Interview with jazz maestra Jessica Lauren – Part Two

Part two of our interview with Kent jazz musician Jessica Lauren ahead of her live performance.

Jessica Lauren returns to the Gulbenkian for the first time since the release of her new album – Almeria – as part of a celebration of jazz. The celebrated musician will take to the stage on March 1st for a unrivalled combination of harmonies and chit-chat. Chloe and Oliver caught up with her for us ahead of the big show.

What’s your favourite part about playing live?

The potential for egg on face is always large, no-one’s ever thrown egg at me and we’re not encouraging people to bring groceries to the gig, it’s tightrope walking. That’s really wonderful, the sense of excitement and nerves at the same time. It’s more than just the tension of not wanting to make a “mistake” but you have to leave your self-consciousness behind. I love the intimacy where you can see facial expressions and read the room, I want people to enjoy it and be drawn into the experience. In a beautiful space like The Gulbenkian you get a great atmosphere, it’s the perfect size and everyone is close to the band.

What is the best venue you’ve played?

I’ve never played a stadium so I’ve never had the Queen @ Live Aid experience where there’s 150,000 people clapping in synchronisation. We did a gig recently at Cockpit Theatre, in London, called ‘Jazz in the Round’ where everyone is sitting all around us, with the four of us facing each other in the middle. That felt wonderful, the audience were banked around us and we were down on floor level, almost as though we were in the audience. I once did a live gig of a train on a Safari Park and it was a long time ago, a live broadcast on digital radio and there would be a rhino coming along with the wind blowing the umbrella away. That’s quite the opposite but it’s a brilliant experience.

I remember the Jazz Cafe in London when it first opened. It was a very dressy audience who wanted to be impressed, arms-folded and sucking teeth, you had to earn the round of applause. Because it was a small venue it was really daunting because you knew you’d be in for a rough time if you didn’t impress them.

What would be your advice for those looking to get into the jazz industry?

Get a bunch of people together and do it, as simple as that, find your voice and create the music. Listen to other people, gather your influences and try to capture your emotions and what moves you. You can feel under the weight of the jazz giants from before and that is scary but you’re not there to imitate, find your own path. We’ll be doing a workshop on the afternoon of our gig with a support set and exploring a tune that’s accessible so that’s one way to get started, to get a taste of it. Express yourself.

If you could play a game of Monopoly with three musicians, who would they be?

This is a very interesting college because just because they’re great musicians doesn’t mean you want to play Monopoly and I don’t want to have to take #MeToo into account when discussing Park Lane and Mayfair around a coffee table. Janelle Monáe would be bound to win because she’s a tough cookie and I’m sure she wouldn’t like to lose – she’d be great to play with and I’d be very excited. I’m not really too fussed about winning and I’d be glad to lose to Janelle but the others I think, well, Ringo Starr. He’s really maligned by sections of the media, he’s an amazing drummer and a minimalist – a bit like my music – and he’s a giant amongst us. I should probably choose someone jazzy next so I would offer two alternatives. Marshall Allen, the impish wizard at the head of the Arkestra, he is an absolute don of space and time or, alternatively, there’s Twinkie Clark who wrote all the music for The Clark Sisters, her group. She’s an indomitable force of gospel music who plays the organ like a comet blazing through the solar system. As far as which pieces we’d get, Janelle and Twinkie can pick and then me and Marshall Allen can get whatever is left. I guess I’d by Angel Islington first, that used to be local to me, but can anyone fall in love with a station?

Finally, then, describe your music as a cake?
There’s got to be a whole table of cake, each tune is its own cake and maybe even a cookie. They come together to create a wonderful harmony of cakes, I couldn’t possibly do a gig without a New York cheesecake that clings to the roof of the mouth. Obviously we do vegan and gluten free options as well, we don’t want anyone to feel excluded, and a nice rich fruit cake as well. I love the fact that you can bring so many flavours to a gig, I have phrase “cheese sushi”. It is what I use to refer to two brilliant things that don’t work together so that’s the challenge, to come up with a new combination of flavours and instruments that work together really well in a way that you can taste and love the individual ingredients but, pieced together, they’re even better.

Tickets for The Jazz Sessions: Jessica Lauren’s Naga Five can be purchased through this link – https://thegulbenkian.co.uk/event/the-jazz-sessions-jessica-laurens-naga-five-2/ – it promises to be spectacular.

Oliver McManus

Special Guest

Hello! I'm currently studying at Canterbury College, in my second year of a journalism course and when I'm not studying or serving pizzas at Pizza Hut you'll often find me either writing or asleep!