Lola Danza: Free To Sing Free
Danza gets inspiration from philosophy or other such writings.
"I like to read Krishnamurti," she says. "He's a favorite of mine. [And] people's biographies. I am in the middle of reading Albert Einstein's biography. Fernando Pessoa's 'The Book of Disquiet' is my bible. I love Rainer Maria Rilke. I love 'Letters to a Young Poet.' It's about what it means to be an artist. For me, living that life daily, I think, makes this music. It brings out all those things. I also practice Chinese yoga with my bassist and yoga teacher John Voigt."
In terms of listening to avant-garde jazz, Danza likes Albert Ayler and Charles Gayle. Of Ayler, she says "I like a lot of his beliefs, his philosophy. I really love and admire him and the freedom in his music. There's something there. It's spiritual. Just like John Coltrane. For me, Crescent (Impulse!, 1964), Sun Ship (Impulse!, 1965) and Ascension (Impulse!, 1965), those are my favorite Trane albums. There's this complete beauty in them and spirituality that goes beyond words.
"I love free jazz, avant-garde. But then, also, I like straight-ahead jazz too. I'll sing standards and solo over changes. I love listening to Sarah Vaughan and Anita O'Day ... I listen to so many different types of music I don't really like to say 'this is good music and that is bad. If it's good music, it's good music. Doesn't matter what genre. I love world music as well. And I have written some compositions where I get into flamenco and Asian influences."
Through drummer Moses and also her time at Berklee, there is inspiration from vocalist and scat-meister Sheila Jordan.
"I never studied with Sheila. She did a clinic at Berklee when I was there and I got to sit in and she was just amazing. I called her a couple of times for advice. She's just a wonderful, wonderful human being and brilliant musician."
Danza says Jordan's classic album Portrait Of Sheila (Blue Note, 1963) is a special favorite of hers. "Then there's this really amazing album, I think its Steve Swallow's record, and it's called Home (ECM, 1980). Bob Moses is on it and Sheila's singing these poems by a friend of theirs and that's an amazing record."
On broader avant-garde music in general, says Danza, "I love John Cage and his philosophy on sound. He's such a beautiful man, always so happy and full of laughter. I love Stockhausen and the way he talks about sounds. He says, 'If sounds can heal, it can evolve humanity.'" For older classical music, "I love Stravinsky, Shostakovich ... I love Rachmaninoff ... I got to see an amazing Russian concert pianist here in New York at the Met Museum. When I was living in Boston, I saw the Boston Symphony as much as I could."
Her favorite opera singer is Maria Callas. "I like to go to the opera at the Met a lot too." But for Danza, less predictable sources of music are also always at hand.
"One thing that I really like is this CD box set of music called The World Museum and it's these guys who go around all over the world collecting samples of tribes and different exotic sounds. Even some guy who's selling newspapers in the street, but singing it. In a different language, it sounds like a symphony. It sounds gorgeous. So yeah, I love that kind of stuff. It's inspiring."
Danza also lists "post-modern pop" as an influence. "I think of Beck and Björk. Björk is definitely an influence of mine. I love Björk ... The two albums I have are Debut (Elektra, 1993) and Medulla (Atlantic, 1994). Medulla I really, really respect because it's all voice. I love the harmonies she's using with the choir. I like the sounds that she makes. And I think she has a really great vision. I also have the making of Medulla DVD. I used to watch that a lot to get ideas.
"And Debut [Björk's first solo album], I really like. She takes a standard, "Like Someone in Love," and sings it over a harp with some sound sampling. The sound samples actually tell a story underneath the harp accompanimenta sort of sound sampling accompaniment to the music and herselfand that's brilliant. I mean that is gorgeous. I'm into harp and I'm into sound samples."
Danza came from Boston to New York in 2007 to become more involved in free jazz. Guitarist Ben Monder, not a "free jazz" musician, was one of the musicians she sought out. "I did move here because of him and I had to play with him," she says. "And I've played with him a few times. I heard him and Theo Bleckmann [the expansive German singer and composer], and through Theo, I learned about (vocal innovator and composer) Meredith Monk. My godmother, opera singer Angie Perez, worked with Meredith in the '80s in Berlin. But I moved here for [Monder's] playing and the idea of a different kind of music existing for the voice in a whole new way. These guys like Ben, Theo, and Meredith are performing and writing revolutionary music for the voice, so I knew I had to be here in Mecca, New York City."
She has played with Monder at the Cornelia Street Café in New York. "Monder's played on my compositions. We did a little free thing and we did some standards, and he was incredible on my compositions. He's amazing, really amazing."
From the purely free-jazz aspect, Danza says she moved to New York because of Ornette Coleman. "He was the main guy." She also cites Anthony Braxton, John Zorn and her teacher, Jeanie Lovetri, as big draws to New York for her.
Before she lived in Boston, Danza's father was in the military band and the family moved around a lot, "So I don't really have any place where I'm from." She went to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music and stayed. Currently, she attends the Aaron Copland School of Music at the City University of New York in CUNY Queens.
She's working on a master's degree in jazz performance and says the school's jazz department "has changed my life. The program is outstanding and the teachers are dedicated ... they love jazz and they love young musicians. They support the jazz scene. I believe it is by far one of the best programs in the country."
Danza's father is a jazz guitarist and her grandfather played jazz piano, but she didn't listen much to jazz music growing up. "I listened to classical music ... When I was 11, I had an LP of Beethoven sonatas and I listened to that record on repeat for years. I also remember, as a little girl, going to the record store to get an LP of Cindy Lauper, She's So Unusual (Portrait, 1983). "Time After Time" is a great tune on that album. Not to mention, Cindy Lauper looked really cool and pretty in her tutu on the cover. Then, after that, I started taking classical voice lessons and listened to Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland, Frederica Von Stade, Kathleen Battle, Angie Perez, Maria Callas. I wanted to be an opera singer and sing Mozart's 'Magic Flute'you know, be the Queen of the Night."