Preview/Interview: Alice Zawadzki – China Lane Album Launch at Pizza Express, 15th/16th July

Alice Zawadzki. Photo by Monika S. Jakubowska

Melody Mclaren interviewed singer and violinist Alice Zawadzki for LondonJazz News ahead of the launch of her album China Lane: 

Melody McLaren: What’s your earliest musical memory and how do you feel about it?

Alice Zawadzki: There was a local performance from a Russian pianist called Maxim Filippov. I was a tiny kid at the time, maybe 6 or 7 years old? I remember him as blond and handsome, with an almost supernatural intensity and seriousness. I suppose my age meant that I wasn’t aware of the stereotype, and I was probably captivated by him even more as a result. He played Rachmaninov and Chopin. I’d been asked to present flowers to him at the end and as I walked up to him on the stage I was awed by his presence. Backstage, me and my Dad asked him to sign our programme. I still have it somewhere in a cupboard. His hands were trembling and there was a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. I remember this juxtaposition of the man on and off stage vividly. I didn’t understand it then of course, but I do now.

MM: What life event do you think has most significantly shaped your musical career (for better or worse)?

AZ: Meeting Lillian Boutté and her becoming my Jazz Mama. She taught me so much, and it was by osmosis. She never said, “sing it like this or that”. We just hung out and I absorbed. Her warmth alone could keep the earth turning. Also, many years ago, a brilliant musician whose opinion I value said my gig was shit – he was full of booze and his delivery was… questionable! But he meant it. He said we weren’t taking it seriously enough. And I was like “f**k you, we are!” But after a while I started to work it out. It took a couple of years to fully understand the comment. But it was really pivotal. Without being arrogant, you have to have courage of your convictions and deliver accordingly. You have to be serious.

MM: What’s your musical “guilty pleasure” – something you secretly enjoy that’s not seen as “cool” by other musicians or friends?

AZ: Sometimes I go on Youtube and watch famous American singers doing national anthems at sporting events.

MM: If you had to be marooned on a desert island with another musician for an indeterminate length of time, who would you choose?

AZ: Do they get to bring their instrument?! If so, someone who plays a chordal instrument. Someone who plays something else but is also a nice pianist or guitarist on the side. Someone who is fit as well, and knows how to build a tent and crack a coconut. Someone who wouldn’t find me too annoying. I don’t know who this person is yet, and hopefully I will never have to – being marooned sounds awful.

MM: If you had to be stuck in a lift listening to a single piece of music looping repeatedly for an indeterminate length of time, what “elevator music” would you choose?

AZ: Miles playing Blue in Green or Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony. Although they’re so different they both seem to materialise out of thin air so there’d be no annoying repetition of stops and starts. I’m always disappointed when either of those pieces are over! They would also keep everyone calm and keep things in perspective.

MM: What musical instrument/discipline, other than your current one, would you most like to learn?

AZ: I wanna play funky electric bass. Everything I ever write pretty much starts with a bass line. OH MY GOD I would smash all those low notes, BOOM!

MM: If you could play in an ensemble with any musicians of your choice (living or dead), who would be in your “fantasy band”?

AZ: Oh man. It sounds cheesy but I’m working with them already! For the purposes of this question… I wonder how James Jamerson, Ali Farka Touré, Bill Frisell and Béla Bartók would sound together? Probably pretty weird but potentially great!

MM: If you could go back in time and meet yourself as a young person, what’s the one piece of advice you’d offer yourself, knowing now what you didn’t know then?

AZ: Don’t think you can do it all by yourself.

MM: If you could change one aspect of the current music education system to improve the lives of aspiring musicians, what would it be?

AZ: I teach and I genuinely care about a lot of those kids but I’m no expert on the system. My pennyworth is that it’s money. Schools need more of it, specially dedicated to the arts. I don’t think politicians really grasp their value, and I actually think many young people don’t realise either, until it’s a bit late, and someone needs to tell them. Sure, taking part in creative artistic things isn’t going to literally mend a broken leg or plan the building of a motorway, or physically save your life. But the arts teach people so much – about beauty, expression, form, maths, philosophy, history, human interaction, valuable formulas that are echoed everywhere you look. The arts give us something to live for. Give people something to live for and they can endure almost any hardships. It’s the most valuable currency humans have and it can save your life! Music portrayed properly on the television would help, rather than relentless vacuous sensationalism. Encouraging people to have more ownership of music making, having a session or a jam at home or in the pub or in the park. Encouraging people to take the time to really check out the tools that would help them play – ear training, technique, perhaps reading some kind of notation. It’s not fashionable, but I think if you have half a brain, why not?

MM: Which piece of music would you most like played (by whom) at your funeral?

AZ: I’m not sure. Tchaikovsky’s Elegy from Serenade for Strings or Björk’s All is Full of Love seem to sum up most things for me. Or an improvisation by my closest friends. Consider this your official invitation folks! Fingers crossed it won’t be for a while.

Alice Zawadzki launches China Lane at Pizza Express Dean Street on 15th and 16th July. Tickets

Categories: miscellaneous

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