Take Five With Celine Berman
Instrument(s): My voice is my instrument.
Teachers and/or influences? I came to jazz later in life and have been more attentive to jazz only when I transitioned from my native French tongue to English. Since then, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Tormé have been the basis of my influence, among others like Peggy Lee, Julie London and, more recently, Mark Murphy, Kurt Elling and the Manhattan Transfer.
I remember a one-on-one master class at Patty Coker's, wife of Jerry Coker (sax master) in Tennessee in 1996. There, I learned what it meant to become a musician and vocalist, and have carried very valuable lessons and tips ever since. I owe them a debt of gratitude not only as teachers but as generous, kind and patient people as well.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... When I was singing at the top of my lungs all the show tunes that were introduced in our home by my mother, who was especially fond of My Fair Lady and South Pacific. I must have been four or five then.
Your sound and approach to music: My sound is honest and clear. My recordings have been live, even in the studio, and what we sound like in public is very much like the studio sound, and vice versa. My approach to music is mostly learning songs I like and hear from competent singers. Sometimes even, I like to add my own lyrics to pieces that have been executed only instrumentally, or because I could not identify with the lyrics of one particular song, I wrote my own, much like Mel Tormé used to do.
Your teaching approach: In master classes I've given, the question most frequently asked is: Are you still nervous when you perform? Yes, I am but it's not because I feel unprepared or unsuited. It is because I want to convey songs as they were meant, I want to move and connect or interact with my audience, and most of all, I want to have a performance that musicians in the band will love and generously give of their talent with joy and satisfaction during the gig. I like to be challenged during performances and do ad hoc arrangements, and sometimes ad lib lyrics to a twelve-bar blues.
I always tell my students to explore by themselves and with other musicians - and to vary the musicians they work with. That's how to grow into your art. And follow your art dream. Make it possible by whatever means you can. I did it part-time at one point, and now am fully consumed by it and live off it, one very cherished dream of mine.
Your dream band: Oh boy! Beloved Oscar Peterson - a fellow Canadian (on keys); Jaco Pastorius or Ray Brown on bass; Peter Erskine (on drums). That would be a great start. Sax would have to be Dexter Gordon, whose style appeals most to me. What a band this would be.
Anecdote from the road: One of the area booking agents was in a panic. There was this gig that required live music for this particular event set on a native Indian reservation. When the call came in, I happened to be home and agreed to see if I could put a band together in such short notice, which I ended up succeeding at. Lucky me! We set out to do the gig the next evening. We find the place OK and started to set up.
Little did we know, at the time, that what was ordered was a native tribal band for a festival. Needless to say, jazz was not it!
Favorite venue: Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. All handled so professionally - great acoustics, best venue in the Carolinas.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why? Ella in Berlin - I love her delivery of songs, regardless of the memory blanks she had with some of the lyrics. She is so joyous and natural and obviously having great fun with her musicians and her fans. I love Ella!
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? The talent I have is a gift. I like to share that gift when I sing - I want my audience to know it's for them that we're there. I love when I perform for older crowds who know all the lyrics and who have the etiquette down when it comes to dancing or just plain listening. These people are delightful and delighted when we perform - it's much of their music and they should hear it live more often!
Did you know... I've been married over thirty years already (since 1976) - to some, it may betray my age ... but I married my sweetheart, bassist/composer husband young. Age is really just a number ...
How do you use the internet to help your career? Fan-based email and e-marketing have helped me reach my audience and would-be fans readily. It's good for them to know where I perform and what project(s) I'm involved in.
CDs you are listening to now: It just happens to be Dexter Gordon, actually - Ballads is the title. I happen to love Stacy Kent also. I think she has tremendous pitch and phrasing. In Love Again, the music of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein - great for a show tune lover like me.
Desert Island picks: Ella Fitzgerald Dexter Gordon Stacy Kent Mel Tormé Donald Fagen (yeah! I love him a great deal too, especially with Steely Dan).
How would you describe the state of jazz today? We jazz artists are disappearing. I think we're being diluted with the various labels such as Pop Jazz, Smooth Jazz, etc. I think most young people are not introduced to it. The music of today in other genres sounds so cookie cutter, most of it unpleasant to listen to.
Though they have become big machines, I love that Diana Krall, Harry Connick or John Pizzarelli are reintroducing a lot of it, thank goodness. I think that artists like Rod Stewart and Carly Simon should stay away from it as they really don't interpret it well.
I wish radio and especially TV would produce more shows concerning Jazz but it's no longer selling. I feel very much that it's hard to sell it in my area too, though the Carolinas are not bad for a musician - less fish in the pond, so to speak.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Educating the young generation to not be so rushed and take time to listen and appreciate various forms of music. It feels like students are rushed through a process for the results (honor student) and not for the learning experience (jazz appreciation).
Also, the young generation concert-attending etiquette, rather the lack of, is so offensive, and their ignorance of what is jazz is so dismaying. Why aren't parents taking notice?
What is in the near future? A CD with more originals and radical arrangements of music, not necessarily originating in jazz. A Holiday compilation. Perhaps something else ... who knows?
By Day: When not perfecting my singing art, and marketing my band, I utilize my French skills and tutor, teach/coach, interpret and translate. It makes for a busy, but varied and satisfying life doing what I love. What do they say: "The left brain, right brain thing"... Truly I'm privileged to lead this life and to have the support of so many, so generously.