“I think composition is a slowed down version of improvisation.” says UK singer-songwriter Laura Lantano. Her debut album with pianist Sam Leak and saxophonist Duncan Eagles features her original compositions. She talked about how she brings jazz into her writing, and tells some of the backstories behind the songs. The launch gig is at the 1901 Arts Club in Waterloo on 3 May. Feature by Alison Bentley
London Jazz News: You wrote your first song at just 8 years old?
Laura Lantano: I have a classical background on piano- Bach, Mozart, Chopin- it helped me develop my ear and read music. When I write a song it’s different every time. For example, with the song Returning to Myself I was just at the piano playing chords and improvising a melody, so lyrics came to mind and that became a hook. Most of this album is actually a result of my MA in song writing at Bath Spa University. I wanted to start with the lyrics and then breathe some life into them with melody. I learned techniques like free writing, writing around a title and looking at photos and existing poetry. I think composition is a slowed down version of improvisation.
LJN: One of your songs was entered into the Eurovision Song Contest?
LL: I was 14 at the time! I remember spending the whole summer just writing and recording songs on my dictaphone, and I played one to a friend at school. Her parents knew a record producer in Carnaby Street who put it in for the UK entry. Nothing came of it, but at the age of 14 that gives you the encouragement to continue.
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LJN: You’ve got Sam Leak and Duncan Eagles to join you on this album.
LL: Sam and Duncan are incredible musicians. I met Sam when I was studying jazz at Trinity. They take the music somewhere I wouldn’t be able to do on my own. I wrote the chord progressions and gave an of idea of the feel. They have their own musical experiences and they bring all that to my little old songs. I feel really privileged to be working with them.
LJN: Any stories behind the songs?
LL: Returning to Myself is about childhood when you were carefree and playful, listening to your truth and being authentic. It’s influenced by Carol King- I love her Tapestry album. There are a couple of songs where I tried to take the approach of writing a standard: I’ll Never Fall in Love Again and Mind Over Heart. There’s a bunch of love songs about heartache and a thread of feeling lost. Everyone Has a Place to Go is about trying to find somewhere that’s home, and hopefully it’s a comforting song.
LJN: Your voice sounds deep and husky on ‘All is Not Lost’ and higher on ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’.
LL: I usually sing jazz standards in a lower register but some of these songs are more in my mid-range. All Is Not Lost is about consoling a disheartened friend. Eyes Wide Open (video below) is a song about the singer’s partner being unfaithful- she’s just working out what to do. In the last verse she moves on and is a lot happier.
LJN: There’s some improvisation between voice and sax.
LL: [Vocalist] Anita Wardell was at the recording session and she suggested it- it actually opened up the song. Sea of Summer Stars has a Latin vibe- it’s romantic and the relationship has blossomed into something more meaningful. A more gospelly song is Waiting for Someone– I definitely needed a gospel choir. Sunset Fire started out as a poem. I love the idea of ending the album with a sunset.
LJN: Lennon & McCartney, Carole King, Burt Bacharach. Have any other songwriters influenced you?
LL: Jazz songwriters- there are so many to choose from. Rogers and Hart wrote some of my favourites: ‘I Didn’t Know What Time it Was’, ‘I Could Write a Book’, ‘My Funny Valentine’. Don Raye and Gene de Paul wrote ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’, and then ‘Skylark’ by Hoagy Carmichael.
LJN: How did you get into jazz?
LL: I’ve had brief encounters with jazz throughout my life, but I didn’t take it seriously until I was in my late 20s. I played the Microjazz piano series when I was younger and I loved the syncopation of it. I also studied saxophone for a couple of years and learned to play some standards.
Erykah Badu has been a big influence on my writing- her album ‘Mama’s Gun’ has Roy Hargrove and Roy Ayres on it, which introduced me to this whole sort of jazz influence: Jill Scott, Bilal, Guru’s Jazzmatazz. When I was in my early 20s I worked with a Streatham-based hip hop producer who used to take samples from jazz records. Then I heard Anita Wardell’s album ‘Noted’- I was thinking, wow, this is amazing. I didn’t know about scat singing, but she taught me and got me to transcribe Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and some Sarah Vaughan. I also transcribed a lot of Hank Mobley and Wynton Kelly. I got hooked on jazz and then I went to Trinity.
LJN: You mentioned Betty Carter and Carmen McRae- any other jazz singers you particularly like?
LL: I would say Sarah Vaughan- I just love her voice. The album Crazy and Mixed Up is just amazing; her improvising. I think, “I want to be her, I want to know how to do what she does.”
LJN: Tell me about your launch gig coming up at the 1901 Arts Club.
LL: I just fell in love with it- it’s a unique venue and there’s a beautiful piano. It’s going to be with Duncan on sax, and Matt Robinson on piano- he plays with Snowpoet and he’s Emilia Martensson’s regular pianist. He’s got a lot of experience working with singers, so he’s always encouraging and gives you space. The first set will be by my friend singer-songwriter Roisin Quinn; then there’ll be a mini-set from me. The second set will be all the songs from my album.
I can’t wait- I’ve been rehearsing for months! I’ve already started thinking about my second album, and I’m getting the urge to write again…
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