Q&A with Jo Lawry – 2005 NJA Finalist

When did you start singing and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when singing came to you as a calling or vocation?

As hackneyed as this sounds, I was one of those kids who started singing around the same time they started talking. I remember telling anyone who would listen that I wanted to be a singer when I grew up, from as early as four years old. I toyed with alternate career choices throughout high school, enrolled in a Physiotherapy degree program at Adelaide University, made numerous pledges to singlehandedly save the world… but eventually I succumbed to the idea that, deep down, I am a singer – so I should probably just do that.

Which musicians (singers or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?

My earliest influences were singers: Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter and Etta Jones in particular. Later I almost exclusively listened to and transcribed instrumentalists: Cannonball Adderley, Wayne Shorter, Miles
Davis, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins… lots of saxophonists!

Now I’ve turned back toward singers again, but this time it’s Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, Ray Charles, Cassandra Wilson… and I’ve been immersing myself in Brazilian sounds of late: Rosa Passos, Elis Regina and some fanstastic folkloric recordings.

What do you look for in a rhythm section?

Groove has to come first – but it can come in many different shapes and forms. The members of my rhythm section need to have at least as much chemistry with one another as I do with each of them. It’s great to have a solid bass player who lays things down simply and authoritatively while the drummer lets loose, but sometimes the reverse can be just as wonderful.
What I look for in ANY member of a rhythm section is a desire to be supportive but still challenge one another on the bandstand. There’s little that infuriates me more onstage than being coddled by my fellow musicians.

What are your favourite lyrics, and why?

Isolating a single favourite lyric is too tough, but I’ll single out some favourite lyricists: Joni Mitchell, Allan and Marilyn Bergman, and definitely Billy Strayhorn… plunk a teenage gay black Francophile in the Midwestern United States circa 1938, and you’re bound to come up with something. As of late I’m intensely interested in the poetry of Antonio
Carlos Jobim’s early writing partner, Vinicius de Moraes, and I’ve been getting my feet wet in some basic Portuguese in order to better appreciate it. ” Tristeza não tem fin; felicidade sim.” … “Sadness has no end; happiness does.”

What are you listening to now?

This minute I’m listening to Seu Jorge’s new album Cru.

What do you hope to get out of the Wang competition?

Well, it’s a wonderful reason to take a trip home after being in the US for over two solid years! I’m looking forward to playing with Australian musicians again, and the chance to record my first album with ABC would pretty great, to say the least… and I can’t wait to have a decent cup of coffee again.

Back to the main Q&A page >