INTERVIEW with Judi Silvano
This interview with Judi is from way back (issue # 67, if I remember correctly); it still gives some great insight into what makes her brand of jazz “cook” so hot, though! EnJOY!
Zzaj: Your music seems to lean heavily towards improvisation, which obviously makes it very attractive to our readers. Was it the “jazz” that made you go that way, or some other influence?
Judi -: I grew up in a creative household where all of the arts flourished. I listened to a lot of jazz and classical music as I was growing up, and had a background in both classical and modern dance. So by the time I was in the twenties and moved from Philadelphia to NYC, I became involved as a dancer in the Loft Scene. There I got involved in collective movement improvisations and began working with jazz musicians who were improvising with us. That experience brought me back to my jazz roots and I started studying and working as a singer in improvisational settings. The jazz influence ultimately became the motivation for my experimentation using my voice in non-traditional ways and began my exploration of composition as well.
Zzaj: Do you do touring? If so, where? When is the next tour?
Judi – : Yes, I do tour. In the past 15 years i have traveled quite a bit both as performer and educator. At first I traveled with Joe Lovano’s ensembles throughout Europe and then I started doing my own tours on the West Coast and Europe with my own groups. I also taught for several years in Canada’s renown Banff International Center For the Arts, in their Summer Jazz Workshop under Kenny Werner’s directorship. I am planning another tour to Europe (Paris, Brussels, Rome, Edinburgh) for the Spring 2005 as well as to LA & San Francisco. Since I’ve just released my new CD “Let Yourself Go”, I have been concentrating on that work and staying at home, in New York, the jazz capital of the world!!!! I keep updating my Itinerary on my website, so your readers can check that at www.judisilvano.com
Zzaj: Who are your musical “heroes”?
Judi – : Ella Fitzgerald was my first idol and has remained a strong influence, with her amazing ear and wonderful improvisational ability. I learned so much great repertoire, too, with her Songbook series featuring so many of the great composers of American Song.
When I started singing jazz in NYC I met 3 wonderful women in a workshop who became lifelong mentors to me: Sheila Jordan, Jeanne Lee & Jay Clayton. Sheila Jordan is still an inspiration to me in her love of the music and generous spirit and I take her workshops sometimes just to be near her! I learned a lot from Jay Clayton about using the instrumentality of my voice and we work together now which is really fun! And I have been guided by Jeanne Lee’s influence through the years to explore a different way of singing, although I am a soprano and she sang very low. I feel related to her also by her choice of material and in fact, her association and recordings with the pianist and composer Mal Waldron were part of a history that led me to work with him towards the end of his life, and to study and perform his compositions.
Another important influence has been Abbey Lincoln. It has taken me many years to really embrace the interpretation of Lyric as a primary importance of jazz singing, and through feeling the depth of Abbey’s communication I have been able to reach for my own expression with words.
Zzaj: The Internet seems to be “clogged” with artists, probably due to easy accessibility to digital recording equipment. Is this artistic explosion a “good” thing, or a “bad” thing, from the perspective of quality of music?
Judi – It’s really a mixed blessing! While it has made recording a readily available tool for learning and growth, which is a good thing, it has broadened the scope of international exposure to such an extent that it’s difficult to choose whom to listen to and how to get an artist’s work to their target audience, which is bad. The same market forces are at work, however, and eventually artists with something unique to “say” and of lasting influence will be acknowledged. Unfortunately, some mediocre talents are being marketed by commercial entities and some very creative talents are not receiving enough exposure. But this has always been the dilemma of a creative life, so it is even more necessary for a recording artist to stay focused on his/her own work and to stay positively motivated in spite of the social or commercial climate.
Zzaj: For an artist starting out, what is your best advice?
Judi – : Study everything related to your instrument and Listen to everything with an open mind. Learn as many skills as possible and put yourself into a supportive environment in which to experience a broad range of creative play before you get into the working world. Realize that you must develop into an artistic personality, it doesn’t happen in a few years, so that each phase of your life will be valuable and necessary for you to get to the next level. Patience and determination are as important as your innate talents, so nurture all aspects of yourself.
Zzaj: Do you believe that music has the power to heal the things fouled by political pollutants?
Judi – What a great question, especially in this time period! Yes, I totally agree that music has a healing quality that can transcend all of the divisions and frustrations that “civilized society” somehow creates. We are more connected through our senses and humanity than we are divided by our religion, race, ethnic heritage, gender or anything else that the mind can think of to mess up the beautiful order of nature. When 9-1-1 happened in NYC, I decided to create a series of concerts featuring younger singers to give them a head start, which developed into a series of concerts that ran in a club in Greenwich Village for 2 years. I expanded it to include collaborations among my peers and other singers I admired and it brought the “community” together a little, when we were all so demoralized by world events. So I have first-hand experience, how music does have the power to bring people together during timees of stress.
And from performances and workshops that I’ve been doing with my group “Voices Together” (3 singers & 1 Dancer) I see the impact this singing and breathing and moving together has on people, young and old! It enlivens them!
Zzaj: What is your most current project? Why are you doing it? What has you most excited about it?
Judi – My newest Jazz CD has just been released and I am so excited by it for both personal and professional reasons. The recording is my first all-Standards CD and it came about because my mother was 79 and she always got excited when I told her about a new OLD song I was working on! So I developed a list of her favorite songs from the 1930’s and 1940’s mostly, and hired veteran arranger Michael Abene to write some little big band charts for me. The result is “Let Yourself Go” which was just released on the Zoho Music label.
I got to hire some of my favorite players and come back to the songs I listened to while growing up, my mother’s favorite songs! The band is wonderful, and includes Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Dick Oatts on sax, Rufus Reid on bass, Newman T. Baker on drums, and of course Mike Abene on piano. He wrote some inventive instrumentation so I aso have Akua Dixon on cello, Roger Rosenburg on bass clarinet, Mayra Casales on percussion and Jamie Baum on alto flute.
Considering my mom was a working mother (she was a registered nurse) so many years ago, the fact that there are so many accomplished female musicians (plus our recording engineer) that I could include in this project made it a special salute to her strong spirit.
What i’m most excited about is that I could not only create a musical gift for my Mother’s 80th Birthday, but I could learn so much about my own expression of this wonderful old material in a modern context. I feel I have grown musically from the experience.
Zzaj: What is the most rewarding musical experience you’ve ever had?
Judi – There have been many. But perhaps the first live studio recording that I did will always stand out. As part of Joe Lovano’s “Universal Language” ensemble I had a chance to play (or sing, if you will) with the amazing Jack DeJohnette and Charlie Haden especially, but also with Steve Swallow, Kenny Werner, Tim Hagens and Joe, of course, in an amazing recording session for Blue Note Records. That was a very high experience that I have strived to keep as the standard for all the work I’ve been doing through the years since in my searching and development.
In more recent years, recording with the great Mal Waldron was an incredibly rewarding experience that I am still reaping the benefits of! I had long admired his song “Soul Eyes” so when I had the chance to meet him and told him that, we started a dialogue about songs and composition. I studied many of his lesser known works for months and then we went into the studio for a short 4 hours (remember he was 75 years old when we recorded) and recordemostly his songs, with some of my original lyrics and two of my songs. The result, “Riding a Zephyr” (Soul Note/ Black Saint Records) changed my life. Playing with Mal opened me to another way of singing – slower, lower and with more space. I’m rejuvenated on my journey to discover the beauty and power of communication of the human spirit through music.
Zzaj: If you had the opportunity to sing in any venue you wanted (that you haven’t performed in already), where would it be?
Judi – When I was in college I sang with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, as a young professional under the baton of Robert Shaw at Carnegie Hall, and as a jazz artist in opera houses & clubs around the world. The venues I’d most like to perform in at this moment is the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington DC as part of the Mary Lou Williams Festival and at the Montreal Festival as well.
Zzaj: Your “words of wisdom” for aspiring musicians in our readership?
Judi – : Music is a powerful and wonderful tool that can bring great joy and healing to many people. To be a practitioner carries responsibilities and work to attain a high level of expression and there is no straight line to getting recognition for all your hard work. That is why it is so important to develop a strong inner sense of purpose and to nurture healthy behaviours in order to support the work and the “playing” of music.