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Faith Gibson: Shooting for the Big Moon

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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Jazz is the most personal and most pliable form of music I know.
Faith GibsonJazz vocalists have struggled through the years to make room for their contributions to the art of improvisation that appear effortless. Their voices are their instrument, an instrument that has to compete with tenor saxophones, drum kits or trumpets; an instrument whose strength rests in the necessity humanity has to communicate with others.



To Faith Gibson, vocal jazz has been a gift that life and time laid at her door step a few years ago, transforming her into a new, more confident and brilliantly delicate vocalist; whose voice became the instrument she chose to utilize to communicate to the world around her.

This Pennsylvania native moved to Germany 25 years ago, created a family and in the middle of a very busy life, searched for the kind of music she could sing for others. Jazz was the answer, and Gibson released her first studio album in 2004, You don't know me (Juke Joint, 2004). That was the beginning of a fabulous adventure that has taken her to several different stages in Europe, and has allowed her to record a second, much awaited, album in Berlin in April, 2009, to be released in June.



Big Moon(Capricopia, 2009) is a compilation of songs following the tradition of The Great American Songbook and its ever-enchanting romanticism, melancholy and always hopeful yearning for love. Songs by Christopher Morse, David Gill, Emmanuel Hérault, Duke Ellington and Gibson herself, fill this album with the kind of beauty that can only be expected from those who understand what music is all about. And Gibson tenderly gathers their words and cradles them in her fragile voice, as if singing was nothing but a natural breathing exercise to her.

All about Jazz: Who is Faith Gibson, as a jazz vocalist?



Faith Gibson: She's still a youngster; the kind of kid who's thirsting for knowledge and experience and can't wait to go to school every day and learn something new.



AAJ: And as a woman?



FG: The woman is a late bloomer in her 40s in the process of turning her life inside out.



AAJ: And as a songwriter?



FG: Maybe you could say the songwriter is a self-involved teenager, trying to express herself.



AAJ: Tell us about your writing process.



FG: First of all, the songs I write are for me and about me although I do hope other people will take my songs and sing them. I see myself mainly as a lyricist, since I've been writing all my life and the written word means a lot to me. And yet, most of the time when I write a song, the words come to me along with a melody. For example, the verse of "What Women Want" began as a conversation in my head, but a sung conversation.



AAJ: What is the main difference between your first album, You don't know me and Big Moon?



FG: I think the main difference is that You don't know me was a very spontaneous project, while for Big Moon I let the ideas develop slowly, wrote and compiled the songs over the course of a year and also the music was actually arranged and rehearsed before recording. The songs with the trio on You don't know me were rehearsed and recorded in one evening in a home studio and many are first (or only) takes. For Big Moon, we rehearsed two days and recorded two days in one of the finest studios in Germany.

Faith GibsonAAJ: What can you say about Big Moon that you would never want us to know?



FG: Lots. Like, one of the best songs on the album was one I really hesitated doing. Like, I was in tears the evening after the first day in the studio. But, now I've told you those things without the whys and wherefores and still have plenty of things I won't tell.



AAJ: Tell us about the recording of Big Moon in Berlin.



FG: I stayed in a little apartment in Berlin and got on the tram every morning to go to rehearsals or the studio and it was a lovely time because spring was just arriving. I arrived in town with my shawl and gloves and was able to shed them and my coat by the time the week was over. The sun shone every day, too.



The studio is spread out over an entire floor of a beautiful old building. The rooms are all connected by double glass doors or windows and there is lots of natural light coming in the big windows in each room. And across the hall is a very cozy, big kitchen for relaxing in. After two days recording and then the mixing sessions with wonderful and skilled Rainer Robben—who made me feel very much at ease—I felt quite at home.



As for the actual recording, once I got over the jitters and almost got used to closing myself into the vocal booth, it was great fun. Not that I'm claustrophobic, but being behind glass and communicating with some of the band via mirrors and the microphone is something I'm not used to. The first day was also a little tough because we recorded about 10 songs!

AAJ: Tell us about the musicians.



FG: Needless to say, they are the best. Wolfgang Koehler was recommended to me a few years ago by the jazz singer Silvia Droste when I told her I had been performing in Berlin but hadn't found my ideal band. So, I've worked with him and with Lars Guehlcke, the bassist, before. Wolfgang is professor of jazz piano at the Hanns Eisler Music Academy in Berlin and, of course, very well-known throughout Germany as a pianist, arranger and composer, having played with many groups—including his own formation with saxophonist Allan Praskin—big bands, etc., and recording many CDs as a leader and sideman. But, besides his prodigious abilities and talent, what impresses me about him is his generosity, modesty, his willingness to work with me (a songwriter who can't write chords) and the great care he took in every detail.



I let him put the rest of the band together—Lars, Felix, Jo and Gregoire are people he's worked with countless times before—and that was a good idea. Absolute professionals, highly talented and experienced, who have made their mark on the jazz world and it was a huge privilege for me to get to know them and I really look forward to working more with them—and they say they're looking forward to it, too.


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