UK singer Clare Foster talked to Alison Bentley about her new English Song project “Satori”, and about her studies with the legendary vocalist Judy Niemack in New York.
London Jazz News: Tell me about your jazz background.
Clare Foster: I started playing the clarinet at a fairly young age and got into jazz that way. I’ve been listening to it since the age of about 5- my Dad played it. He still doesn’t believe there’s any jazz after 1932! It was all from the very early era- Bix Beiderbecke and Bessie Smith, all these very early singers. I really wanted to sing the tunes I was playing on the clarinet. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a singer or an actress. I couldn’t get into drama school- I was 18, and I decided I’d take the music route. I thought, I’m going to go to New York for a bit, because all the musicians I’d listened to were from America.
LJN: That was when you studied with Judy Niemack. What did you learn from her?
CF: I learnt a lot because I lived with her for a short time. It was like having a view of how life is as a jazz singer. And she was very serious about scatting- she was much more of an instrumental jazz singer. So I would listen to her learning Coltrane solos at 12.30 at night. I was starting out and she’d been singing jazz for at least 20 years. She was doing all these gigs, and Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis would turn up to hear the gigs. The experience of seeing somebody work very seriously at their art was thrilling. It paved the way for what I wanted to do.
LJN: The next big thing was Amsterdam?
CF: I decided that I wanted to study more so I did the London Guildhall Jazz course. Then a friend invited me to Amsterdam. I met a drummer there who kept bringing me over to do gigs- I thought, if I’m working there I might as well go and live there.
LJN: And your CD of Wayne Shorter tunes, with your lyrics?
CF: I made an album in Holland with a mix of material from Metheny to Cedar Walton, with Jean Toussaint on sax. Then I approached this record company called Groove Records- they decided it would be better if I did a whole album of Shorter tunes. I went along with what they asked, or they wouldn’t have made the album. I got the repertoire and musicians together and I don’t even think we had a rehearsal! I got Dré Pallemaerts [drums] from Antwerp. [Pianist] Bernardo Sassetti flew in from Portugal and [bassist] Wayne Batchelor came from London. You know how it is- you just do it!
LJN: And your Brazilian band Claridade?
CF: I got into Brazilian music living in Holland- there were a lot of Brazilian and Uruguayan people living there. I got a gig every week with a Brazilian band. I went crazy for the music.
LJN: I was intrigued that you’ve now made a CD of English songs.
CF: I’ve always loved beautiful music- I absolutely adore those folk/Classical songs, and the lyrics are so gorgeous. Most of the ones I’ve chosen were originally poems. I don’t hear these- why aren’t they done? I’ve never even heard vocal versions of a few of the tracks, even Classical recordings. It’s amazing- John Ireland- I’ve done quite a few of his songs- The Vagabond, Sea Fever and Summer Schemes. There are not as many recordings as I thought there would be. He’s written so many, I’d need three lives to get through all of them! Vaughan Williams- Whither Must I Wander– a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. We’ve done a slightly McCoy Tyner version of it, though you can’t get too McCoy with a cello [Shanti Paul Jayasinha] and piano [Gabriel Keen]! Roger Quilter- he wrote these absolutely beautiful Four Songs of the Sea, of which I’ve recorded two. And Holst- Now in these fairylands.
LJN: Did you do the arrangements?
CF: I arranged one of the John Ireland Sea Songs. We kept two or three of them nearly the same [as written], but have taken the keys down. Come Away Death– we’ve more or less kept it the same but we’ve added solo sections. All the other arrangements are by Shanti Paul Jayasinha. He’s taken Vagabond and put it into 5/4, with an absolutely beautiful cello line running through it. We’ve got Brazilian guitaristKaw Regis, and we’ve made Summer Schemes into a reggae piece. Markku Rinta-Polari plays soprano on this lovely tune that I found by accident. My daughter was doing a choir concert in a church, and at the back they were selling all this old music. I picked up this thing that looked very interesting by Walter de la Mare the poet and music by V. H. Hutchinson, who I’d never heard of. We’ve given it an African vibe. It’s not a big sound on the album, but it’s a little bit bigger because we’ve been able to add percussion afterwards.
LJN: Did you study Classical singing?
CF: I had a few lessons when I first started singing, and my experience has been that people have wanted me to go the Classical way. But I’ve never wanted to go that way- it’s so very strict. I was always a bit scared about losing my freedom.
– Clare Foster- Satori CD Launch The White Swan 556 Commercial Road, London E14 7JD (Limehouse DLR) 27 April 2015 7.00 pm
– Satori is out on 33 Records – 33JAZZ249