Interview: Anita Wardell

Scat queen and all-round lovely lady, Anita Wardell, talks to Fran Hardcastle about her upcoming gigs at Pizza Express (next one this Sunday Sep 12th) , her favourite singers and her American tour. Plus we get a sneak preview of her next album, due to be recorded by the end of this year. (Photo credit: Richard Kaby)

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Tell LondonJazz about your gig at Pizza with Michael L Roberts this Sunday.

Michael is a singer who I think is a real one to watch. He’s in that Kurt Elling vein. He’s got a real respect for the Great American Songbook and knowledge of the great jazz instrumentalists, like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and even Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. He draws from that knowledge then injects his own personal feeling into it, which makes a really interesting mix. So he’s got the jazz streak that we’ve learnt from all the greats before us but he’s also got his own innate sound, which he’s been working on and developing over the last 6 years, since I first met him. It’s that unique sound that I love about him. I think he’ll go far, that guy!

What kind of rep will we hear at the gig?

We’ve been doing a few gigs together over the past year or so and we’ve got a few tunes together, Miles Davis’ Four, a couple of Bob Dorough tunes and some Horace Silver. We pick these great instrumental songs from these great instrumentalists and perform some with lyrics, some not. We do a great Stan Getz tune called Don’t Get Scared. Michael sings one of the solos and I sing the other one, then we do loads of scatting together… He roasts me, then I roast him but nowadays he nearly always roasts me more! The interaction we’ve got with each other and the interaction we’ve got with the band is really special so I’m really looking forward to that gig.

And you’ll be appearing on his new album?

I was really chuffed when he asked me to do a guest spot. The album is a mixture of all that stuff. Standards and a couple of originals that he’s done. The one that I’ve guested on is a tune Michael wrote called Faces. The album, Moving is Living, is coming out on the Nota Bene label. I’ve been told the record company want to bring Faces out as a single, which is very exciting for Michael and certainly exciting for me.

In a couple of weeks you’re back at Pizza Express on 21st September with Lea Delaria.

Yes, we’ll be doing the Jerome Kern Songbook. It’ll be very exciting to sing with Lea, because Lea is somebody that loves to improvise. September is proving to be a great month for me because I’m gonna be doing what I love the most – scatting. As well as joining up with people who inspire me to do different things.

I hear you’ve got some dates in the States coming up?

Yes, it’s something I’m really looking forward to. I’ll be doing a series of House Concerts, which are quite fashionable over there. People host a concert in their home and invite about 40 guests. I’ll be doing one of Ernie Shelton’s House Concert’s in Sebastapol, California and a couple for Nich Anderson in Seattle. I’m also giving a workshop at The Jazz School in Berkeley and am due to confirm a gig in New Orleans.

And plans are afoot for a new Anita Wardell album?

Yes. Once a few logistics are sorted, I’ll be away recording, which will be something to look forward to. There will definitely be an Anita Wardell record out very soon. If not this year then at the beginning of next year.

What are your plans for the album? Can you give us a taste of what we might expect?

All I can say is that there will be some scatting on it…

We’d be disappointed if there wasn’t!

(Laughs). There’ll definitely be some scatting and some vocalese. And maybe a couple of new arrangements… I’ve taken some old songs and really given them a new lease of life by changing some of the time signatures. I’m just trying to keep doing what I do, so that the fans will be happy, while really trying to find another streak of my performing skills. I love scatting and I love vocalese but there’s so much out there to explore. So I’m now in the process of trying some new feels and new ways round the tunes and maybe I might even write one or two of my own. But there’ll definitely be something for everyone one on the album.

You mention exploring new feels for songs. What new directions do you think jazz singers can take these days?

Jazz instrumental music is really taking off in new directions. It’s fused together with so many different styles… You’ve got folk fused with jazz and world music fused with jazz and even the pop music of today is really fused in. People are working in different time signatures, taking rocky/poppy/jazzy/folky feels and really moving in a forward direction.

With the singing, it’s still quite standardy based in a lot of ways. However, then there are people like Gretchen Parlato and Esperanda Spalding that are really taking it into another area. They’re doing things that the instrumentalists are doing, taking on different time feels and experimenting with different textures. Doing things like mixing Brazilian music and world music in with jazz, which I think has been done before but they’re taking it to new heights, like putting songs in 11 and 13 time signatures. They make music that sounds really new and rich. I think there’s something to be learnt by that.

Then there are my favourite singers in London, Norma Winstone, Christine Tobin and Brigitte Beraha – who I think is just awesome. I’ve always thought Christine and Norma were my favourite singers, then in the last five years, Brigitte came on the scene. I find her very talented and think she has some really interesting things to say. She gives something different. Brigitte writes her own material. She’s another one who is taking things to a different area. Which is really great.

Thank you!

Anita will perform with Michael L Roberts at Pizza Express Dean Street this Sunday 12 September and returns for Lea Delaria’s Wall2Wall on 21st September.

For more info on Anita’s USA dates, go to www.anitawardell.com

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