Ingrid James: My songlines

Ingrid James is a goddess. No? Too much? How about ‘High Priestess’ of jazz singing? As a vocalist with a rich timbre and impeccable phrasing, she has a voice that caresses, embraces and nurtures you; as a musical explorer, she never misses an opportunity to collaborate with musicians from all over the world; as an educator, she’s sharing this experience and knowledge with the younger set; and as a key figure in Brisbane’s jazz scene, she’s always there to curate the monthly Jazz Singers Jam Night at theBrisbane Jazz Club, which in its turn, spawned theBrisbane Vocal Jazz Festival. Here, she shares the music that helped shape her world.

What was the first album or single that you ever acquired?

Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’, naturally – or was it Ella’s ‘Live in Berlin’?

Not sure – but ever since I started buying my own albums, I’ve always listened to a cross between jazz, world, fusion, funk/soul and classical.

What was the most recent album or track that you purchased?

‘Red Sparkle’ – Jeff Hamilton Trio.

I saw Jeff’s trio perform recently and was gobsmacked by his artistry and skill

Which album should be on everyones collection?

Joni Mitchell’s ‘Travelogue’ (double CD), featuring orchestral recreations of her recordings over the years.

It’s a beautifully conceived and executed piece of work from start to finish.

Which song reminds you of the best concert you’ve ever attended?

Recently, perhaps ‘On and On; by Jeff Hamilton Trio…

…and ‘Witchita Lineman’ performed by Laurence Hobgood in Brisbane. I love the way they have reinvented these songs and captured some beautiful possibilities.

Nancy Wilson’s ‘Mr. Bojangles’ reminds me very much of the time I saw her at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane.

Her voice was powerful yet subtle and I loved the way she bent her notes.

Of course I’ll always remember seeing Ella in Brisbane at The Festival Hall when I was really young. I cried a lot!

She was so natural… I remember being quite caught up in the way she crafted her ballads, like ‘The Man I Love’.

Which song reminds you of your favourite journey?

‘Fragile’ by Sting.

I was in Beijing working for ABC TV. Transferring between filming locations involved long bus trips and I’d listen to this on my headphones whilst looking out the window and watching thousands of bicycles negotiate the Beijing traffic. Now of course, the bicycles are probably all gone and replaced by BMWs – lol!

Which song reminds you of your most important rite of passage?

One of the many rites of passage was ‘Spain’.

In my twenties, I hopped up on stage with a jazz band in West Berlin and sang it cold with them. That was a brave moment for me. Spain wasn’t just a normal standard at the time.

Which song best describes your relationship to your loved ones?

Moon River.

I used to sing it to my children every night.

Which song best encapsulates your idea of jazz?

I’ll mention two singers: Betty Carter – ‘Babe’s blues’

Her phrasing is whimsical, effortless and authentic, but I can’t leave out Carmen McRae’s album ‘Carmen sings Monk’ or any one of those songs, such as ‘Get it Straight/Straight No Chaser’.

I used to always think of Carmen when getting into the zone in the old days because it always sounded like she was in the living room singing to me personally.

If your life was to become a movie…

…which song would be heard on the opening credits?

Michel Legrand’s ‘The Summer Knows’.

I’m a big fan of his melodies and lyrics.

…which would be on the end credits?

‘I Can Let Go Now’ – Michael McDonald

A good shedding song. Seems appropriate and I love this song. It’s in my repertoire.

…which would be on the action scenes?

Probably ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkel’, for juxtaposition – to take the edge off the on-screen reality.

I guess it would be a way of creating calm during chaos to feel the weight of the drama whilst suspending reality just a little.

…which would be on the love scene?

Michael Franks – ‘Tiger in the Rain’

Which song do you wish you had written yourself?

A Timeless Place (The Peacocks).

Norma Winstone wrote an exquisite set of lyrics to Jimmy Rowles’ melody, which is also sublime. Perfect combo.

Which song do you wish had been written about you?

Billy Stayhorn’s Daydream.

It’s nice to feel needed, missed, dreamt about, loved.

Which song best describes your current state of mind?

‘Work to Do’ by Average White Band.

Loved this band. I saw them in Brisbane when I was younger. I have so many projects I’m juggling while trying to balance family life. I love the productivity, but at times I just need a little more time to smell the flowers.

Ingrid James is playing at the Paris Cat on Friday 26 July