Foto: Carol Rosegg dal sito di Barb Jungr (www.barbjungr.com)
Jazz Dialogues. Barb Jungr.
Jazz Convention: Who is primarily Barb Jungr?
Barb Jungr: I live in London, but was born in the northwest of England. My mother was German and my father, Czech. There was always music in the house. They didn’t play but they loved music and theatre and film. From being a tiny girl I wanted to be a performer. I could sing anything after hearing it once or twice. Everything from the radio or the gramophone. Aged 7 I began to learn the violin, but as a teenager I switched to the mandolin and my friends and I formed a folk group and wandered around the nightclubs and folk clubs of Manchester playing – we were all at school. I’m still friends with the girls from that time. They left music, but I carried on. I attended university in Leeds and then moved to London, all the time in bands and learning, and singing. So primarily, Barb Jungr is a singer. My “thing” is I care about songs. I care about songs and the way they live in the world. Songs come and find me. My door is always open to brilliant songs.
JC: Can you talk about your new album?
BJ: This new album examines the philosophical and political songs of Dylan and Cohen. I have sung both of their songs for many years. I worked with Simon Wallace, we do the arrangements together and he is a wonderful pianist and musician. We’ve worked on several other albums together, indeed he worked with me on the first Dylan collection I did for Linn Records, after my work on chansons for them. I wanted to get as close as possible to my live performances and to the very essence of the songs, and we decided to make a sound palette of piano, double bass, percussion, and flute for that. All the musicians are jazz musicians and very established and known to the British and international community. Clive Bell is renowned as a player of the shakuhachi, Neville Malcolm and Steve Watts are superb bass players and Gary Hammond and Richard Oletunde Baker are great percussionists. As far as possible everything went down live. The whole experience of making this album was joyous. Everyone gave so very much.
JC: Why have you chosen two folksingers so foreign to jazz?
BJ: I don’t think either Cohen or Dylan are folk singers or foreign to jazz. Dylan began in the folk scene in the sixties sure but he became a rock star to some extent and of course now his music really is a kind of roots americana – so you could say its pretty close to jazz in that respect. Cohen as a poet emerging form that beat scene – thats close to jazz too. And Nina Simone often drew on traditional song for her explorations. As musicians, everything is there for us, no matter where it comes from. And they are two of the most important songwriters of contemporary music.
JC: Between the two you prefer more Dylan or Cohen?
BJ: I don’t feel that way. I choose things because I love them, they all have something special to love. They go about things differently, which is wonderful. Dylan’s melodies appear simple, but they are gloriously well constructed. Cohen’s capacity to draw out an idea is extraordinary.
JC: Now, tell me about the first memory you have of jazz music?
BJ: Nat King Cole. We had a Nat King Cole record in the house, we played it a lot. I loved it and of course we had Louis Armstrong. The greats.
JC: What are the reasons that motivated you to become a jazz singer?
BJ: I wasn’t motivated to become a jazz singer. I was motivated to sing. And I want to sing in any situation that challenges me to be better. I sing with jazz musicians by choice because its exciting and they play brilliantly and we can inspire each other.
JC: Who are your masters in jazz music?
BJ: There are many masters for me of vocal music – instrumentally of course I love all the greats – and I listen more and more to instrumental music – jazz and classical – of course Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, The Bad Plus, Miles, Coltrane, Horace Silver. Singing – I adore Nina Simone, and Dinah Washington. Lester and Billie – beauty. How can I leave out Anita O’Day, and Sarah Vaughan. I am lucky to know Annie Ross. The list goes on forever…
JC: What is for you the best moment of your career as a singer?
BJ: I had so many and I’m going to have many more. Every time we play and the audience gets it and we get them and it flies – every single one is special. But I have been very lucky to play in some amazing situations and places, Malawi and Cameroon, Tanzania and Yemen, Cote D’Ivoire and Sri Lanka. They were all glorious. Last Christmas I played the whole week in New York at 59E59 Theater – New York at Christmas, and every audience full of that Christmas vibe – gorgeous.
JC: Among the albums you’ve recorded as you love most?
BJ: Its always the most recent, because you are in love with it, you have to be to put yourself onto the table like that – so Hard Rain for me is the best recording I think I’ve made, so far, the most complete. But I love all the others for other things, too. Because I felt like that about every single one of them, when I made them.
JC: How would you define music?
BJ: Music is life. Someone else asked me that question and I will say the same thing to you that I said to them – Music is life. It’s blood and water and air, it’s joy and pain and sorrow, soul and heart and head. It’s communication with everything thats beyond our fragile understanding. It’s transporting and empowering and enlivening. It’s mediative and expressive and calming. It can help heal the sick and free the enslaved. Music is life.
JC: What are the ideas, concepts or feelings that I associate with jazz music?
BJ: I feel the same easy about all music that moves, or challenges, or enthralls, it is about all music for me. I am not that interested in the compartments, the boxes, more whats inside them. If whats inside is there, then its all there. Great music changes your molecules. Its a life force.
JC: As you see, in general, the present of jazz music?
BJ: Music expands and contracts like the waves. Right now a lot of exciting music is coming from the new younger musicians here, and there’s some great jazz coming. So I feel very positive about the state of music. About the promise of it.
JC: It is difficult and rare to find an English jazz singer because Great Britain is considered as the birthplace of rock and pop music, so what got You singing jazz?
BJ: We live in a global world. The days of local musics have changed – everything was available to me on the radio and on recordings, Nat King Cole was playing every day in my house. It didn’t matter I came from England. I grew up fascinated by and listening to African America music in every way – should and pop and all of it. Music. It was all music. Some of it was great music.
JC: What are your musical plans for the future?
BJ: To keep singing! If I can sing, everything is alright, everything is ok, everything is good.