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Take Five With Jasmine Lovell-Smith


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Meet Jasmine Lovell-Smith:
Jasmine Lovell-Smith is a composer and saxophonist from New Zealand, currently based in New York City. Born to an American mother, a trained opera vocalist, and a Kiwi father, the voice was her first instrument. After discovering jazz in high school, Jasmine took up the saxophone and went on to graduate from Massey University (Wellington, NZ) in 2006 with a Bachelor of Music (1st class Honors) majoring in jazz saxophone performance and composition. She was awarded a full Honors scholarship on the basis of exceptional academic achievement.

Jasmine seeks to create music that is lyrical and memorable, balancing intuition and spontaneity with carefully crafted structures. Some of her interests include setting poetry to music, polyphony and composing for woodwind instruments.

Jasmine relocated to New York in the summer of 2010, where she leads her own quintet, Towering Poppies. Jasmine is also a member of the collaborative world/folk/improv trio Pangaea, and co-leads the "Common Wealth" sextet with saxophonist Angela Morris. She was recently accepted into the Master of Arts in Composition program at Wesleyan University, and will undertake study there beginning in Fall 2012.


Teachers and/or influences?
My first big influence on the saxophone was Stan Getz, when I first started playing tenor sax at age 14. I had "Jazz Samba" and a great live album featuring Kenny Barron, the name of which I have forgotten. I got into Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane after that but the next big saxophone discovery for me would happen after I started studying jazz at University and discovered Wayne Shorter. I still count him as one of my predominant influences—I'm inspired by him as a tenor player, a soprano player, a composer, a bandleader and an arranger. Joe Henderson was another player whose sound really spoke to me, and a few years later Steve Lacy was an important discovery. I first found out about him through checking out his book Findings, which spoke to me in a way no other jazz how-to book had. His playing, writing and words have gone on to become and important influence on my ideas about how to be a complete and completely unique musician.

Your dream band:
My dream band right now is the one I have (Towering Poppies)—I really love playing with Cat Toren, Patrick Reid, Big Chief Russell Moore and Kate Pittman, and I'm looking forward to growing as a band as we tour and play more. There are many many musicians that I would love to work with someday, especially singers—I would love to have the opportunity to work with Theo Bleckmann, Joanna Newsom, Rufus Wainwright, or of course the incredible Bjork.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
The first jazz album I fell in love with, which I believe I subsequently bought, was a Sarah Vaughan compilation called Sassy Sings and Swings. I love it to this day—Sarah is so swinging, I love the way she reinterprets melodies, and the arrangements of "Have You Met Miss Jones," "Every Time We Say Goodbye," and "'Round Midnight" are still favorites and have definitely influenced by own arranging. I wonder who did them?

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
One thing that I really appreciate when listening to music is a strong, simple, and memorable melody. This is not always common in modern jazz which is often extremely dense and complex. Dense and complex music can be great, but I like to create music which is memorable and has a certain simplicity and clarity—I hope that this is something that I contribute.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
Poet (or some other kind or writer), or a visual artist. I've always had an interest in creative pursuits, but which one was at the forefront has changed a few times in my life. As a child I was very into painting and drawing, and I have always loved to write, particularly in my early teens. In my late teens the focus moved to music. I've always felt the need for a creative outlet, it doesn't matter so much to me what it is, music is just what it happened to end up being.

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