INTERVIEW: Claire Martin (new album Believin’ It and touring – UK dates 1 May-23 June)

Claire Martin
Photo credit: Kenny McCracken

Vocalist Claire Martin OBE has a new album out on 29 April. Believin’ It is her first recording with the Swedish trio of Martin Sjostedt, Daniel Fredriksson and Niklas Fernqvist – and her 20th album for Linn. She will be on tour with the trio in the UK from 1 May until 23 June. She explained the background to Sebastian: 

LondonJazz News: The names of this Swedish trio were unfamiliar to me. Tell us about their background, their experience of working as a unit, and how you got to know them. 

Claire Martin: I met my trio by accident really as I was asked to do a tour of Sweden with US pianist Lynne Arriale and up and coming saxophonist Grace Kelly in 2014. Martin Sjostedt was playing bass and Daniel Fredriksson was on drums. They play regularly together at home in Stockholm and really had a great vibe together which I instantly loved. After a few gigs I then found out that Martin also played the piano and so we tried a few gigs with him switching to piano and introducing Niklas Fernqvist on bass. As a trio they do a lot of work together and have amazing synergy. They care a lot about dynamics and arrangements,  both of which are vital for me as the songs need to be framed and the voice not buried.

LJN: Martin Sjostedt seems to have an impressively wide stylistic range from Richard Tee/R & B style to light-touch Basie and European/poetic… quite a force!

CM: He really is! As well as bass he is learning the saxophone too. This is something that really knocks me out with Martin. He seems to effortlessly straddle styles and really ‘get’ what each song needs. He has amazing technique and a very quick memory. He also has a vast knowledge of singers and works with some great Swedish vocalists like Viktoria Tolstoy and Vivian Buczek who are both amazing.

LJN: The programme is a mix of familiar and unfamiliar. Is there a linking theme?

CM: The linking theme I’d say is that it’s the same theme that I always strive for, exactly what you have pointed out, familiar and unfamiliar material. It’s been my trademark I suppose and that’s because I love so many different styles of music and very rarely stick to just standard songs.

LJN: The title track is a real stormer.

CM: Thank you!

LJN: Where does the song Believin’ It come from?

CM: I’m a huge fan of Andy Bey – the American singer/pianist. He recorded Believin’ It on his 1998 album Shades of Bey and did this terrific scat solo that I thought I’d love to do something with.  I approached the brilliant Brighton based singer/lyricist Imogen Ryall and we agreed it would work as a vocal feature and she very kindly wrote words to his scat solo. I am doing it a tad faster than Andy though and it was a bit of a tongue twister!

LJN: And you’ve adapted it?

CM: I phoned Andy to make sure I got the lyrics correct and have recently sent him the album which I really hope he likes! I think his musicality is something so special and I thank my beloved late mentor Richard Rodney Bennett for introducing me to Andy’s work. Any singers reading this who have not heard him, I urge you to seek him out as there is a treat in store.

LJN: Love Dance/Turn Up The Quiet really feels addictive! Have you sung that for a long time now? 

CM: I’ve not really sung Love Dance up until the album session to be honest; I am a big fan of this song and have always wanted to record it. I hope I’ve done it justice, it’s a very recorded song.  Wonderful lyrics and not an easy sing actually. I used to sing along to George Benson’s version in the ’80s so I’ve got some nice memories attached.

LJN: Your most familiar song (10cc’s I’m Not in Love) has a curious phrase spoken/whispered three times at the end. What’s the secret? 

CM: Ha! I couldn’t not do the “big boys don’t cry” lyric, so I just sort of half-whispered it so as not to leave it out. This song reminds me of being almost 10 years old and observing the teenagers down
my street singing along and smoking fags and crying. I joined in but didn’t know what I was singing about or doing, I just wanted to be with the ‘big girls’. It’s stayed a favourite since then and
Julia Fordham’s version of it reminded me just how much I love it. When I sang it at Ronnie’s the audience couldn’t help themselves and just joined in the chorus. It was funny but also really moving!

LJN: I’ve read that this is your 20th album with Linn.

CM: Yes! Yikes!

LJN: First, congratulations. What has been the secret, the key to the success of this long relationship? 

CM: Linn have always been fantastically supportive and given me total artist control. I’ve had some quite mad ideas over the years and they have always let me see them through and let me take a punt
on collaborations or song ideas. Calum Malcolm is one of the best engineers in the world and I am so lucky that he has produced/engineered everything I’ve recorded for them, so we are quite
a ‘family’ affair now. Linn produce some of the best sounding jazz and classical recordings in the world and this year they were up for a Grammy with Boston Baroque which is really something.
I appreciate that we have stayed loyal to each other and I really am truly grateful to Philip Hobbs who first came to see me in 1991 at the Pizza on the Park and agreed to give me a deal with Linn.

LJN: And quite a bit must have changed about making albums since The Waiting Game (Abbey Road, December 1991). 

CM: Well I get a bit longer to do the vocals, but most jazz albums are recorded in two or three days.  Not a lot has changed with that, but I know a bit more about what I’m doing now! When we recorded my first album, we did it in one day. That’s jazz for ya!

LJN: I assume you’re going to be touring quite a bit with this project..? UK?

CM: Yes thanks to the Arts Council England – who really do want to support UK jazz, I am embarking on a 12-date tour of the UK (link below). I am also gigging in Canada and LA this year, both of those territories I haven’t done for a while.

LJN: Europe?

CM: I hope to continue my work in Sweden and Denmark, yes.

LINKS: Claire Martin’s website
Claire Martin at Linn Records
Believin’ It Tour Dates

Categories: Features/Interviews

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