One of the Queens of British and European Jazz, Tina May, talks to singer/songwriter, Rosalie Genay, about her brand new collaboration with Italian pianist and composer, Enrico Pieranunzi.
Can you tell me about your introduction to Enrico and his music and how your collaboration came about?
I have admired Enrico’s playing and compositions since the mid- 1980s when I came to London. I used to sing in duo with Phil Lee, a maestro of the guitar, and he played me a recording. The recordings Enrico made with Chet Baker are marvellous; I love them! He is a real ‘tune-smith’: lyrical and very memorable. Enzo Zirilli and I were talking one day, and he mentioned Enrico. We spoke on the phone and later on, quite by chance, met at a festival in Macclesfield. We chatted and realised that we have quite a few musical heroes in common.
For your project with Enrico you wrote lyrics to some of his tunes which you will perform at ReVoice! on 14th October. Could you say a few words about the writing process?
I love Enrico Pieranunzi’s compositions, as they suggest a hidden story, which lyrics can bring out. His recent album ‘Permutations’ is a very inspiring recorded performance by his wonderful trio and three songs have emerged from it.
I have always loved writing poetry and have been writing lyrics to jazz compositions since I began recording for 33Records in 1991. I love to find and interpret the stories and emotions behind the melodies . Songs are the most wonderful stories and singing is a great way of communicating – I like to think of myself as a storyteller. I’m sure that’s why I am drawn to writing lyrics.
You are a celebrated chanteuse; a vocalist with great technical skill and equally gifted in the expression of song. What is your relation to music and songs in particular? And how do you see your place as a vocalist amongst instrumentalists?
I trained in classical singing or ‘bel canto’ and I am very grateful for the technique. I was brought up in a family of ‘Jazz lovers’ and found the music irresistible.
In singing Jazz, as opposed to Classical music, I think the Jazz vocalist actually needs more freedom, they need to acquire a secure vocal technique in order to give real expression as well as accuracy in performance. I played clarinet for many years, so that probably helped me to sing ‘as an instrument’. Singers need to get used to interaction with other instrumentalists; you need to riff with the horns, sing exchanges with the drums and bass, all in order to feel part of the music. As singers we can be an instrument and part of the ensemble, as well as singing the songs. I love it!
How would you say the scene has changed in the last ten years?
We have suffered recession and all forms of ‘arts’, but perhaps Jazz in particular, have suffered. There are fewer places to play, however, we are still here!
Audiences are just as warm and receptive as ever. There is real enthusiasm for the music, amongst young people, too. I worry about programmes being cut on BBC Radio making it even harder for the public to get exposure to this truly vibrant music.
Do you have any advice for young singers or musicians out there?
Enjoy every note you sing or play and be hungry to listen widely. Expose yourself to inspirational artists: but above all, BE YOURSELF and have FUN when you perform your music.
What music are you currently listening to?
A very eclectic mix, Ravel, Fred Hersch, Mark Murphy and, of course, Enrico Pieranunzi in particular.