Photo Credit: Ken Thomson
Singer SUE McCREETH launches her latest album, “Look Back and Love” at Pizza Express Dean Street on Monday 29th May and plays gigs across the UK over the next few months. Compiled from her five previous albums, “Look Back and Love” finds the singer taking stock – and yet also looking ahead with four new tracks included. Interview by Rob Adams:
LondonJazz News: What made you look back at your career and compile “Look Back and Love” at this stage in your life and career; how do you feel your music’s changed over these fifteen years?
Sue McCreeth: I wanted to collect the very best of my writing, recent and less recent. I feel that my music has changed from searching for original sounds, to searching for authentic sounds. I’m developing all of my songs all of the time.
LJN: In selecting the tracks for the album, what were you looking to highlight?
SM: I chose the strongest vocal recordings to feature, and the most diverse compositions. I wanted to make a cd which would be good company on a long drive. I wanted people to experience the sublime beauty that all the musicians featured on this cd have brought to my music.
LJN: When and how did you get into singing jazz; was there one – or 101 – artist who made you think, I want to do that!?
SM: It’s closer to 101! It started with a vinyl record called ‘The Incomparable Ella’, and at the age of 12 I could squeak my way through all 16 tracks, including improvisations. I saw Ella live on my 24th birthday. I love the sounds of Sarah Vaughan and Anita O’Day, and later I found Betty Carter and Shirley Horn. I’ve seen many American jazz stars in London, including the late Mark Murphy, Rebecca Parris, Shirley Horn and Flora Purim. The British jazz singers who have inspired me are Liane Carroll, Claire Martin, Tina May, Christine Tobin, Anita Wardell and Norma Winstone. All these singers have taught me that what matters is finding ones own unique voice.
LJN: When and how did you get into composing?
SM: I was writing songs from the age of 9, singing and playing guitar. After finishing my music degree in composition from Sussex University I started listening to and emulating some of the approaches of jazz luminaries such as Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Laura Nyro, Flora Purim, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul.
LJN: Can you describe your writing process for us; do you think of lyrics first, melody first or come up with a mood you want to work in and take it from there?
SM: I start with harmony, and then write the melody by picking out the notes I want to hear in the voice within each chord. Finally, I concentrate hard to write the lyrics.
LJN: What impact did studying improvisation with Gary Burton and composition with Joseph Mulholland at Berklee have on your approach to music?
SM: I am now confident about various ways of exploring harmony that I did not use before, and I have many scale choices in my voice for improvisation. I can also express my ideas more confidently in my arrangements. Gary and Joe have given me the highest possible grades for work I have done with them, and Joe has heard and praised all of my previous writing. My songwriting is used within Berklee as teaching material by Joe, and he collaborates with me too. All of this has had a beneficial impact upon my confidence as a composer and improvising musician.
LJN: You were out of action through illness for some time; what part did music play in the healing process?
SM: Music has helped me to feel more real and connected with the world. Invariably I make music with fantastically talented musicians, and rational coherent thought that is involved in writing, soothes the influence of memories, triggers and panic.
LJN: SatNam and Ettu Enna are intriguing tracks; can you tell us a bit about them?
SM: I wrote Sat Nam in 2000 whilst working in Dubai as a pianist/vocalist. Ettu Enna means, ‘What is this?’ in Tamil. At present I am developing my understanding of and competence with Indian ragas and bringing them into my music more authentically. I study and rehearse with an Indian based colleague over skype.
LJN: Who are you listening to at the moment; do you have any recent discoveries you’d like to share with London Jazz News readers?
SM: Carmen Lundy, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, Lalah Hathaway, Jill Scott and Sabine Kabongo have influenced me. Also Laura Nyro’s songs as sung on ‘Map to the Treasure’ are incredibly varied, especially in the voices of great singers such as Renee Fleming, Lisa Fischer, Dianne Reeves and Esperanza Spalding. A while ago I was listening to Erykah Badu on my daily journeys into the West End for my piano/vocal gigs. ‘Only Here’ is my song for Erykah.
LJN: What can audiences expect to hear – and feel – on your upcoming concerts?
SM: There will be Indian and Arabic sounds in my own fusion songs, many languages, and also ‘The Touch of Your Lips’ and ‘Twentieth Century Blues’ for the mainstream jazz fans. I hope audiences will feel excited by the energy, variety and exuberance of my music, and my fantastic band. (pp)
LINK: Sue McCreeth website