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Take Five with Debora Galan

Debora Galan By

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About Debora Galan
Through performances of the popular Silk band and numerous guest appearances, the voice of R & B/smooth jazz vocalist Debora Galan is becoming widely known. More fans have come on board with the release of her album, All About Love, which shows the depth of her Latin roots. Says the San Diego Troubadour: "With a powerful voice and soul in spades, Debora Galan is a true talent." Jazz Quarterly lauds her "passion, style, charm and equally energetic and delicate tones." The songstress collaborates with major musical figures such as singer/songwriter Stephen Ybarra, pianist Greg Manning, and Greek guitarist Vassillis Sotiriou. An upcoming venture with Christian de Mesones is in the works.

The Spanish singer has performed widely in the Northeastern U.S. and on the West Coast, where she now resides. All About Love, her first CD as a leader is drawing critical praise and capturing considerable airplay. Reacting to the new CD, David Barron of KSDS said, "Love it! Will be playing it often!" while Jay Michaels of Magic 92.5 praises her "beautiful angelic voice." Ron Hamilton of WRJR calls her music "A marriage of jazz and pop, but so much more." Her music goes to East Coast radio in fall of 2017 followed by a European release.

Instrument(s):
Voice and percussion

Teachers and/or influences?
My recent vocal coaches were the late Martin Grusin, Stevie Mackey, and Kevyn Lettau, but it was my ninth grade chorus teacher, Mrs. Nicholson, who told me that I had a gift and who gave me my first solo.

I was born in Brussels and raised in Madrid, surrounded by my extended family: maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, and sister. Music was a big part of our lives, so my earliest influences were there. Let me tell you we had some awesome family parties! My ancestry is mostly Spanish, but my great grandfather (maternal side) was a Spanish military man. He served in Cuba, married, and had children there before returning to Spain.

My grandfather, Marcelino Alcazar, and mom, Pilar Alcazar, loved to sing, and they often sang at house parties and special family events like weddings and baptisms. They liked to sing Cante Jondo, a flamenco style of singing, which comes from "deep within." My mom was especially fond of Concha Piquer (1908-1990), and sang many of her songs. I'd like to do a show of songs my mom loved and include some pieces popularized by Piquer in the copla form or other styles by composers like Quintero, Leon and Quiroga. Some of the songs I remember are "En Tierra Extrana," and "Ojos Verdes," which you can hear at https://youtu.be/6payhuHbsvg

My mother moved me to Washington, D.C. where I completed elementary school and attended junior and senior high. I attended one year at U.D.C., but it was my last two years of high school that left the greatest impression on me. I attended the School Without Walls on the George Washington University campus. It was very diverse, and I loved the intimacy. I felt the program was really in tune with the kids, and although it was very academic, the entire city was our classroom. Students learned critical thinking and the free exchange of ideas. I have the best memories of that place and the great kids who were there with me.

Living in the U.S., I watched movie musicals starring Barbra Streisand. I also listened to a lot of Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, and Sade. Later, when I got into traditional jazz, I listened to Carmen McRae, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, and Billie Holiday. I still listen to them as well as contemporary artists like Melody Gardot, Sophie Milman, Robin McKelle, Amy Winehouse, and Adele. I have a pretty eclectic music library.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
The movie A Star is Born with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson did it for me. Later in life, after some years more focused on family than career, I got back on the path by singing in church. On a deeper level, I think I've always known that music was what I was meant to do.

I began singing professionally at age 19 while attending college in Washington, D.C. and working as a waitress at Cafe de Ipanema. It was owned by some family friends, Juan and Maria Alvarez, who now own Mi Rancho restaurants around the District. The club was holding a contest/promotion similar to Star Search, but not enough people were participating. So Juan handed me a glass of Courvoisier and told me to take off my apron and get on stage. My mom had shared with him that I was a good singer and thought that if I performed, others would follow. They did. After that, I was offered the position of lead singer in the house band, Banda de Ipanema. I also performed at Brazilian Sundance, Chelsea's and Christini's. By the way, the Courvoisier worked! A few years later, I married and moved to San Diego.

Your sound and approach to music.
If I'm doing someone else's songs I ask myself if I relate to the tune in a personal way. Does it make me feel a particular emotion or bring back a memory? What images does the music conjure up in my mind? Sometimes songs bring visual images for me. They help set the tone for my approach.

What's most useful to me in songwriting is spending time journaling, and many of my best ideas come on a car ride. Something about quieting the mind and being so focused on the road allows my creative spirit to be open to receiving. I say receiving because I feel that every idea for a song is a gift—sometimes it's just a melody line or a hook, other times it could be lyrics with the melody all wrapped in one. I am often astounded at what comes out, and that usually means I have to pull out my digital recorder or pull over if I'm alone in the car. It makes for some interesting road trips.

My sound is a fusion of Latin and jazzy R&B. I absolutely love listening to music from other parts of the world. Growing up listening to music by groups like Intillimani, Quilapayun, (Andean music), and other styles gave me a beautiful palette of sounds and beats to spike my imagination.

Your teaching approach
I don't teach. I think teachers are extraordinary people with an incredible gift. They have a way of communicating something complex and simplifying it for students to understand. They also have a great deal of patience. While I may have that, I just don't feel the calling. Most of my musical training comes from my family and years of gigging with great musicians. That said, I love to encourage others.

Your dream band
I love the musicians I work with onstage and in the studio, and making the CD was the realization of a dream for me. Some key players are Allan Phillips (producer/keys), Ricardo "Tiki" Pasillas (drums/percussion) and Nathan Brown (bass). Allan, really captured my passion for Latin music. I'm a huge fan of percussion and usually have a shaker or guiro in my hands when performing, so I can really appreciate Tiki's contributions. Nathan Brown is like a brother to me and his playing is always in the pocket! I'm grateful for his friendship and encouragement.

For straight-ahead gigs I would add players like Kamau Kenyatta, Curtis Taylor and Gregory Porter. Kamau is a multi-instrumentalist (keys and horns) and Curtis is a fantastic trumpet player. Gregory Porter's voice and rich soulful style is amazing. Going more Latin I'd love to work with artists like Arturo Sandoval, Chucho Valdes, and vocalists Mark Anthony, Concha Buika and Gilberto Santa Rosa.

Road story:
My worst experience was pretty recent. I was singing at a high-end venue and performing a flamenco jazz rendition of "It's Impossible." Some music fans may not know that it was composed by the renowned Mexican composer, Armando Manzanero. I sang it in the language it was written, in and a female guest walked up to me and asked me why I was singing it in Spanish.

After I educated her on the origins of the song, she commented: "This is America" and that she didn't understand why I sang so many songs in Spanish. She clearly displayed her ignorance on so many levels. If she had been paying attention, she would have realized that we had been singing songs by American composers mixed in with our Latin jazz selections. She walked away in a huff but other guests who overheard began saying how much they liked everything we were doing and encouraged us to keep it up!

In all my years singing, I've never had that happen during a show. It's a sad reflection of how polarized this nation has become when even in the arts, some folks feel the need to try to humiliate and demean others simply because they are different.

One of my favorite moments: Having someone tell me that one of my songs was her life story. It was exciting to hear someone actually be touched by my music.

Favorite venue
In the San Diego area, I love the Fairmont Grand Del Mar Hotel Lobby Lounge. It's a beautiful room with excellent acoustics. The setting is like sitting in a living room with comfy couches, big fireplaces, and great staff. Other favorites are The Music Box (formerly Anthology), The California Center for the Arts, and the MGM Las Vegas, but I'm looking forward to performing back East again.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
My favorite depends on my mood: different moods different favorites. I love all types of music so it's difficult to choose, but my fallback is always Pat Metheny. That may seem strange because I'm a singer. But I enjoy being quiet and allowing the music to carry me somewhere. His music does that for me.

One of my favorite recordings that I've participated in: I would say is "Bahia" by Greg Manning on his album, Dance With You. I had the opportunity to sing with him and James East and we had a blast.

Another favorite is a song I recorded for the soundtrack to The Passion Play, titled "Wonderful Merciful Savior." I did this with the Escondido SDA Church, where I served for years. The production was beautiful! Pastor Jon Ciccarelli, a phenomenal guitarist and composer, directed it along with Ritchie Carbajal. We recorded in the original chapel, one of the oldest historical buildings in Escondido, California, built in 1887.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I hope my contribution is to have inspired others through messages of hope through music. I want listeners to go away feeling good, to touch their hearts and make them feel heard even if we've never spoken. There is something so powerful about hearing a song that conveys what you feel when you yourself don't have the words.

Did you know...
Given my heritage, it is probably not so surprising that I love to dance! I think I would have been a dancer had I not started to sing. Particularly salsa.

The first jazz album I bought was:
I don't recall whether it was Manhattan Transfer's The Best of Album (1981) or Al Jarreau's self-titled Jarreau (1983). But Billie Holiday's Love Songs (Columbia Records, 1996) was an important purchase.

Music you are listening to now:
Maysa -Love is a Battlefield -Shanachie Entertainment
Concha Buika -Mi Nina Lola—DRO Atlantic
Concha Buika -Nina de Fuego- -Casa Limon, DRO Atlantic

Desert Island picks
I wouldn't really name any one album of any of these artists because collectively each has such amazing work on more than one recording. I'd probably make my own compilation of their greatest works

Billie Holliday
Sarah Vaughan
Nancy Wilson
Anita O'Day
Barbra Streisand
Concha Buika
Pablo Alboran
Pat Metheny

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
It depends on the flavor you are asking about. Smooth jazz is not as big as it used to be (I'm thinking of David Sanborn, Pat Metheny, and many others back in the day). That's part of my sound, but with my Latin roots. In general, I find that many musicians are writing less original music. There are plenty of uber-talented musicians out there, but if one were to check out the number of remakes compared to truly original music being put out, I think we'd find considerably less original music. It seems we keep rehashing old tunes. There can be a lot of creativity in a remake, but we may be "playing it safe" to avoid risk. Perhaps it's due to the demands of moneymaking and marketing.

As far as traditional Jazz, I am encouraged by some of our local people here in San Diego (Gilbert Castellanos and the Young Lions, and people like Kamau Kenyatta at U.S.D.), who devote so much time and energy to teaching and preserving jazz. Every city needs people like them who teach youth to appreciate and play the classics and develop improvisational skills. I never leave a meeting with Kamau without having learned something from him. He always enriches my experience of jazz by sharing some new music with me or relating a cool experience.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
We need to keep music and the arts in the schools. We also need our communities to provide opportunities to underprivileged children to experience live concerts of all genres, including jazz. I was greatly influenced by being exposed to so much art, culture, and music. My mother had very little formal education, but she took me to places like the Kennedy Center as well as smaller community theaters to see and experience the arts.

What is in the near future?
I currently finished working on a new single that I co- wrote with Greek guitarist Vassilis Sortiriou. The title is, "This is Love."

What is your greatest fear when you perform?
My greatest fear would be forgetting the lyrics or the form of a song. My performance standards are pretty high, because I always want to deliver. I try to eat a healthy diet to avoid that feeling of foggy brain (that can come with my thyroid issues), but I know that occasional lapses can occur, even to divas like Patti Labelle or Ella Fitzgerald. We are all human, no matter how great we are.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
"Beyond Justice to Mercy" by Susan Ashton and the hymn, "How Great Thou Art."

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?
"You Are My Sunshine" (LOL). I purposely sing it off key to make my husband laugh. I end up howling. (ROFL)

By Day
Music is a full-time job for me. The number of recording sessions and performances we have scheduled is awesome, and I'm thankful for that. My most important role is as a wife and family member. I have relatives in the U.S. and Spain and my husband is French-Canadian.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
I'd be a dancer or world traveler without the music. Who am I kidding? Music is at the heart of my life. It's a great gift and a blessing I hope to share for a long time to come!

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