Simin Tander: Softly, As In A Morning Dew
Encouragement came from Tander's sister, Mina: "My sister told me that I should take singing lessons. I wasn't scared but it was a very big step for me. I knew I wanted to sing, I just didn't know for a long time how to start. Maybe I feared criticism. I just sang at home for quite a long time, taking singing lessons only when I was 17 or 18." Singing lessons and the advent of joining her first band were the kick-start that Tander needed: "From then on I had tunnel vision," Tander explains. "I had only one goal."
Tander took a huge leap forward thanks to the help and support of jazz singer Sheila Jordan, as Tander relates: "I had planned a trip to New York and my singing teacher in Holland told me that if I went I should check out Sheila Jordan. I knew her as a singer, of course, and I subscribed to a workshop she gave in Vermont in 2003. She told me about a master-class the following year that she thought would be of benefit to me and she made it happen that I could attend. She's a very special person."
Jordan-one of jazz's great vocal improvisers-helped Tander obtain a scholarship to study in New York, and her guidance would have a great effect on Tander's development as an improvising singer: "I'm sure I learned very concrete things from her," says Tander. "She's a great improviser and she can really scat, but what was most striking was that when she's onstage, she is really herself. She showed me how to reveal a very personal story, to be honest in what you want to say and how you want to say it. That inspired me more than any technical aspect of singing. "
In a 2007 interview with All About Jazz, Jordan said: "Jazz is a music that allows us emotionally and honestly to express ourselves and the lives of others..."- a sentiment that resonates with Tander. "When you create music you create your own world, you are the world itself. You know, in life there are so many rules, you have to do this and you have to that, but in music I have so much freedom," says Tander. "Music opens up a lot of doors."
Having studied in New York, it seemed that the Big Apple's door was beckoning for Tander, but her destiny lay elsewhere: " I did think about staying in New York for a longer time, maybe a year and seeing how far I could get, but things started to happen for me here in Holland. I think it would be hard for me to settle in America, far away from my family," she says with frankness. It's not an option that she rules out in the future: "For a period I would love to live in New York. It's another world. I only know the East coast but I really like it."
Returning to Holland, Tander began to make a name for herself on the jazz circuit, though she didn't feel any pressing need to record, in spite of the fact that she had written and had been performing a number of songs from Wagma for several years already: "People would say, 'Oh, you have to record a CD,' but I consciously took my time. I felt that the songs were not quite where they should be. It was a very intuitive choice not to record before. I didn't want to record them when I felt they weren't ready. Other people choose another way, they just write and record immediately, which is also nice, and maybe I'll do that more in the future, just go with the flow instead of letting things grow, but for this album it worked."
Tander explains the meaning behind the CD's title: "It's Pashtu language, which is spoken in Afghanistan. My father's family all speak Pashtu and it's actually my second name. My father wanted me to have a typical Pashtu name and it means morning dew. Part of me wanted this so badly already when I was a little child so I called it Wagma to make the connection. That's the story behind the title; it's very personal." Whilst it may seem like an intimidating prospect to commit her vocal improvisations to record, for Tander there were few nerves and no need to psyche herself up: "No, I was lucky," she says, "because I recorded in a very nice, relaxed atmosphere and all the technicians were wonderful. I recorded almost everything live with the band, and I just closed my eyes and went for it. I didn't hide myself. My band is very good and it was a wonderful experience."
The quartet that Tander leads on Wagma features Jeroen Van Vliet on piano and electronics, Etienne Nillesen on drums and Cord Heineking on double bass. The group chemistry is pronounced and the music is a subtle blend between tradition and experiment: "I think it has a lot of different influences and I guess you can hear that," acknowledges Tander. "It represents what I like. I like to experiment with my voice and I like to sing simple songs. I try to combine the two and make one story."