Spring is here and jazz is jumping up and down the country. I returned recently from a singing fest in Cromarty Scotland with another 18 jazz vocalists – all of us there to share music with each other and be taught by some of the best singers and instrumentalists in the UK: Liane Carroll, Sara Colman, Sophie Bancroft, Fiona Duncan, Brian Kellock, &Tim Lyne.
Amid all the laughing and singing and teaching, Sara Colman, one of the most multi-talented musicians on the UK jazz scene, took some time out to chat with me about her life as performer, composer, songwriter, pianist and teacher.
When I say that Sara is a musicians’ musician, I mean that she is admired as a contemporary model by jazz singers who are interested in challenging conventions and by singer-songwriters who want to develop their own compositions in the growing areas of jazz based modern song: an interplay of original songs, jazz rock, and the work of 1970s performers like Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, and the Roches, which she weaves together with contemporary improvisation and vocal clarity. When I heard her sing the Roches’s “Hammond Song,” with Sophie Bancroft and Liane Carroll at the Tutors’ concert in Cromarty, their blended voices also reminded me of the overtone singing of the Balkan women singers.
And under all her practices: song-writing, singing, teaching, is her over a deep and powerful foundation as a pianist with a gift for both melody and lyrics. Sara was raised by parents who encouraged their children to play instruments. She says that she always knew she wanted to be a singer, but had an instinctive sense that she didn’t want to over-train her voice. So she decided to focus on the piano, the instrument she had begun to play at 6, and by the age of 12 Sara was playing and singing in public;
“I starting teaching piano when I was about 16 to beginners; that was the start of seeing myself as a teacher. I gained qualifications for piano and singing teaching whilst I was at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and I think I really have learned most about teaching singing by teaching it, over the years. Its the kind of profession that you can fit around performing and you can turn the volume up or down on it depending on how else you are earning money! I teach at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Guildhall School of Music now as well as doing a little bit of private teaching. Also, three or so times per year I work on residential workshops with Sophie Bancroft and Liane Carroll – I love those! We do it in Hastings and Cromarty – great fun and lovely students.”
One thing everyone agrees about Sara, is that she has a resonant multi-toned voice; sometimes it sounds like honey, and sometimes like sorrow, but its always pure and natural. Many of us try to ‘find our true voice,’ and Sara has found her’s: whatever she sings comes directly from her intelligent and clear voice, whether she is lifting us skyward in her high registers, or taking us down to those intimate and confidential tones that ask us to share the mood of her song. She never sounds as if she has had to un-teach herself the fixes and tricks that can cut across the directness of natural singing. I suggest listening to some of the songs from her first album, READY, to experience her sound: in particular, ‘Book Of Liars’ and ‘Rock’. A beautiful jazz singer, Sara took on the practical rigours of “singing on the stand” with a college jazz band, preserving her voice while learning the grooves.
After graduation from the Birmingham Conservatoire, Sara found a new kind of song to write — songs about life in the daily world and the dramas of finding oneself as an adult with work to find, marriage to enter and leave, and the quieter identity to to a new kind of song-writing — and she was woken up to this new way of writing by the music of Rickie Lee Jones. She says that she felt that the singing and teaching she was doing around the time of her second album were all focussed on ‘standard’ jazz standards.
Last October, I heard Sara perform at the Green Note in Camden Town, London, with her band of instrumentalists and singers, using jazz traditions in combination with jazz improvisation and with a vocal intensity of analogue rather than digital – flows of more or less superimposed on the articulated patterns of the melody. I felt that we were hearing something very modern, very global, and very beautiful. And it reminded me of the project of McCoy Tyner’s panoramic , “Fly with the Wind,” even though he had written 40 years earlier.
Those of us who live below the Scottish Highlands will have the chance to hear Sara Colman in concert in London, when she launches her new album, What We Are Made of at King’s Place, King’s Cross, on 11 May, 2018, accompanied by her new band: Rebecca Nash (piano), Steve Banks (guitar), Ben Markland (bass), Jonathan Silk (drums),plus a string quartet! This gave me a chance to find out how she prepares for a new venture of this kind:
“Well I’ve been intending to write my upcoming album for about 4 years and things haven’t transpired that way. A deadline from the record label I am working with helped! There are key times to release an album – probably between March and November and not in July or August so that kind of narrow things down.
I have to work with people who share music taste with me and who’s playing moves me, thrills me and challenges me! Also people I get on with and consider to be friends.
I usual produce my own stuff and I’ve had a lot of help from my friend and talented musician Ben Markland over the years.”
for more info on tickets for the album launch: copy and paste the link below
Hope to see you there. Annie Janowitz