PREVIEW / INTERVIEW: Anita Wardell and Robin Phillips (Cambridge Jazz Festival, 20th / 21st November)

Anita Wardell at Herts Jazz 2015
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

ANITA WARDELL is one of the UK’s best-known, most respected and liked jazz vocalists. Fresh off the plane from performances on both sides of the USA, she did this interview in which she looks forward to performing at the Cambridge Jazz Festival, backed by the Robin Phillips Trio, and to running a masterclass (full details of both below). Interview by Matt Pannell.

LondonJazz News: Where would you say vocal jazz music is heading at the moment?

Anita Wardell: It’s like a cauldron. A hotpot. You have traditionalists who are into Betty Carter – swing and bebop. Newer approaches bring in folk and world music. I can hear history in the playing of some of the newer guys, and a contemporary vibe. There are new, crisp sounds, new ambiences. I can hear vowel sounds being manipulated…pop influences. Some people are throwing in semi-classical music. It’s fantastic. There’s such a wealth of sounds, and so much imagination in music now. We have the history base that makes me feel “settled”, with the new stuff on top. Sometimes, that question: “Is that a jazz singer?” doesn’t even matter. If it feels good, it doesn’t matter what it is.

LJN: You’ve just returned from a stint in the USA. What have you been up to?

AW: I’ve been shuttling between London and New York for a little while. Now I have the necessary visa, I’ve gigged in California, Wisconsin and New York. On this last trip I’ve been involved with a “Rat Pack” celebration and some of the musicians have wanted to do more. So, I’ll be going back in January to sing with the same band at APAP, an industry event, and to do some workshops and gigs in Berkeley and Seattle.

LJN: What are you listening to?

AW: I have my old favourites – Jim Hall, JJ Johnson, Dexter Gordon, Mark Murphy, Sheila Jordan, Jon Hendricks, Kurt Elling, Kate McGarry, Dena de Rose. On this last trip I saw Bucky Pizzarelli, and I the trombonist Wycliffe Gordon playing and singing – that was a trip. There was also an incredible Latin duo, Paula Santoro and Ian Faquini.

LJN: You’re performing in Cambridge on 21st November. What’s going to happen? How are you going to make us feel?

AW: You’re going to feel like you’ve had a good time! I hope that some of my love for music will rub off. And that you’ll buy a Dexter Gordon album, or discover something new.

LJN: What can you reveal about the gig?

AW: I’m going to sing Dexter Gordon’s solo on Don’t Explain – with my new lyrics. We’ll have a new arrangement of What a Little Moonlight Can Do. The rest is a surprise - except to say there will be scatting.

LJN: What is it that you love about bebop?

AW: The feel. Being honest, I love the fast pace. I love the way chord changes are used to tell new melodic stories. You can make this music your own. I love it.

Robin Phillips

Matt Pannell also interviewed Robin Phillips

LJN: Robin, you’re based in Cambridge and it will be your trio – Alex Best on drums and Jay Darwish on bass - playing with Anita. What’s she really like?

Robin Phillips: Anita’s one of the world’s great jazz singers. Besides that, there’s a mentoring thing going on. She supports those on stage with her. You can work with phenomenal musicians who aren’t really into what you’re doing, but Anita will give you a look that tells you she wants to hear what you’ve got. Also, we share something in that we’re both obsessive about vocal jazz.

LJN: There’s a vocal jazz masterclass on 20th, too?

RP: Yes. Anita’s well-known as a teacher, so this is something I’m looking forward to. Sometimes singers don’t feel as though they’re part of a band. We’re going to focus on how those people can feel and perform like an instrumentalist, have the confidence to lead, to link that band with the audience.

LJN: What about the gig?

RP: We’re turning the main atrium of the Gonville Hotel into a jazz club. Millers will be providing us with a grand piano. You can expect to hear the latest from my trio, some of Anita’s latest work, and some of the older songs that we just love and want to play together.

LINKS: Anita Wardell and the Robin Phillips Trio have a masterclass from 2-5pm at the Gonville Hotel (BOOKING)
The concert is also at the Gonville Hotel on Monday November 21st. Priority seating for diners (BOOKING)

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