. Actually, Sir Lawrence Olivier once said, “The sign of a true actor is someone who can stand on stage before an audience fully naked and feel comfortable”. I believe this is true of musicians too. As a vocalist, we have stories to tell through lyrics. It’s really important to sing songs that feel comfortable enough that you can bare your soul while singing them. Otherwise the message won’t be sent to the audience.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
CW: – Back in the 80s I was living and playing in Paris, France. George Benson checked into the hotel on our night off. His concert was Tuesday night, so Monday, he walked into the hotel jazz bar and sat down for a drink. Since he was my idol, I found it very difficult to concentrate! My bass player happened to have a George Benson Ibanez guitar under the piano since he was also a guitarist. I told the bass player to please not ask George to sit in with us. But when George changed seats to move closer to us, he was asked. George said, “I never thought you’d ask!” and he jumped up and sat in on Billiy’s Bounce. I didn’t’ sleep for a week. He invited us backstage following his Tuesday concert at Bercy Stadium, and we cut in front of a long line of journalists. George thanked us for coming to the concert! Years later, Ronnie Foster, his original jazz keyboard player reminisced about the fact that they used to play 20-minute solos in jazz clubs until “Breezin’” came out. That album changed everything.
My fondest memory of studio sessions was the time when pianist George Shearing came to a recording session with a full orchestra when we recorded the “Swing Ladies Swing” album. He had become a friend at that point, and we were scheduled to give a concert in the Bahamas soon thereafter that was unfortunately cancelled.
My other idol while growing into jazz in my teens was Oscar Peterson. His albums with Ella Fitzgerald and other trio albums mesmerized me. He is Canadian, as am I, and an opportunity perform at the National Jazz Awards arose, only what they didn’t tell me is they sat Oscar 10 feet from the piano! Another unforgettable moment. He too became a mentor and friend, of which I am truly grateful.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
CW: – I don’t know the answer to that, but jazz seems to be living on and many new artists are blazing the trail singing original material. Maybe it’s time to open our minds a little more and accept music from a newer generation.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
CW: – I am a very spiritual person and always have been. I agree with Coltrane. Music is such a huge part of my life, in every breath, and I believe it is what guides me along the road of life. Music is a gift that is passed down from generations.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
CW: – I think I’d like to go back to the old days where the value of music was higher on every level. The advent of streaming platforms doesn’t allow the musician to be properly compensated.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
CW: – I’m listening to Keith Jarrett and Robert Farnon. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to listen to music. It’s really busy on the business side of things right now.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
A message of peace, love, and happiness. Sometimes the message in a song is sad, but I always like to leave people on a high.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go?
CW: – Hmmm. Honestly, my biggest wish would be to trade places with a tone-deaf person for a day or two, and then I would appreciate better what qualities and gifts they possess, as well as understand what they hear in music. Ehen you have a radio going 24/7 in your head, it’s hard to imagine not having that radio going.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
CW: – Given the present situation, when will really ever perform concerts again?
JBN: – When will the pandemic end …
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
CW: – I’m not sure I understand the question. If you’re speaking of looking at the future and how to handle it, it’s still a mystery to me. That doesn’t stop me from writing new music, learning new skills, and thinking of new ways to work with people online etc. Music is needed more than ever now, I feel.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan