Photo Credit: Phil Kroll
Saxophonist, composer and vocalist Kim Cypher trained with Pee Wee Ellis and Andy Sheppard. She discusses her multifaceted recent CD and her continuing UK tour in conversation with Andrew Cartmel.
LondonJazz News: Make Believe is a fabulous album. I expected it to be a collection of standards, but actually seven of the 13 tracks are originals. What got you into writing as well as performing?
Kim Cypher: I have been writing music all my life, even from a very young age. I can still remember some songs I composed at my piano when I was about nine. I’m not sure any of them are album-worthy though! All of my original tracks have been inspired by a person, a place or a feeling or just a message I want to get across. So, many of my original tracks are very special to me for this reason. I think working alongside such great musicians also gave me the confidence to get my own music out there. I am always amazed at how they really bring my music to life, it is so inspiring. There are lots more of my original tracks on the way with my second album due for release at the end of the year, including a piece I composed to feature awesome New York guitarist B.D. Lenz. It’s one of my favourite tracks and I can’t wait!
LJN: There are many tremendous tracks on the CD, and they’re all distinctive and different. Stormy Weather has an authentic period sound (featuring muted trumpet by Steve Trigg), You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To gets a reggae treatment, while John Lennon’s Imagine has a lovely sunny-day pop feel abetted by the gorgeous Hammond organ (by Anders Olinder) and your own utterly sublime alto sax. There’s some serious talent on show in the arrangement of the tunes. Who is your arranger?
KC: Well, all of my original music I arrange myself apart from the brass parts in Make Believe which were arranged by trumpeter Steve Trigg. As for the other tracks, often arrangements ‘evolve’ from playing a piece of music live at gigs. Otherwise the arrangements have been put together by myself and my husband (Mike Cypher – drummer) based on something we’ve been inspired by.
LJN: Another original of yours, Slinky Minxy, creates a mood of Weimar cabaret naughtiness, complete with accordion by Mirek Salmon. It’s a fun, distinctive piece. What was your inspiration?
KC: I’m glad you have picked up of the style of Slinky Minxy. It was always intended to be my ‘wild card’ track! I just love a good fun song that creates a great atmosphere and is a little bit cheeky and risqué. I loved working with the accordion and the tuba (Danny White). The track is always a big hit when we perform it live and everyone joins in. Sadly though, we are not able to perform it live often enough as we generally don’t have an accordion and tuba!
LJN: One of the standout cover versions is Tainted Love which is a real surprise inclusion. I remember it as a thin piece of electronic dance music, but here it is enriched with rockabilly guitar (by Lee Jones) and your own outstanding vocals. Did you include this song in a deliberate attempt to expand the definition of jazz standards, or did you chose it for personal reasons — because it’s an old favourite?
KC: I chose it because it is a surprise inclusion on my album as you say, and I included it for that reason. I wanted my debut album Make Believe to demonstrate my diversity as an artist and to show that well known songs can be reinvented in a different way. It is often our interpretations of songs like this that gets recognised by our audiences. I love taking a song and recreating it. I am very excited to unveil my version of Baker Street on my next album as this goes down an absolute storm whenever we perform it and it is so different to the original.
LJN: I believe you play the whole range of saxophones except for baritone?
KC: I also play the baritone sax and I do love it. You can hear my baritone sax playing on Upper West Side Blues on the album. I hired the sax for the day. I didn’t actually want to give it back but I can’t own yet another saxophone as there just isn’t any spare room in our car. (One of the disadvantages of being married to a drummer!)
LJN: On 1 August you’re performing at Pizza Express Soho and the gig is entitled Make Believe. Does that mean you’ll be performing the whole album? (I hope so!)
KC: If you’ll be there we’ll play the whole album! It will most likely be a selection of tracks from the album plus some new tracks from my second album and any other favourites. Either way, it will be a great night and I am very excited about it!
LJN: You’ve got a terrific group of musicians on the CD. How does the line up for the live set differ?
KC: I am very lucky to work with many incredible musicians, with regular band personnel including Lee Jones, Chris Cobbson, Tom Clarke-Hill, Alex Steele, Mike Green, Rory McInroy and hubby Mike of course. I also like to work with other great musicians whenever I can and I’m thrilled to be featuring some of the finest jazz musicians in the UK and from New York on my second album including David Newton, Clive Morton, B.D. Lenz and more… It was also fabulous to work with the very talented piano/vocalist Wendy Kirkland recently together with her husband Pat Sprakes on bass. Not to mention a very special gig I have on 22 July when I am on the same bill as the incredible Liane Carroll. I am hoping for a cheeky little duet there!
If the music at Pizza Express on 1 August replicates the quality and diversity in evidence on Kim’s album it will be an outstanding and delightful gig, perfect for a summer evening. Eminently accessible — and fun — music played by musicians who are at the top of their game and clearly enjoy what they’re doing. And, despite Kim’s modesty on the subject, the arrangements involved are quite outstanding. (pp)