Claire Martin: Improvisation, Inspiration, Imagination
CM: Three weeks ago he just came to my opening night at the Algonquin in New York. I was really happy to see him again. He was with his new wife. What an absolute star he is. He said some great things to me that were so supportive and kind; very morale boosting. He is a major talent. Still singing great at eighty years old.
AAJ: You have received numerous awards and have worked with legendary musicians and by doing so have obtained much critical acclaim. Is all of this a validation of your career? Does it incite an inner drive pushing you forward on your path of success?
CM: It's very nice to receive awards. It's great for PR and it makes you realize that your work is getting "out there, and people are enjoying it. I don't think it can actually incite an inner drive, but it certainly can help to encourage you along the way. Drive is something I think you are either born with or not. I don't think you can learn to be driven.
AAJ: Has your artistic vision changed at all since you first started your career?
CM: Not really. I'm always striving to be a more interesting musician; to sing in tune with feeling and honesty. Of course I'd like to sing at more festivals in places like St. Lucia, but that's really a glamorous vision of setting rather than artistic vision.
AAJ: Why, at this point, did you choose to record this tribute to your mentor, Shirley Horn?
CM: Well, she had passed away in 2005 and it was time for my next CD and so it seemed perfectly fitting to do it as my next project. I'm surprised that there haven't been more tribute albums to her.
AAJ: How did Horn's technique, spirit and approach influence you?
CM: Shirley Horn can sing a lyric and absolutely reduce me to tears. She touched me immensely. Her piano playing was so classy, stylish, sophisticated, and hip. Her phrasing was just perfect. Her attention to the lyric was just so well measured and her delivery sublime. For me she was the complete jazz artist.
AAJ: Many critics are saying that this current album is your best work yet. Do you feel this way, too?
CM: It's true that I am getting some very nice praise in the press. I think most artists always like the last piece of work that they have done as it seems the freshest. I'm very proud of the work and loved working with my band on the arrangements.
AAJ: What was it like to work with [bassist] Laurence Cottle?
CM: Laurence Cottle is one of the most exciting musicians I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He is totally supportive, full of great and original ideas and most of all is an incredible bassist. I hope we can do more CDs together in the future. He is a much loved and respected musician in the UK and around the world.
AAJ: You are thought to be, by many including your peers, the best British jazz singer that has emerged in the past decade. It must be a joy to hear something like this?
CM: It's very flattering. There is room for everybody however!
AAJ: You truly pour your heart and soul into your work. Do you feel that you are a storyteller in this way; to convey the emotional undertones of your songs?
CM: I'm getting better at story telling with age. I have more life experience to pour into a song. Listen to Abbey Lincoln now, how much life and love and living she has in her sound. Perhaps you just get more believable with age.
AAJ: Life experience is so crucial for a vocalist's interpretation to be believable. You are great friends with [pianist/composer] Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. What is it like to work with him on When Lights are Low (Linn Records, 2005), especially considering the camaraderie that exists?
CM: It was great! He really brings out the best in me. He plays with such emotion and is very encouraging with difficult key changes or arrangements. I am very proud to know him, even more so to work with him.
AAJ: Is there any producer or musician that you would like to work with and have not yet had the opportunity to do so?
CM: I'd like to sing with [guitarist] Pat Metheny and [drummer] Brian Blade. Also, I would love to sing with [vocalist] Kurt Elling.
AAJ: Those would all be amazing collaborations. Is the jazz scene in the U.K. all that different from that of the United States, and if so, how is it distinctive?
CM: Europe is producing some fantastic young players and some real stars of the future are emerging from the schools and colleges in the UK. Gwilym Simcock who is a pianist and composer here in the UK is a case in point.
AAJ: You are a Yoga enthusiast, does that practice help you to focus on your music and to channel your artistic creativity?
CM: Well, I use it for everything, but mainly to calm me down and keep me centered. It helps me with my work undoubtedly, but that's not the main reason I practice yoga. I don't think I would have achieved as much as I have without my practice.