In 2009, extempore journal spoke to five Australian jazz musicians, asking them all the same set of questions… Kristin Berardi, Vince Jones and Katie Noonan were in the group we interviewed and this year all three of these outstanding Australian musicians are opening the Melbourne International Jazz Festival with a gala concert called ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, billed as an evening of great jazz standards.
We’ve reprinted three of the five interviews … and you can see more information about extempore Issue 3 over on the extempore website >
Kristin Berardi has won some prestigious awards for her singing—including the vocal competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2006 (one of the biggest jazz festivals in the world) and the prestigious Freedman Fellowship in 2007. She has a warm voice that has often been described as having the ability to ‘transport’ the listener. Kristin composes many of her own songs, and her compositions have earned her praise from the likes of Al Jarreau. You’ll find a track from the Kristin Berardi band on our bonus CD with this issue. Kristin chose to answer our questions by email.
extempore: Do you consider yourself a jazz singer?
kristin: Yes and no. I think of myself firstly as a musician, and if someone wants to know more specifically I would say I’m a jazz singer. In my opinion a ‘jazz singer’ is a vocalist who may sings songs from the jazz standard repertoire and songs influenced by the jazz idiom. I think a jazz singer would use, as musical vehicles, songs which had those fundamental elements of jazz; swing feel, improvisation and freedom of arrangement, interpretation and expression.
extempore: What are the challenges and the enjoyable aspects of working with standards and original songs?
kristin: I love doing standards because of the history behind them, both in their creation and the history of all the people over the years who have played those same tunes, in their own way. Singing your own material is also incredibly rewarding and, because you wrote it, it is perhaps easier to portray the emotion or story in the lyrics.
The challenge when singing standards, I think, is to be respectful to the original tune and then do your own thing with it. I find it difficult to achieve that balance. The challenge for me with my original songs is to not sing them too far from the original melody, especially the first time through, because even though I’ve heard the song many times before, I have to remember someone else could be hearing it for the first time.
extempore: Can you describe the ideal relationship between a singer and the band?
kristin: The ideal relationship between a singer and the band is that you all feel like you’re equal and that you’re all working for the same cause—the making of music. Yes, I think that we are all musicians working with different instruments—for a common cause—to portray the desired mood, or emotion. The only difference for the singer is that they may also have words.
This is a big responsibility, and I think singers should take emoting and storytelling very seriously as the general public will feel more drawn to them, purely because they have that same mode of communication. Singers have an extra opportunity to connect with the listener, based on the fact that we have words; and also that, in singing contemporary music, people will identify not only with the actual words you are singing but also with some of the sounds you are making.
The musicians I seek to play with are ones who are good at what they do, but most of all who are expressive, supportive both musically and personally, and who are keen to play!
extempore: Do you believe that performing artists have an obligation to address wider issues of the human condition?
kristin: I don’t think artists have an obligation to address issues of the human condition, but many artists—perhaps most—will do so, because it is their mode of expression and their own way of working through either their issues or others’ or their dissatisfaction with what is going on in the world.
When I have written songs about certain issues, it has not been a result of a sense of duty but from a need to express my thoughts and feelings in the best way I know how—through music. I try to be honest in my writing so, if a work is about faith or disappointment or sickness or thankfulness, I try to allow that to come across purely and not filter it through what I think will be acceptable for the listener to hear. That said, I do not want to offend people either, so I do try to word things in an honest yet hopefully not too confronting manner.