|All my treasures album cover|
London-resident Canadian singer LAUREN BUSH has achieved her goal: to record her first CD, “All my treasures”, before her 30th birthday. She talked to Alison Bentley about learning to use her voice as an instrument; how she chose the songs, and Ian Shaw’s role in producing the album.
London Jazz News: Your early musical influences were in Canada?
Lauren Bush: My dad is a jazz trumpet player and my mum was an instrumental band teacher in High School, so both my parents went to University to study music. When I was small that was a massive influence. My dad freelanced for most of my childhood. The older I got, the more I realised he was living this really cool lifestyle. It wasn’t until I went to University that I realised I had an aptitude for it, because I’d been raised in it. I’d always really enjoyed music in school-I had piano lessons. It wasn’t until University that I thought, I really want to do this for real, for a living! I started my own jazz quartet, and sang with the University jazz band, and started to take it really seriously. I went to a liberal arts university in Texas- it was a really interesting experience. My family moved for my dad’s career and we lived in Texas in the deep south, and I developed a bit of a twang! I studied music and interior design- I was worried that if I studied just music I might not be able to support myself. I wanted to have a fall back plan, but I realised I didn’t want to be an interior designer. When I finished that degree I got my teaching certificate to teach music in schools, so I’d still be pursuing music.
LJN: Tell me about some of your performing highlights?
LB: At school in Texas we were given quite a few opportunities- my first really awesome experience was opening for Maynard Ferguson. I don’t think at the time I really understood what that meant, but now I’ve done a lot of listening I realise that playing alongside him was an exciting opportunity. When I moved back to Canada, I tried to get into some of the jazz festivals- my Quartet got to perform in the International Jazz Festival in Victoria. I met Bobby McFerrin and got to go up on stage and scat with him.
LJN: What brought you to the UK?
LB: My partner is an actor and he got into grad school here. I’d been to the UK to visit and absolutely loved it. Culture and arts life in Europe is so much richer than it is in North America. I think Europeans still appreciate live entertainment. We’ve been here about four years and haven’t looked back.
LJN: You sing with a band in Italy too?
LB: About a year after moving to London I put some songs on YouTube that have had quite a few hits, and a guitar player, Luca Di Luzio, who lives in Italy stumbled across these tracks and really liked them. He contacted me and said he’d really like to bring me to the Ravenna area. He said, ‘We’ve got an agency and manager and you can play with our Italian trio.’ I’ve been twice now and have two more gigs coming up.
LJN: Your “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” on YouTube got you some UK gigs too?
LB: It’s been a really solid demo for me. Also, when I entered a competition in Riga- there were 20 of us- and when I got there the other singers knew who I was from YouTube. It is an awesome arrangement but I can’t take credit for it. Patrick Courtin, the piano player I worked with in Canada created it.
LJN: Which singers have influenced you?
LB: My absolute favourite is Chet Baker. I love that he is an instrumentalist and a singer. He especially influenced my scat singing- he’s got an instrumentalist’s perspective on it. When he scats he sounds like he’s playing the trumpet. To me, that’s what scatting should sound like. It shouldn’t be someone trying to pretend to sound like a horn player. It’s a way of expressing the sound but you have to remember that your voice is your instrument. I’m also really influenced by Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Betty Carter. I’m totally taken with Cyrille Aimée- she’s really big on the New York scene right now- she’s got a different approach to singing and I admire her ability to scat. Nnenna Freelon- she’s so cool. She does what I like to do, and take a song that may be well known, and try to change it and do something new and modern and different, so that people recognise it but you’re not just doing the same old same old.
LJN: How did the idea of using your voice as an instrument come about, and how did you work on that?
LB: When I studied music in Texas, they didn’t really have a jazz studies programme, so I tried to create my own pathway in a classical programme. What I just couldn’t get my head around was singing classical music without changing it in some way. Vocal coaches were always on my case about it- ‘You can’t change this music, it’s written that way!’ I was just desperate to add my own twist to it, so I realised scat was a good way for me to express myself. In jazz, all the instrumental players get to improvise and so why shouldn’t I? My dad talked to me a lot about being able to hear how the chord changes go, and making sure that you’re singing along with them, so I have to use my ears a lot. There’s no end to what you can do. Sometimes I gig and I think, ‘My solos are getting a bit stale, like I’m not going anywhere.’ All you have to do is sit down and practise and change your path a little bit. When people started saying to me, ‘You’re really good at scatting,’ I thought, ‘That’s something that sets me apart.’
LJN: In your CD liner notes you mention that you transcribed Ray Brown’s solo in “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” Is transcription something you do a lot?
LB: Not a whole lot. One of my university teachers talked to me about listening to the bass because it’s the driving force, especially when you’re using your ears to hear how the changes go and how a song moves. I’ve always tried to listen to what the bass is doing. I’m much better at doing things by ear than I am at writing so I’ve learned a lot of solos that way.
LJN: Which solos have influenced you?
LB: I started out listening to a lot of Ella’s solos. It was a bit of a party trick- I learned her Lady Be Good from start to finish. I found her solos were quite easy to follow. I think Chet Baker’s are my favourite- the one on It Could Happen to You. And I really like Sarah Vaughan- she does one on All of Me- that’s a classic. She’s like Ella, but I think she’s better!
LJN: There are some moments on your CD where you’re singing soli in unison with other instruments.
LB: [Pianist} Liam Dunachie wrote those. I think it was three days before the recording! Originally it was meant to be me and the saxophone player [Brandon Allen.] When we got into the rehearsal, he said, ‘Why don’t we try and slide it around, so the instrumentalists take turns and you’re singing with all of them?’ It adds another level.
LJN: You’ve worked with Liam for a while?
LB: He was the very first guy that I met when I moved here. I looked in the Jazz in London brochure, trying to find places I could sit in, and I ended up at the Spice of Life. I got up to sing with Liam and a drummer I work with a lot, John Blackburn. About six months later, Liam had a gig at the Charterhouse Bar in Farringdon- he needed a singer, and we’ve been doing a weekly gig there since then every Tuesday. I knew Liam was the guy who would be able to blend my North American sound with a European sound and would be able to take these songs that I love and turn them into something new and unique. And he has done such an amazing job with them.
LJN: The album title “All my treasures” comes from Bob Dorough’s lyric to “I’ve Got Just About Everything I Need.” That was arranged by Don Thompson, your teacher in Canada?
LB: Don plays piano, bass and vibes amazingly well. He’s got a couple of albums out with Kenny Wheeler. I did a summer camp on Vancouver Island and I asked him for a lesson. He suggested that I check out Bob Dorough and that song, and said: ‘I’ve made an arrangement of it- I’ll send it to you.’ That was about five years ago. I’ve been compiling this list of songs I wanted on my album since I started doing this.
LJN: The key changes in “I’m Old Fashioned” are really interesting.
LB: It took some getting used to at first, but it makes it sound much more modern. Again, it’s all Liam. There are a few where I can take credit for an idea-I wanted Secret Love to be quite fast, and A,You’re Adorable to have that completely contrasting funkiness that takes away from that childish sound.
LJN: How did you meet the sax player?
LB: That was [producer] Ian Shaw’s idea. He said I should have somebody’s name on my album that’s gonna make people turn their heads. He thought- and I agree- that Brandon Allen’s sound blends really well with my American side. So he’s a really good fit- a consummate professional and a really nice guy.
LJN: “Detour Ahead” – that’s one of your favourites?
LB: I think that song is a really good old fashioned ballad but it has an interesting message as well. A lot of the songs that speak to me have to be able to tell a story, and I need to tell a story with them. Some people say it’s a weird song all about road signs but I think it’s an interesting metaphor for falling in and out of love. I listened to Cécile McLorin Salvant’s lovely drawly version of that song. And Dindi is my dad’s favourite- the verse at the beginning is so beautiful.
LJN: Charade -you thought that seemed mysterious?
LB: I still don’t really understand what it’s all about, but there’s something about the melody that’s haunting. There’s a version by Kat Edmonson- she does it as a tango. I listened to her take on it and took it a step further and tried to make it even more eerie. It reminds me of a haunted house!
LJN: Why does “Sweet Georgia Brown” remind you of the Harlem Globetrotters?
LB: It’s their theme song! At their games somebody whistled the theme of Sweet Georgia Brown and they’d be spinning the basketballs on their fingers. It made me think of a circus theme when I was a kid, and reminds me so much of my childhood.
LJN: And “Doodlin’ ” – you met [lyricist] Jon Hendricks?
LB: When he came to London- he must have been 92. I saw him at Ronnie Scott’s and cried like a baby watching him. I thought, I’m watching history here. At the end of the show his daughter said, ‘Do you want to come and talk to him?’ I chatted to him and sat on his lap!
LJN: Don Thompson features again- he introduced you to Shirley Horn’s singing and “You’re Nearer” ?
LB: He said Shirley Horn’s Here’s to Life was his desert island CD. I went out and grabbed it as fast as I could and listened to it about fifteen times. You’re Nearer is an absolutely beautiful ballad.
LJN: You have a more soulful song at the end of your album, “Feelin’ Alright.”
LB: When I told Liam and Ian Shaw I wanted to do it, Ian laughed and laughed and said, ‘Why?’ I’d been listening to the Joe Cocker version. I think it’s a fun closer- it was the last thing we recorded, with Ian singing the backing vocals. I think it makes everyone instantly want to tap their toes and sing along. It’s got a positive vibe to it.
LJN: It shows a different side to your voice- do you do a lot of soul singing?
LB: Not a lot but I like listening to Roberta Flack, Dusty Springfield. I find my ears are drawn to that bluesy R&B sound and I think my voice lends itself well to it- it’s an opportunity for me to express that different side.
LJN: What else did Ian Shaw bring to the production?
LB: He was really good at keeping me together. It was good because I’d record something and want to do it again, and he’d say, ‘No, no- that was fine. You don’t need to do it again.’ I trust him- he’s such a professional that if he says it’s okay, then it’s okay. And also he knows everybody- he was really good at taking me under his wing. It’s great having him as a mentor.
Alison Bentley is a singer and teaches singing. Her music is on Soundcloud
Lauren Bush – All my treasures: Liam Dunachie, piano; Brandon Allen, sax; Miguel Gorodi, trumpet; Kieran McLeod, trombone; Andrew Robb, double bass; David Ingamells, drums;
CD Launch 30th May, Pizza Express Dean St., with Liam Dunachie, Andrew Robb, David Ingamells. (BOOKINGS)
LINKS: Lauren Bush’s website
All my treasures is available from iTunes