Cecilia Stalin is a Swedish-born, London-based Jazz singer and educator. In this interview with Catherine Ford, she talks about how she improvised in her music and in her life, and about her involvement in a music industry group called SheSaidSo:
LondonJazz News: When did this love of improvisation start?
Cecilia Stalin: My family loves music so when I was a baby my parents would put me to sleep by shoving me under the grand piano whilst my Dad played some stride piano. I grew up listening to Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Ernestine Anderson, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Art Tatum who are amazing improvisers and created a very strong foundation of rhythm and groove. That together with Dad always rehearsing with his dixieland band in our living room made me always want to explore music - this was the beginning of a musical freedom that I so dearly appreciate.
|Cecilia Stalin learning to locate the melody|
LJN: Tell us about the music school you set up in Sweden
CS: After studying business at university (but always making music on the side) I eventually started at music school - Skurups Folkhogskolas jazz programme was the most creative music programme in Sweden and our teachers ranged from Esbjorn Svensson Trio (EST) to Joe Calderazzo/Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts to Elise Einarsdottir/Bobo Stensson - featuring music from free jazz to bebop to fusion to folk. It really opened my ears to improvisation and that there were different sounds and that it was up to you to decide what you wanted to sound like and how you wanted to express yourself - you were never ‘wrong’ at that school and it built my character very much to how I view music today.
LJN: What does improvisation mean to you?
CS: Improvisation to me is freedom - I can express exactly what I feel in that moment whether that’s joy, frustration, anger, bliss, excitement, nervousness - and what other profession allows you to have such a direct outlet for your emotions? There is an element of call and response, an interaction between the musicians where you have to listen to what someone says and then react to it, which shows that they’re making music together - a sort of 'I hear what you’re saying' (acknowledgement) and 'this is what I think' (communication). Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could bring that side of improvisation to the table in board meetings, arguments at home, political debates and more…
More improvisation to the people!!!
LJN: How do you approach improvisation as an educator?
CS: This is one of the main ingredients in my Vocal Jazz Workshops - learn the foundations of jazz and at the same time make sure that your personality and expression has room to co-exist. I love teaching the foundations because people quickly realise how open it is and that improvisation is about expressing yourself, having fun, communicating a feeling and exploring - not to try to show off. I’ve always try to think outside the box by never letting rules dictate how I write music - so I go by what I think sounds good and then I try to explain the harmonic structure - never the opposite. I usually put on my voice recorder and just sit down and improvise - a cool idea pops up after a while or I’ll just listen back to what I recorded and there’s always a couple of ideas that I can work from. It’s so liberating to just go with the flow of your mood, feeling - and that’s the brilliance of improvisation.
I’ve always let my improvisation drive my writing - it goes from jazzy pop to afro beat to broken jazz to straight ahead to nu jazz to neo soul to hip hop influences and I’m not scared to mix things that organically work together. London is a great city to live in when you want to keep an open mind….
LJN: Tell us about the global women’s network SheSaidSo
CS: SheSaidSo is a carefully selected network of women with active roles in the music industry. Our vision is to create an environment that supports collaboration, creativity and positive values. We’ve just reached 1,000 members and are based worldwide. I’ve gotten numerous gigs through it, met business coaches, social media experts, music lawyers and had great tips re how to thrive as a women in a male dominated industry. But don’t get us wrong - we have male speakers and collaborators that want to be a part of a big joint collaborative industry where we all can let improvisation flow!!!
LINK: Cecilia Stalin website
LINK: Cecilia's own record label - Step Like A Giant Music