Sebastian interviewed singer / composer Guida de Palma by email about her music, her influences, her new album (Veludo), and her experience of playing music – and living – in the UK:
LondonJazz News: You were born in Portugal and started as a classical singer?
Guida de Palma: I was born in Portugal, started out as a strident baby and then crawled my way into the church classical choir: Verdi, Schubert, Gounod etc…I can sing Ave Maria if you want me to…
LJN: And you were in Paris as a teenager when Jaco Pastorius hopped on stage to join you what’s the story there?
GdP: I had put together my first band and the Sunset, a jazz club, offered me a three day gig there. Jaco Pastorius was in town and he came to play and jam with us for the three nights. It was an incredible experience! I still have a tape somewhere… that’s where Jaco met Paco Seri, who went on to be his drummer and later joined Zawinul Syndicate.
LJN: Which of the Brazilian singer songwriters have you gravitated towards / listened to the most?
GdP: A few of them: as a child used to listen to a lot of Chico Buarque, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gal, Maria Bethania, João Gilberto. Later i discovered people like Djavan, Joyce, Tania Maria, Ed Motta, Tim Maia, Banda Black Rio. To name but a few.
LJN: What does “Jazzinho” mean and what does it mean to you?
GdP: Jazzinho means “sweet little jazz”. It is a mix of Soul, Jazz and Bossa Nova. It is my musical persona. A part of me is the vocalist Guida de Palma, another part is the musician interested in production, arrangements and that’s my band: Jazzinho. Guida de Palma exists on her own. Jazzinho is the collective part of my work, my team.
LJN: You’ve played with so many greats. Do you take it in your stride or are you sometimes starstruck like the rest of us?
GdP: I’m always nervous and in awe of good musicianship: famous or not. Of course I am starstruck, but once we are at it, I concentrate on the task at hand and try to forget this aspect. Vocalists are both the instrument and the person playing the instrument. To do your homework and be Zen is key.
LJN: What’s the concept behind “Veludo” (what does that mean?)
GdP: Veludo means “Velvet”. I started as a funk singer, the high energy stuff. At one point I came to realise that what people really liked from me was when I was doing sweet melodies with nice harmonies. The sound I love went out of fashion for quite a while, but now people want the real stuff: they are saturated by digital rhythms and computerized production. All that time I have been waiting in the wings with my natural and organic sound, with real musicians. Patience paid off, this sound is back with a vengeance.
LJN: And Leon Ware is involved in the album too?
GdP: When Leon Ware offered me a few songs to develop with him, I was over the moon. We kicked off with a seed in you, and ended up doing it as a duet with Graham Harvey, my producer. Initially we thought we would record the songs live in a studio in two days with a jazz combo only. Once we had the basic rhythm tracks, we played around with adding synth strings; it brought an all new angle. The problem is I’m not too keen on fake strings, so I thought, what the heck, why lose only a few thousand quid in an acoustic album, when one can throw a lot more money at it. I was in that 60s, 70s mood, listening to a lot of Burt Bacharach, Nina Simone, Bill Withers, all recorded with philharmonic orchestras. With 40 musicians on the track, suddenly things have a lot more substance. When we recorded the strings, here in Lisbon, with the National opera orchestra moonlighting in Jazz, the recording session was amazing (goosebumps…even tears), and that’s how the project grew into an all star rhythm section plus a 22 musician string orchestra! Now, I’m broke but happy. Even major record companies are hard to find doing this now.
LJN: How did it move forward from your previous two albums?
GdP: It’s a fusion of both my two previous albums. It has the melodic qualities of the first album, and the “classic sound” of the second one. I went back to the mellow and sweet songs of the first album, but we recorded them like the second one I did with Ed Motta: live in studio. There are no samples. Everything was written and arranged to the dot before recording. The “production value” is very high. Working with Derek Nash and Richard Bull was great, they are both amazing recording and sound engineers. Of course I also feel blessed I had the phenomenal Graham Harvey producing my album.
We wanted to do an old school LP, and put a lot of energy and money into making a beautiful object. The mastering is “Direct Metal Mastering” or DMM for short. Only a handful of people have the lathe and the know how to do this. Basically it is about cutting the initial plate from tape directly into copper. It allows a much more precise groove and thus packing more music on the same side. It was developed for classical music, so an entire symphony of Beethoven could fit on a single side. We asked Pauler Acoustics in Germany, to do this for us. They really liked working with strings and Jazz. Then Pallas, who are also in Germany, manufactured the LP. These guys have a passion for their craft. They did the printing and the pressing… the result is that if you like vinyl sound, the range on this one is amazing. Also, as a bonus, for people buying the LP they can download the album for free.
LJN: What made you choose to crowdfund?
GdP: The lack of financing to finish off the album and finance manufacturing and promotion. We went for Indiegogo, which is a good platform to keep the money you get even if you don’t reach your target, which of course we failed to reach.
LJN: Did the crowdfunding go well?
GdP: Not really! but it helped a little bit. The silver lining being it got us a lot of attention. With Stef, my husband and my partner in the project, it was the first time we were trying our luck at being our own record company, so it was all new and good fun. We learned a lot from the process. Next time, if there is a next time, we will be a lot wiser. Better late than never. But the internet is the most amazing tool: we feel we can be in direct contact with the fans, no A&Rs to please, we do what we want and who we are.
LJN: Great design / album art – who did that?
GdP: Todd Marrone, a street artist, teacher and father of two from Philadelphia, an Incredibly inspirational young man. With his mate Billy Blob, he also did a video for us. Unfortunately, he died suddenly on Christmas day. I was shocked, can you believe that? He was not even forty. I don’t even want to start thinking what Christmas will mean for his kids, for the rest of their lives. An auction of his art, and art contributed by many other artists, will take place In March. All benefits will go to his children’s education fund. The Facebook page for the auction is here
LJN: What do you think of London audiences? We take a bit more warming up than other crowds don’t we ?
GdP: No, not at all. Please don’t put yourself down, It is simply not true. You are a wonderfully musical people, with great taste, who love life and are always curious! I find the Soul Jazz scene so vibrant and exciting ! For some reason, because I am Portuguese, people think of Jazzinho as being a Portuguese act. Far from it. I left my country when I was 16, and that was a while ago, we won’t delve into this. I created Jazzinho when I was living in the UK and have recorded all three albums there. In my own country I am practically unknown. I lived and worked in London for the best of two decades where I was in many bands. I even taught for a while at Morley, and Richmond Colleges of Music. In fact Jazzinho is a very British project, I would not record anywhere else. If you look at the credits, alongside Graham Harvey on keys and production, there is Ian Thomas on drums, Laurence Cottle on Bass, John Parricelli on guitar, Martyn Shaw on Flugelhorn, Gareth Lockrane on flutes, Thomas Dyiani on percussion and Femi Temowo. They are all amazing musicians from London. I can’t believe I have these guys on my album. And having Leon Ware on it, I have to pinch myself. Also, at Jazz FM, Chris Phillips showed us a lot of love by making us record of the week and playing our music, this started a buzz. As I write these lines, we are currently Nº5 in the UK Soul Charts. So you Brits rock, leading the world in the creative industry: film , fashion, music, television etc. With Japan and the US, the little success I’ve had is in the UK. I love this country deeply and I am grateful and pleased you guys like our music.
LondonJazz News: And there’s a live date at the end of the month?
Guida de Palma: I am looking forward to be with Leon Ware on stage at Rich Mix on the 28th of Feb together with Richard Bailey on drums, Julian Crampton on bass and Jim Mullen on guitar. Am I a lucky girl? Honestly, haven’t I the best band on the planet?