July 12, 2024


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Interview with Sophie Duner: The spirit, emotion and intellect is all there: Video, new CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz pianist and vocalist Sophie Duner. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Sophie Duner: – I grew up outside Gothenburg, the southwest part of Sweden. After high school, I moved to Boston, lived shortly in NYC and then Madrid, Spain. My musical interest began with classical piano studies from the age of 6 up to the age of 14. After that, I began to sing. I started with pop, going into jazz, attending Berklee College of Music where I majored in jazz performance, studying jazz singing with Mili Bermejo and extended jazz improvisation  with Hal Crook & George Garzone. I also studied composition (jazz & contemporary classical) and I attended the Stockhausen summer courses  in Germany a few times. I don’t know at what point I realized music was a passion. I think it was more about a need. And when you finally find your true expression, then it ’s a passion. Jazz improvisation is a passion,  indeed.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

SD: – Being true to myself. Listening to a lot of varied music that I identify with. Everything from jazz to contemporary classical to world music. George Crumb, Hans Werner Henze, Igor Stravinsky, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus are a few fav. composers. Taking risks. Being isolated at times. Questioning jazz. Composing/singing contemporary music. To appreciate jazz again. I always needed to “ride 2 trains at the same time” in order to appreciate each one of them better. Or, to be on the opposite side of something in order to realize I like it. I need the contrast to understand what I am doing. Listening to instrumental music. Not singers. But I don’t always listen to the same music that I express. Painting has also assisted me in my composing. Especially during the past 10 years. I am also influenced by speech, timing and personal energy. Patterns against each other and odd time meters. Nobody talks in 4/4! Then why compose in 4/4 only? I think finding your own sound is to simply ‘transcribe’ ones own ‘persona’. And I like to try create imbalance that sticks out + I’m very fond of dissonance in the middle of romance! The question is, to what degree. Maybe I am mostly 70 / 30 %. But again, it’s all in there if you just transcribe’ yourself.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

SD: – Practicing my voice singing challenging tunes (my own or others). I don’t practice scales and technique in a separate manner. I practice technique within the songs themselves because they already offer you a challenging melodic and rhythmic landscape (which I find much better than separate scales.) As well, you get to train your sense of intervallic distances, both from a sight reading AND vocal technique perspective. I think it’s good to practice technique and artistry SIMULTANEOUSLY (and not separately.)

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

SD: – Yes, I have. My dynamic spectrum is way much wider and intense than it ever was before. It’s both louder AND softer and everything in between. Highly detailed. Why? My senses became “over-highlighted” many years ago due to some life changing.

JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

SD: – I try to not use the intellect whenever I execute any art form. It becomes dull, if I do. I only use intellect when I take in information, not when I release it. If I follow that rule, it usually takes care of itself. The spirit , emotion AND intellect is all there by itself – because the intellect was fed at an earlier stage. It’s a timing thing. I also think that too often, “emotion” is looked upon as a “lower standing” thing in todays artistic world. I do not agree with that. Emotion is just a vehicle through which the expression and intellect travel. It’s just a “how”. Not the subject itself. That’s why the first take is usually the best during a recording session! After that, one starts to overthink and it becomes pretentious and unexciting (a paradox as ones aim is to try sound more exciting 🙂 So forced emotion created by the intellect is not my thing. However, I am a great admirer of authentic ‘raw emotional expression’ but too often I hear logic trying to reduce that. They naturally co-exist: ‘A primitive intellectual’ is my favorite expression (founded by the late Dutch composer Louis). And finally, I do think dynamics are underrated. The spectrum is enormous! It’s an entire musical landscape on it’s own.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Strictly Business, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

SD: – ‘Strictly Business’ is my first solo album. It’s different because I follow my own vocals playing the piano myself. When I usually have musicians comping / following me. In that sense, this album is completely different. And I love comping myself, especially during rubato sections. As I know

when and where I will enter with the voice, I can make very quick changes with the piano (+ being as crazy dynamic as I want!). So it becomes more spontaneous (and maybe extreme) that way as I am pulling all the triggers as vocals AND piano is produced by ONE person.. But of course, if you have great communication with a musician comping you, that can happen as well.

New CD – 2022 – Buy from here

Duner cover

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

SD: – I selected myself for the musical reasons mentioned above in question 6 and the fact t that I can be totally independent for this gig!

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

SD: – Yes, I am. But first, I write what I feel, what is my art. Then, if they like it, even better. If they don’t, it is what it is. I have a hard time faking it.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

SD: – Yes, I recently had the most amazing “sitting in on two tunes” gig with the legendary drummer Tommy Campbell & band at Django’s in NYC the other week. Where everything felt explosive, easy and fun!!!That’s how it is singing with a master drummer.

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

SD: – Invite them to play. Make jazz schools for kids. First of all, they already love to improvise in daily life, more than adults, don’t they?! So it should be easy getting kids interested in jazz . But make them try it out by actually  PLAYING first and having FUN with it. Bring instruments to schools, have them “sit in” with jazz groups during master classes? There are lots of ways!

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

SD: – Looking inwards and not outwards. Take care of what you already have and develop it. However, hard these days as there is an OVERLOAD of input from outside.

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

SD: – Two issues I’d like to see improved in the music industry:

In my experience, 4 out of 5 times, R has been a very ‘shady’ and disappointing business/service. There is no way an artist can control what they do (or don’t do) for you. Or if they finance their top 20 % with the income they receive from the 80 % ? A very tempting but sad thought.

Another old issue for female musicians remain: Have a listen to my CD ’Strictly ’

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

SD: – George Crumb.

JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

SD: – Yes, I  have. I don’t know!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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