Nicky Schrire spoke today to Australian/New York-based singer Jo Lawry, ahead of her London debut as a leader at Pizza Express on Tuesday 1st July. Jo received a Masters Degree in Jazz from Purchase College in New York, and is working on a Doctorate from the New England Conservatory in Boston. Jo married saxophonist Will Vinson last weekend.
LondonJazz News: You're from Australia, you've adopted New York as home. What's the story?
Jo Lawry: I grew up on an almond farm in South Australia, and lived in Adelaide until moving straight to New York. So, as you can imagine, it was a pretty big change! Those first few years were really tough at times, but at the same time there were so many wonderful musicians who extended friendship and opportunities that kept me going-Fred Hersch, Kate McGarry, and Jon Faddis to name a few. I think it surprises most of us transplants just how welcoming and open the New York music scene is. We arrive here expecting something incredibly cutthroat and tough, but in fact I have found the New York music scene to be something of an oasis, where one is constantly encouraged and supported to keep trying to create new and creative music.
LJN: You've worked with artsits like Fred Hersch, but been working for nearly five years as backing vocalist with Sting?
JL: My first gig with Sting was for a DVD filming of his 2009 project, "If...On a Winter's Night" at Durham Cathedral. I've listened so much to Sting my whole life (luckily my older siblings didn't give me a choice, he was the most prevalent voice heard on our record player!) and right from the beginning we managed to achieve a really special blend together. It's exhilarating when a blend can become so close that it sounds like two pitches being sung by one voice, and that's what we are going for. Apparently Sting liked it enough to invite me to join him for his orchestral tour, "Symphonicities" and we travelled around the world - a couple of times - with that fantastic project. Since then I have been lucky to have been a part, in ways big and small, of the projects he's done; the "Back to Bass" tour, as well as working on the new musical "The Last Ship" (which opens in Chicago tonight). It's just such a joy and privilege to work with Sting. He is always pushing himself to create something new, and is such a perfectionist himself that he inspires you to live up to his example. It's a wild and wonderful ride.
LJN. Has your foundation/education as a jazz musician helped (or hindered) your working with Sting? In what ways does it influence your musical choices and approach?
JL: Sting's songs are far from the three-chord variety. Those bridges! He is one of the artists who can take the most credit for introducing complex harmonies, odd-time signatures and more into pop and rock music. So when a sharp nine or flat thirteen is the next most interesting note under or over Sting's vocal melody, it's pretty handy to know what those notes are and how to use them. Not being thrown by a song that jumps between several time signatures is also handy too, especially when you are trying to play tambourine next to Vinnie Colaiuta! It's also good to be comfortable with improvisation, as you never quite know what's going to happen next... which is great, because it keeps things fresh, night after night for a hundred shows or more!
LJN: The few tunes I've heard on radio from your new album 'Taking Pictures' are gorgeous-beautifully crafted with keen attention to lyrics and orchestration. Can you tell us more about the upcoming release?
JL: This is my first album composed entirely of original songs, so it's very close to my heart (that's probably why it's taken me almost two years to get it to the point I think it's ready to release!!!). But we are looking at a late October release, with a few sneak-peeks in September. The songs are inspired by lots of things-breakups, of course, and falling in love too. And other less common subjects, perhaps - for instance, a tale about the failed Minnesotan gold rush of 1865-1867. Something for everyone, I hope.
What is important to me in each song is that there is a story that people can connect with - a snapshot of those pivotal life moments to which everyone can relate. A fork in the road, an opening - or closing - door. That's what I hear in my favorite songwriters - Sting, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, and what I am trying, in my own little way, to do too.
The personnel on the record are an embarrassment of riches! Dan Rieser on drums, Matt Aronoff on bass, Jesse Lewis on guitar and Will Vinson form the core band. There are guest appearances from Theo Bleckmann and Alan Hampton, Julian Sutton (melodeon), Brian Charette (organ), Mariel Roberts (cello), Marcus Rojas, John Ellis, Ryan Keberle and Matt Jodrell on horns. It’s such a treat to be able to make a record with so many of my beautiful friends!
LJN: Tell us about the musical company you're keeping on July 1st at Pizza Express.
JL: I'll be playing with Will Vinson (whom I married this past weekend!) on piano, Chris Higginbottom on drums and Tom Herbert on bass.
LJN: What repertoire can audiences expect to hear?
JL: Original songs to hopefully make you smile and cry, as well as some jazz favorites, maybe even a vocalese or two. But definitely not "Summertime"...
LondonJazz News: And your favourite British culinary treats are....
Jo Lawry: It's a showdown between Shepherd's Pie and Banoffee Pie. But always Pie!
Jo Lawry performs at Pizza Express, Soho on Tuesday July 1st. Doors open at 7pm, show at 8:30pm. TICKETS.