Renowned jazz singer and teacher, Ingrid James, is making her Adelaide debut at Fringe this year, playing at the newly minted Adelaide Jazz Club. In between teaching, singing and feeding her family, she sat down with Glam to talk about her glittering career and her upcoming gigs.
“I’m not a second-generation jazz singer”, says James. “Although I’ve been singing professional from about the age of 19, starting off doing backing vocals at Channel 9, before joining a soul-funk band and touring the east coast of Australia. For a long time I sang jazz-rock, jazz-funk and fusion but then I decided I just really wanted to get into jazz, when I saw Ella Fitzgerald in Brisbane, by default, because somebody’s partner was sick, and they had a spare ticket!
“I’ve been teaching and running a jazz singers jam night for nearly 18 years, create a supportive environment for singers to learn in. About four years ago I started running the Brisbane Jazz Vocal Festival at the invitation of the Brisbane Jazz Club. I’ve spent most of my time on the East coast and travelling overseas, but never quite made it to Adelaide!”
Like most musicians, James has her influences.
“I love the ‘old girls’ like Carmen McRae, Anita O’Day, Sara Vaughan, Nancy Wilson. I suppose because of their authenticity and the way that they craft a song, working with the band. There are lots of modern players and singers that I love like Betty Carter and Cassandra Wilson. They all have their own stamp on what they do. I love really cultured stuff as well as stripped down, organic raw stuff. I’m constantly finding new artists that I love hearing, but I try not to imitate. I’m always looking for my own ways of approaching something.”
Whilst she is in Adelaide, we are making the most of her. James will be running a vocal workshop this Saturday afternoon, culminating in a showcase of those students’ work on Saturday night.
“This will be an Adelaide Fringe version of the jazz singers’ jam night, but the participants will be from the workshop. In the workshop itself I’ll probably do a component where we deal with breath management and look at where everyone’s technique is at. I’ll be inviting a musician along and we’ll workshop some ideas looking at phrasing, nuances in jazz, storytelling, time, rhythm and so forth. It will be a spontaneous thing, depending on who attends. I’ll be customizing it for that group.”
This Friday night, James will be performing some of her own repertoire in a show called Love and Other Fiascos
“This is looking at all facets of love through the Great American Songbook, the Brazilian Songbook and some rearrangements of classic tunes: there might be a jazz version of a Rolling Stones or a Beatles…so a real pot-pourri of repertoire. I’ll be working with some musicians from Adelaide: Dave McEvoy on keys, Shireen Khemlani on bass and John McDermott on drums. I’m looking forward to just creating something on the night. My approach is about storytelling and just being as authentic as I can.”
So what does James think of the state of Australian jazz in general?
“I think it is pretty healthy. There seems to be a push towards original composition because there’s a lot of support through governments and grant systems. But there is a bit of a split between what works for audiences and what works for aficionados. Venues are looking at marketing: they want themes to promote so that people know what they’re getting. So, you see an Ella show or a Bill Evans show or Bossa Nova show, before you see the artist’s name. There aren’t as many venues for original music. But generally, it’s very healthy and judging by the amount of students wanting to enrol in courses, and that attend jam nights, it’s not a dying art. I think what Mark Keough is doing (with the Adelaide Jazz Club) is just fantastic because he is being entrepreneurial and getting something happening.”
Interview by Tracey Korsten
Ingrid James plays the Adelaide Jazz Club, at the Gilbert Street Hotel.
Love and Other Fiascos Friday 15th 7.30 pm
Jazz Singers Workshop Saturday 16th 1.00 pm
Jazz Singers Jam Night Saturday 16th 7.30 pm