Meet Esther Berlanga Ryan
I joined All About Jazz in: 2009
What made you decide to contribute to All About Jazz? I mainly wanted to give musicians a chance to be heard. And there is nothing like asking a question and hearing the artist go, "Wow... let me think about that one." Most become like family to me, and we remain in contact. I love jazz, it defines me. So doing this makes me extremely happy.
How do you contribute to All About Jazz? I am an interviewer. I basically knock on musicians' doors and bug them with questions to show the world how magnificent their souls really are.
What is your musical background? I studied music years ago. I played the flute in an all-flute orchestra in my school (in Barcelona, Spain). It was all classical music, but my teacher loved jazz too, which was refreshing. So I played Mozart, Handel, some Vivaldi, Beethoven... I remember the feeling of utter happiness when a piece finally sounded the way it was supposed to , and you would literally get lost in that beautiful unity of notes turned into music. It was by far one of the most fabulous feeling I have ever had, other than giving birth to my daughter, or being loved by my dogs. :-)
My father was a jazz lover. He would play his jazz records on the the weekends, and especially on Sundays. Jazz was a part of my childhood. My mom once told me that she found my dad crying, sitting on a park bench one day, waiting for her to get off work; she asked him what was wrong, and he said "Louis Armstrong passed away." She said that was the only time she had ever seen him cry, and he did cry one more time, when our dog Wusby died. Imagine how he felt about jazz!
When I was a little kid, about five years old, I once told my dad that he needed to stop playing "that music..." because "that man doesn't know how to play music, and it is giving me a headache." The man was John Coltrane; the album, Giant Steps. I remember the vinyl laying on the dining room table. And I was pointing at it as if it was pure garbage and it smelled bad. My dad laughed really hard, and said something like, "Don't worry, you will get it some day." I looked at him and proudly replied "I don't think so!"
Years later, I stumbled into some Billie Holiday, and bought her autobiography to try to learn more about her. I loved her completely and unconditionally right off the bat. Then came Lester Young, and finally... John Coltrane. It happened just like that, and I was about fifteen, perhaps sixteen years old. I had always liked Satchmo, but that was about it... Billie opened my soul. I don't know how she did it, or why... but my dad was right... I got it.
One day he called me up to the living room, and said "I want you to listen to this. It is the best record ever!" I rolled my eyes, sat down and let him play the music. It was fantastic! Earl Hines and Budd Johnson, "Dirty Old Men," from 1976, I believe, with Panama Francis and Jimmy Leary. I think that was the moment when I realized it had happened: I was a jazz fan. I wasn't seventeen years old yet. Years later, I found a reissue of that record on CD, and I bought it for him. When I gave it to my dad his eyes sparkled and his smile was wide and deeply moving. He looked at me, as if saying "mission accomplished." The circle was finally closed.
What was the first record you bought that you would still listen to today? I believe it was a Billie Holiday record. Old recordings, that were not preserved too well... but that today would still give me chills. Billie was my portal to jazz.
What type of jazz do you enjoy listening to the most? Vocal jazz has always had a big impact on me; after all, look what Billie did... but I enjoy all kinds of jazz, from bebop to cool to Afro-Cuban. To me, if it is jazz and moves my spirit, I will love it, no matter what it is.
Aside from jazz, what styles of music do you enjoy? I love R&B, and I listen to classical music.
What are you listening to right now? Kendrick Scott Oracle, Conviction.
Which five recent releases would you recommend to readers who share your musical taste? Kendrick Scott Oracle, Conviction;
Bill Evans, Live at Art D'Lugoff's: Top of the Gate (Resonance Records);
Terence Blanchard, Magnetic;
Terri Lyne Carrington, Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue;
Darryl Yokley's Sound Reformation, The Void.
What inspired you to write about jazz? The music. It's all about the music.
What do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies? I'm a Mom, and I'm an animal lover, especially dogs. I enjoy reading, writing, and listening to music.
What role does jazz music play in your life? Jazz music is the peace gauge, the source of all things good in my life. When my dad passed away in 2003 I was unable to listen to jazz until five years later. That is how deep it runs in my veins: it hurt too much. But the thing is that you can't run from love, and jazz is all love to me. I have met some extraordinary people who have dedicated their lives to playing this music, but at the end of the day, to me, it is all about what this music makes me feel, how it can make me smile, and sometimes even cry.
Three years ago I was in New York City and went to the Village Vanguard to see Christian McBride; one of the pieces they performed was a stunning "East of the Sun, West of the Moon..." It was so beautiful, I cried. That is what I mean. If it reaches your soul, it will stay there forever, and you will grow as a person in ways you never knew you could.
How does writing about jazz contribute to the music itself? Jazz seems to have been overlooked for many years now. An American art form, it has not been properly protected, and musicians struggle to make ends meet, now more than ever before. When we write about it my hope is we give it the recognition it deserves.
Many jazz festivals have opted for more commercial, non-jazz performances for their lineups, jazz stations have shut down all over the U.S., smooth jazz has taken over, and when you are not a mainstream genre of music, you end up being in danger of extinction... It may sound overly dramatic, but it is the world jazz lives in. It simply does not receive the respect it should.
What do you like most about All About Jazz? The variety of jazz it covers, which is pretty much everything. That is important. To give everybody a voice, a chance to shine, if their art is true.
What positives have come from your association with All About Jazz? When you treat people well, they usually treat you well in return. I have found that when I touch people with my articles, they tend to remember, and they respect your work. That is always a beautiful thing.
Esther Berlanga Ryan at All About Jazz