AAJ: The Great American Songbook.
NH: I view the Great American songbook as great story telling, great love songs. I like it because the wording and the use of the language is so classic. The language of the '30s, '40s and '50s is so proper, and it has so many beautiful and poetic ways of how to say "I love you." I just love that "classicness" of the Great American Songbook. And then, when it comes to the melodies and chords changes and things like that...there's a lot of brilliant things going on in that music. I am not saying that that doesn't happen in today's music. But the classics are just amazing. When I say "classic," I mean it in a very respectful way. I mean class, elegance, a sense of respect for oneself and for the people that are listening to the music. So that's what it means to me. And to me, I have had so much fun representing these songs! I like the fact that I can try to bring a new life to it, another perspective. There is no point in doing a song that has been done before the same exact way that it was already done. In vocal jazz I find the freedom to express myself.
I would say that The Very Thought of You is a romantic album. Fun, but also serious. It is an album about love.
AAJ: And how did you decide you wanted to record these 12 songs?
NH: Well, I started recording the songs for this album actually in 2006, two years before it was released. The first ones were "Almost Like Being in Love," and "At Last." I was so busy touring and performing that I took advantage of that, but it took me away from recording. So I didn't really come back to recording again until 2007, when I finished the album. Some of the songs ("Almost Like Being in Love, "At Last" and "I'm Gonna Lock My Heart") were songs that I had done on stage a lot, and I had a certain way of performing them, the band had a certain way of doing them, a certain energy, and the songs came to production with certain arrangements, the way we were doing them live.
I was going to call the album "Almost Like Being in Love" as the theme. I was going through something at the time, almost like being in love, dating somebody, back and forth, so that was the theme that I had playing in my mind. And one day on stage we did that song as a ballad. So I was just going through the motions of what love is like. Then I came across "Waters of March" and it is such a fun approach. I wanted to do K.J. Denhert's "I Found You," too . And "Make It Last" was a song that I learned from Betty Carter. And finally the album was called The very thought of you.
AAJ: You co-wrote "All That I Can See" with James Brian McCollum. Is there a songwriter in you as well?
NH: I don't write every day, I really need to get back to that practice again. They say that a writer is supposed to write every day, even if it is something meaningless. I need to be able to hear myself think to write, and for that I almost have to get away for a few days. I need to reconnect with myself with some quiet time, so that I can write.
AAJ: As an American artist, tell me about your feelings on Michael Jackson.
NH: I was having a meeting with one of my consultants, we were talking about the next album and some music, and somebody called, "Did you hear, Michael Jackson died." I was, like, "What? No, no, somebody bring him back, this doesn't make sense!." [sigh] It's hard to even think about it. I know it's true, that he is gone, but it doesn't make any sense. It does feel like he is going to come back, and it is the first time I have this kind of relationship with death. You are left with the feeling that he is going to come back, with a video, or something, because it just doesn't make any sense, that somebody like him would die like that, and it is a shame the way they have been going on and on about it. And the level of deterioration he had got into, and what people could have done for him, and why they didn't do something for him. Why there wasn't any intervention. It just doesn't seem right.
NH: It is fascinating to me how important music is to people in Europe; that is what amazes me the most. I think we take music for granted in the United States. I feel like I am adding to peoples' lives when I perform in Europe. They listen differently, they know the music, they get it a little differently. They really get jazz. They have a different perspective. They have studied it. I am also amazed by the history of the whole continent, how old buildings are; so beautiful. There is a certain appreciation for education there. Europe is something elseI can't wait to go to Africa, too. The history of Africa is breathtaking.
Nicole Henry, The Very Thought of You (Banister Records 2008)
Nicole Henry, The Nearness of You (Banister Records 2004)
Nicole Henry, Teach Me Tonight (Banister Records 2002)