Photo Credit: Adam Osmianski
London-based pianist, singer and composer JOY ELLIS has drawn inspiration for her first commercial album – for release next month – from the metropolis. Life on Land features original vocal and instrumental music that takes the listener on a journey through the excitement, vibrancy and also loneliness of life in the capital. Interview by Leah Williams:
LondonJazz News: Do you see yourself as a singer or pianist first and foremost?
Joy Ellis: The piano is my first love. I studied the piano from a young age and came to singing later on, but then I did my Masters in Performance at Guildhall in vocals so they’re both of equal importance to my music. I’d hate to be cast in the mould of “a singer who plays piano” though. It’s one of the reasons that the title track of my new album Life on Land is purely instrumental. It was quite a conscious decision as, whilst I love singing and the poetry of lyrics, I also love exploring the capabilities of the piano in its own right.
LJN: This is your first album of fully original music. Where do you draw your inspiration from when writing?
JE: I’m fascinated by jazz harmony and have been hugely influenced by the music of people like Billy Strayhorn. I also really like Esperanza Spalding’s harmonic explorations – plus it’s great to see women playing instruments in jazz.
The base inspiration for a lot of the songs came from the area where I live in London – the street art, people and life that swirls around there everyday. Although I actually wrote the majority of them whilst house-sitting for a friend out in the country! He had this amazing attic room with a piano and a peaceful view that gave me the ultimate inspiration to sit down and put pen to paper.
|Photo Credit: Adam Osmianski|
LJN: What comes first, lyrics or music?
JE: It really depends. I’ve done it both ways round. I have to admit, I find lyrics quite hard to write and even thought about looking for a lyricist for a while but I’m really pleased with how they’ve turned out ultimately. My dad’s something of a keen writer and he helped me out a lot – after a while you start to lose your sense of whether something’s good or just totally cheesy! A lot of the time, the music comes to me first but some of my favourite tunes are the ones that started with lyrics, like Ellington Said.
LJN: Is that one of your favourite tunes on the album, then?
JE: Gosh, it’s hard to pick a favourite! I really like that one and The City, another one that began life as lyrics. Then the first two numbers on the album, From Dusk Till Dawn and The Jazz Man, both turned out really great. Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to happen until you get into the studio and, with those two, the chemistry between all the musicians just worked really well.
LJN: Binker Golding (of the celebrated Binker & Moses duo) features on two of your tracks – how did that come about?
JE: I know Binker quite well as we studied together at Middlesex Uni. He’s also, obviously, a fantastic player and when I wrote The Jazz Man and Ellington Said I already had him and his sound in mind. I’m really pleased with the way they turned out. Sadly, he can’t join us for the album tour but we’ve got another wonderful player, Rachael Cohen, on board – she is also playing on the video below.
LJN: As part of the tour, you’re officially launching the album at Pizza Express, Dean Street. Why did you choose that venue?
JE: I just think it’s such a wonderful space. It’s got a really great piano and top-notch sound system. Plus it just has that intimate, jazz, speakeasy vibe about it that makes it a pleasure to play there.
LJN: What’s next after this album?
JE: Another one! I think the next one will be quite different though that embraces a fusion of many different musical elements; I’ve already got loads of ideas and can’t wait to get writing!
Life on Land will be released on 11 November on the F-IRE label and features Joy Ellis on vocals and piano, Adam Osmianski on drums, Henrik Jensen on double bass and Rob Luft on guitar, with special guests Binker Golding on tenor sax and James Copus on flugelhorn.