Italian singer, composer and lyricist Germana Stella La Sorsa moved to London in 2017, and quickly made an impact on the London scene with her Jazz in Cinema project. Tony Kofi has compared her ‘clear and warm tone’ with that of Flora Purim. Her debut album Vapour is out soon on 33 Jazz Records, with Sam Leak on Hammond, Nick Costley-White on guitar and Jay Davis on drums.
In this interview with Alison Bentley, she talks about how she grew to love jazz; being an eclectic musician, and how her single If I Fall in Love (out on 28 May) offers hope to women in difficult relationships.
London Jazz News: The line up with Hammond, guitar and drums is quite unusual for modern vocal jazz?
Germana Stella La Sorsa: It is! My passion for the sound of the Hammond organ comes from my background. I’m a very eclectic musician. I started out listening to rock music- Santana and Deep Purple. My mum’s favourites were the Beatles and Italian song writers. I thought, why not try a different sound for this music? I use effects on my voice as well- I like to experiment with sound in general. I also like psychedelic music.
I approached music as a piano player. When I started to study classical piano, I used to transcribe solos by ear on my 2-octave keyboard, aged 12 or 13. So for me it’s always – ‘why not?’
LJN: Did you write all the music?
GSLS: I wrote Vapour, the title track, and the intro track In the Beginning. It was completely improvised, like the final track Following the Flow. If I Fall in Love is of course based on When I Fall in Love. I reharmonised what came out from just me singing and improvising on that melody. I wrote the lyrics and part of the music for In Time and (S)pace- the rest was written by my partner, the double bass player Joe Boyle. And Inca Roads is by Frank Zappa and Tacho is by Hermeto Pascoal. They say that Zappa despised jazz. We don’t really know what his attitude was, but I’ve always found that melody very jazz. I actually discovered Hermeto quite late. I studied one of his tunes when I was at a Conservatoire in Italy. His music is full of experimentation- so crazy, so weird and at the same time so interesting. Also I love odd time signatures!
LJN: Tell me about the musicians on the album.
GSLS: Sam Leak is a close friend of mine. It was thanks to him that I did my first jam session here in London, at Oliver’s Jazz Bar. It was with Jay Davis, the drummer on the album too. I started to play with Sam for another project that I have with my partner: the Jazz in Cinema project. We decided to invite some special guests. Sam is a great musician. I’m a lucky person- he’s ,very supportive. What I like about Jay was his sound and his approach, which is traditional but also very modern- he has a lot of contemporary language. And Nick Costley-White – his sound is what captured me. Again, he’s modern, and I think he was perfect for the sound I had in mind for the album. We met in jam sessions too. You can hear in the improvised tunes that they are three in one- that sound is literally what I had in mind.
LJN: On Tacho you improvise a vocal solo. Is improvisation important to you?
GSLS: Absolutely. I think I can define myself as a jazz singer because I have to improvise. I can’t sing the same thing twice. And also I love the tradition: I love the great scat singers, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby McFerrin, Mark Murphy, and contemporary singers like Kurt Elling, Esperanza Spalding and Gretchen Parlato. But my vocal inspirations are actually not entirely jazz. Stevie Wonder pops into my mind, and Jeff Buckley- another one that experimented with sound.
LJN: You’ve been compared with Flora Purim. Is she an inspiration for you?
GSLS: I discovered her quite late too. I love her voice, so when Tony Kofi wrote that I was very flattered.
LJN: What about instrumental jazz?
GSLS: I actually didn’t love jazz at the beginning. My father took me too a hard bop concert in Italy and I hated it. I was so young, and it was really difficult, but then I got hooked. I don’t think jazz is difficult but sometimes we try to be a bit too brainy about it.
I learned from Miles Davis the importance of just resting and not always singing. If you improvise you need to listen. I love Chet Baker, Oscar Peterson’s lyricism and Esperanza Spalding too as a musician. The musicians in my band are my inspirations as well. I don’t consider myself a Prima Donna- it’s a team and it’s about communication.
LJN: Your single If I Fall in Love is a very personal song for you.
GSLS: Yes it is, but just because I wanted to talk about the psychological abuse of women. It makes you believe sometimes that you’re worthless. The previous partner I had before the one I have now was abusive psychologically, and it was a horrible experience for me. When I met my new partner, I was full of doubt. What if things happen again? I was quite scared, but in the end things got sorted and it’s okay. So for all those women who are trapped in something they don’t want, I just want to say with the song: “Be brave.”
“What you are living now is terrible but you have the power to change the situation and to free yourself.
Amazing things are waiting for you and there are good people out there, ready to be by your side and truly love you for who you are”.
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