She has a beautiful voice, an exquisite vocal technique and - in her singing style - one thing that music lovers adore – sincerity! Jazz FM"s Svetoslav Nikolov spoke to Amy London about her songs, the music scene in New York and the blessings in life. You can listen to the interview here
or read it:
Your new album has jazz standards, music from musicals, films, Latino music, own compositions. Why such a great variety on one CD?
I think the variety reflects my life experience and all the different types of music that I have performed in my career and also all the different types of music from which I draw my material. For example, I grew up listening to a lot of Broadway shows. I feel that a great amount of jazz material comes from the Broadway stage. If you look back at all the recordings of the jazz musicians from the 1920s till now, you will see a lot of tunes that come from the really good Broadway shows.
There are a couple of songs on your CD with your lyrics on music by Elmo Hope. What do you have in mind when you write lyrics to songs?
Elmo Hope was a bebop pianist who died in the 1960s. He died very young in his 40s. Of course, I never knew him – I was just a little girl when he died. Around the year 2000 my husband Roni Ben-Hur and I were in a group, called the Elmolenium Sextet which featured the music of Elmo Hope and it also included Elmo"s widow Bertha Hope on the piano and the late Walter Booker on bass, Leroy Williams on drums and Charles Davis on tenor saxophone. All of Elmo"s music at that time had no lyrics written to it at all. I was so inspired by the beauty of his melodies that I decided I would try to write some lyrics to some of his tunes. "It Could Be So Nice" was the first lyrics that wrote for an Elmo tune and started performing it with the band. "Such Eyes, So Beautiful" was the second one that I wrote. I have since written a few more. I love Elmo"s music and I want to continue writing lyrics to his music. It"s beautiful, beautiful music. In addition to that Bertha Hope, his widow, really likes my lyrics. She approved of my lyrics and was happy that I wrote them. I was glad that she liked them. It has turned out very well.
The lyrics to "It Could Be So Nice" sound great and are in such harmony with the music. When I listen to this song, it is so touching and it so much takes you away dreaming… Please, tell us more about it.
The first chorus of the tune are Elmo"s melody. And the second 32 bars are the shout chorus – I wrote my own solo to the core changes of the tune. I wrote the story at a time when our two daughters - Sofia and Anna - were 2 and 4 years old. Life as a married couple, both free-lance jazz musicians – running around, trying to teach lessons, do gigs, keep the house clean and do the laundry, cook dinner and make sure the kids are OK - made life quite insane, quite crazy and busy. So, I wrote a tune about how busy we were at that time and how nice it would be if we could just relax a little bit and have some fun, because we were working so hard and running around so much.
When I listen to your music there is one feeling and one word that comes to mind – and that is "sincerity". I have the feeling that you live, you feel, every word you sing. And then the title of the album: "When I look in Your Eyes"! That sincerity is so touching and it makes the listener so much involved in the song, in the music, in the lyrics... Why is that your style?
Thank you! I think that any singer"s first job is to tell a story successfully to the listener. It is very important that you tell the story with honesty. It has to be honest. If it is not, the listener knows right away. It"s the singer"s job to find the honesty in the song and then to find a way to convey the honesty and the feeling of the song. I appreciate you saying that very much. And I hope that I can continue to be that way when I sing. That"s always the first thing I have in my mind. As a voice teacher, that"s the first thing that I tell my students.
What are the other important things that young people aiming to become singers definitely need to know?
There"s a little bit of a long list. The first thing other than really be able to tell a story, which is the most important thing, is establishing the sound of your voice. Every single singer has a unique sound to their voice and through the study of vocal technique every singer can learn to open themselves up and draw out the best possible sound that their body can produce. I think it is very important to learn how to use your body to its best ability to make the best sound that you can. Another really important thing is listening to music. What you listen to expands your world of listening; your singing reflects what you listen to. And then, after that, I think it is very important to be a good musician. When a singer gets up to sing with a band, the singer has to do his or her job. In other words, it"s important to be professional enough that you can do your own job and that the rest of the instrumentalists can do their job; that you can be an equal part of the band. I love to be an equal band member with my band. I don"t want to be just propped up by a band. I want to be an integral part of the band, to constantly work with them – almost like another instrument in the band.
You live and work in New York, the jazz heart of the world. How does that influence your music?
I moved to New York City from Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1980. I had just gotten out of college and I realized that New York was the jazz centre of the world, and that in order to learn more - I needed to be here; that in order to be in the place where I could find the most opportunities for performance - I needed to be here. I have enjoyed living in New York so very much! I love New York - where I have met some of my idols, like Annie Ross and Jon Hendricks. I"ve also met Mark Murphy who is another really big influence on me and is now a friend of mine. I got to see a lot of people perform when they were still alive: Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Joe Williams – countless people that I got to see because I was in New York. But I think, most importantly, the jazz community in New York is very strong and very large and very open. Once you come here, it"s easy to meet other jazz musicians. You just go to the jazz clubs and start talking to people, and before you know - you"ve met ten-twenty people that night, and another twenty the next. It"s really fun to meet people, to get gigs and to work with lots of other good musicians. It"s a wonderful community here, in New York. It"s also very busy – it"s a flourishing community. It"s constantly moving and growing, and there is endless creativity happening. It"s wonderful to be right in the heart of the jazz scene in New York.
When I listen to your music, I feel blessed for being in contact with it. Do you feel blessed in your life and in your music?
Yes, very much so. Especially now. I"ve been singing jazz in the clubs for 25 years in New York and I have had some very exciting moments in my career. But I think right now is the most exciting thing, thanks to the release of this record. I feel extremely blessed right now in my life in general because I have a wonderful family. I have a wonderful husband and two wonderful daughters. That"s number one. But I also feel very blessed about my career right now. Jana Herzen who is the president of Motema Music, the record label I"m on, has been incredibly supportive and it"s thanks to her that you heard my record. She is making sure that it gets out into the world and that people hear it not only in the United States, but in Europe, Asia and South America. It is truly going all over the world now. She has done an excellent job of promoting my CD and supporting it, and I"m starting to get gigs all over the world. This is wonderful and I fell very lucky about that. I"ve already started going on the road a little bit this year. I"m going to Italy, France and Los Angeles over the next three months. So I feel very blessed about my career right now thanks to the release of this CD which is really getting a lot of attention. I feel very lucky about it, and very blessed. I"m very appreciative of what"s going on now. I look forward to meeting more people and playing my music all over the place. It"s a very, very exciting time right now.