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Catching Up With

Chatting With Jackie Ryan

By Published: April 2, 2004
AAJ: Many of the best singers began singing with bands. Have you worked a lot with larger groups and bands?

JR: Ah, the Big Bands. The singers in the 30's and 40's ALL started that way. That's how they got their training, their road experience, and their exposure. That isn't the case anymore. And perhaps it is a little tougher now -a-days. But that was a different era.

I worked with a big band here in San Francisco for several years just for the experience. It was great. Completely different from working with a small band. Much more of a discipline, of course. You have a very structured environment and you have to find creative ways to play within that tight structure. It's amazing to feel the power of that many horns behind you.

AAJ: If I browsed through your music collection, who would I find?

JR: Any jazz singer you can think of: Betty Carter, Sarah, Ella, Billie, Shirley Horn, Chris Conner, all of them. Instrumental: Bill Evans, Bird, Miles, Duke, Louis, Clark Terry, Terry Gibbs, Pres, Joe Henderson, Barry Harris, Egberto Gismonti, Toots Thielemans, Jim Hall, Coltrane, too many to list. Classical such as Stravinsky and Copeland, lots of Brazilian music such as Milton Nasciemento, Dori Caymmi, Jobim, Djavan, Ivan, Nana Caymmi, Leni Andrage. Opera singers, Cuban music, African music such as Salif Keita, Yousou N'Dour, Black Mombazo. Lots of Ethnic and cross cultural CDs like The Soul of Black Peru, some Fado, obviously too much to list! Also, of course I still have my old vinyls.

AAJ: Do you have a favorite composer (or a favorite five)?

JR: All of the above and then too many to list!! All of the famous jazz musicians were amazing composers as well as masters in playing their instruments. Of course the obvious we all know: Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Harry Warren, Harold Arlen and Count Basie. Their music will live on forever. But there are so many categories. For instance, recently I was listening to the guitarist virtuoso, Egberto Gismonti, on a drive from LA To SF. So that comes to mind. To me he is as brilliant as Stravinsky! Incredible compositions.

Also, I love so many Brazilian composers. Jobim was so prolific. As he got older his compositions took on an almost modern classical approach. He was also very influenced by jazz. So his music had the best of three worlds in it to me. He gave us so much, didn't he. And I love many of the new Brazilian composers as well. Ivan Lins' material still knocks me out. His melodies have surprising turns that are so much his style. And they are wonderful to sing.

AAJ: What are you most happy with in respect to your own singing?

JR: I guess, because it is so much a part of who I am, I am just grateful for its "company" at times, you know? It's like a friend who never lets me down.

When I sing to myself it feels so good. And for an audience I just love to take them on the journey with me. I don't always know where I am going, but when I am inside of a song I can feel the audience is right there with me, taking that ride. It's an amazing thing. I love to sing so much. It is so much an outlet for me to express things I cannot express in another way. As much as the lifestyle can be challenging at times, I am always grateful for being able to have this extra way to communicate and share.

AAJ: Will you be appearing live in any concerts or tour gigs soon?

JR: Yes, several in San Francisco as I write this. I am going to Hawaii in a couple of weeks to do some fun gigs and radio shows with friends out there. Then a few more big ones in Northern SF and then down to LA to do some. In the fall I will be at Ronnie Scott's in London again and then Luxembourg and looks like Berlin may be shaping up. The head of Jazz Radio there has written and is trying to set something up. Cannot wait! That's another special thing about being a musician. The travel. I love that. Also, I am working with wonderful musicians everywhere I go so it never gets boring. Always stays a challenge and the musicians are always inspiring to me.

AAJ: Any words of wisdom for aspiring singers?

JR: Oh yes, of course. I have a young Goddaughter who is singing. She is 15 and was of course influenced by the music that is popular to her generation. But I have sent her some great music to listen to. She just knocked me out recently with an incredible performance of "In A Sentimental Mood." I cried it was so great. I would say to young aspiring singers (and I do): study the music theory. Listen to the masters. Listen to the musicians. Concentrate on listening to your own sound for tone and intonation, which I think is extremely important. Yes, a lot has to do with listening. Become friends with your voice. And most of all sing from your heart. If you do, you cannot help but create your own sound. And very importantly, get out of your head and get into the music!

AAJ: Describe your "dream" CD, assuming that money and availability of musicians were no object.

JR: There are so many thoughts I have about that. Musician-wise, of course there are many I would love to play with: Kenny Baron, Kenny Werner. But I feel so fortunate to have a CD with people like Toots Thielemans and the other wonderful musicians that I have recorded with that I am quite satisfied. And I have already recorded a couple of dream CDs.

But I am always thinking of new ideas. One idea for a CD is that it will involve a situation that is a very creative one where the whole band is involved. Perhaps some original material that I would write with the band. Interesting musical arrangements made by the band as a whole. I do have some things in mind. It will be different from what you have heard so far. I want to explore some new rhythms also. I am just starting to think on this one. Can't say much more at this point.

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