Claire Martin: Improvisation, Inspiration, Imagination

Katrina-Kasey Wheeler By

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I'm always striving to be a more interesting musician; to sing in tune with feeling and honesty.
Claire MartinSince Claire Martin's debut, The Waiting Game (Linn Records, 1992), she has been an instant success. She is hailed by many as the best British singer of the decade, with numerous prestigious awards and over ten albums to her credit. Martin started singing as a teenager and found her calling as a jazz singer early on. Having been influenced by such artists as Shirley Horn, Sheila Jordan, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald, she has successfully created her own unique sound that has the same iconic quality as her predecessors. Claire Martin has already left a clearly indelible mark on the genre. She undoubtedly will remain to do so, as her career continues to flourish.

Katrina-Kasey Wheeler caught up with the songstress to discuss her newest project, He Never Mentioned Love (Linn Records, 2007), and her road to success.

All About Jazz: Your influences growing up were Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald. You have said that hearing Ella's songbooks changed your life. How so? Did you want to be the next Ella Fitzgerald or did you just know that singing was going to be the way your spent your life? Was this a calling early on?

Claire Martin: I think hearing Ella sing the Great American Songbooks is essential listening for anyone who wants to get into jazz singing. She was a very prolific artist and my Mother was and still is one of her biggest fans, so I often heard Ella being played in our house. I didn't ever want to be the next Ella—in fact at that stage of my life I had no idea that I would even end up singing professionally. I think I got a taste for great songs sung by one of the greatest ever artists. Ella swings hard.

AAJ: Was Ella Fitzgerald the artist who inspired you the most? Were there any others?

CM: Sarah Vaughan was a major influence as was Chris Conner, and later Betty Carter, Shirley Horn and Anita O'Day. Out of all of these singers Shirley Horn was my biggest influence.

AAJ: Are you from a musical family?

CM: My parents aren't musicians but they are big music lovers and still go to at least one gig a week. They have been very supportive of my work and I have to say they do have really good taste in music. However, I did see a Rod Stewart CD at their house the other day!

AAJ: Were you interested in other genres of music or was jazz always the genre that spoke to you and inspired your imagination?

CM: I like all sorts of music. My CD collection is very mixed. I love Radiohead, [David] Bowie, Kate Bush, K.D Lang, and Joni Mitchell; I could go on for ages. I love great songs whatever the genre, but I love the freedom jazz gives musicians to improvise. Improvisation is the major key to inspiring my imagination. Betty Carter would sing differently every night. That's very appealing to me.

AAJ: All great singers/musicians have had to pay their dues, so to speak—what is the best thing that you learned about this industry as a singer when you sang at the theatre bar for two years?

CM: I learned that you have to know your keys, your arrangements, what suits your voice, how to play to a room, how to engage an audience in between songs, how to lead a band, count in a tune. In essence, I learned the beginnings of a craft that I am still working on. I don't ever think that you get to the stage where you are totally satisfied with your performance. Maybe you do when you're seventy?

Claire AAJ: Do you think that going through uncertainties early on in one's career, in terms of paying dues, is necessary in order to understand who one is as an artist? As well as knowing what one wants to achieve as an artist; to know if you really have the drive and the vision to make it a career?

CM: Hard gigs definitely can make or break an artist early on, but if you are passionate about pursuing music as a career then you have to do the gigs early on that are just hard work. You don't "go in at the top of any career, so yes, I guess you do get a good level of your determination and also whether you are good enough to carry on.

AAJ: How did you go about forming your first quartet and how did that lead to being signed to Linn Records?

CM: When I left the cruise ships, I had to get a band together in order to do gigs in London, where I am from and where I was living. I went to a few gigs and heard a lot of musicians that were fantastic; Jim Mullen for instance is a world class guitarist and I was really thrilled that he would even consider working with me then as I was very young and not that experienced.

I just rang them up and got together a set and started hustling. There were more gigs in town then, or at least it seemed like that. Maybe there were just less singers. Linn Records came to see me at the Pizza on the Park in London, a famous venue which unfortunately is about to close. They gave me a record deal when I was twenty-three and I recorded the first CD for them the following year. They have been totally supportive of me over the last twelve years.


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