Feature/Interview

Wendy Kirkland (second album, The Music’s On Me, released 20 July)

It’s “both a consolidation of the first album and something a bit different”. Pianist, singer and lyricist Wendy Kirkland tells Rob Adams about her new album, The Music’s On Me, and why the CD is still important to her.

Wendy Kirkland as she appears on The Music’s On Me (Photo: Mark Ludbrook of SportShots.co.uk)

Wendy Kirkland releases her second album, The Music’s On Me, on July 19 on the back of glowing reviews for her 2017 debut release, Piano Divas.

The Chesterfield-based pianist and singer showcases a third side of her talents with the new album, as she has written lyrics to pieces by Michel Petrucciani, Michael Brecker, Russell Malone, Wes Montgomery and Don Grolnick.

“I wanted this one to be both a consolidation of the first album and something a bit different but not so different that it would alienate listeners,” she says. “It’s certainly not free jazz but it is a little more complex in its arrangements and some of the tunes might not be quite so familiar this time.”

Putting lyrics to existing melodies came relatively easily, says Wendy.

“I’ve written words to songs since I was a child, really,” she continues. “My sister and I were in a choir when we were young and when we were given something to sing that we didn’t like, we’d write alternative lyrics, which is a typical musicians in the band bus kind of thing. People like Michel Petrucciani and Don Grolnick didn’t write songs as such – there were no words – but their melodies or titles quite often suggest a lyric or an idea. Michel Petrucciani’s September Second is a good example. I’ve always liked it and it struck me that ‘September Second’ must have been a significant anniversary or something. Once I had that thought, I was away. I’ll often hear the title working its way through a tune and wonder if the composer could hear it too while they were writing it.”

The idea for the album title came from a photograph where the photographer projected a song chart onto a suit Wendy was wearing, although it could equally be interpreted as Wendy and her band – and guests – giving the music to listeners.

“With Piano Divas I was focusing on singer-pianists, whereas this time I was really looking to create as much variety as possible,” she says. “I wanted to have a variety of moods and rhythms, different feels, so there are bossa novas as well as swing numbers and waltzes. We rehearsed the material for four or five months – individually as well as collectively – so we had everything just so before we went into the studio.”

To her regular quartet of Wendy, Pat Sprakes (guitar), Paul Jefferies (double bass) and Steve Wyndham (drums) she added vibes player Roger Beaujolais and saxophonist Tommaso Starace to the sessions to introduce extra flavours and personalities.

“There are probably hundreds of musicians I could have asked but we know both Roger and Tommaso well and we get on really well with them,” she says. “That’s the most important thing. Roger’s played with us a few times in Chesterfield now and we know that, as well as being a great musician, he’s very easy to work with. It’s the same with Tommaso and having them with us meant that we could add more solos and develop the songs a bit more to accommodate their contributions.”

With physical sales of music in decline, Wendy is aware that CDs can become expensive calling cards. She still regards the recorded artefact, however, as an important building block in expanding her audience – people buying CDs at gigs can be expressing their commitment as fans – and she’s grateful to those who contributed to the album’s manufacture through Crowdfunding.

“With this album, I’d like to think that I’m making a point about the musicality of singers as well as the pianistic skills of some; Nat King Cole, Blossom Dearie and Dave Frishberg were superb pianists but their skills were often overlooked as the onlooker may have regarded them purely as singers. I sing, at the same time I play this big instrument with the black and white keys that sits in front of me!” (pp)

Wendy Kirkland’s The Music’s On Me will be available from 20 July 2019 and she launches it at 1.30pm on 27 July at Pizza Express, Dean St, London.

LINK: Wendy Kirkland’s website

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