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Take Five with Tap Dancer Petra Haller


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Meet Petra Haller

Petra Haller, based in London, UK, is a respected figure in the fields of tap dance and music. Honored as a Rising Jazz Artist by Jazzwise Magazine and mentioned as one  of Reader's Digest's "10 Female Jazz Musicians You need to Know" Haller has swiftly risen in prominence in the UK and beyond. Haller's artistic niche includes jazz, free jazz, improvised music and multimedia performances.

In 2018, she initially collaborated with pianist Richard Lewis which resulted in a series of freely improvised concerts at the Vortex Jazz Club, before partnering with Meg Morley in 2019. Haller and Morley played an improvised concert at St Mary's Church in Putney, with Trumpeter Loz Speyer, which led to the digital album, Live at St Mary's.

Haller and Morley began crafting her debut studio album Shoulders I Stand On in mid-2022, recording it in November 2022 at Ocean Sound Studios in Giske, Norway. The album is available digitally, on CD, and vinyl.

Achieving favorable mentions on several radio stations and positive reviews, including two four-star ratings from All About Jazz (CD/ Digital + Vinyl), the album enjoyed a sold-out release party at London's Metronome Coffee House. In 2023, and early 2024 the duo toured UK and European venues, playing music from Shoulders I Stand On and further improvisations.

Haller also worked with Paul Jolly and Charlotte Keeffe, performing at various London venues. Collaborating with Mark Sanders and Chris Mapp, Haller participated in the Fizzlebrum series and the 2022 Symphonie Hall's Incubator sessions and performed with the Xhosa Cole Quartet at Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama.

In June 2023, Haller produced, curated and performed nine live concerts and five panel talks, and featured in the opening ceremony of the Wandsworth Fringe Festival backed by a Wandsworth Council grant.

Late 2023 Haller started the Petra Haller Trio, comprised of Haller on tap dance, pianist Christian Prior, and bassist Michael Searle. Haller, Searl and Prior aim to create a unique converging point of rhythm, improvisation, and traditional jazz. The trio's synergistic efforts combine their vast creative skills to bring audiences a stimulating musical experience, arguably a milestone in Haller's artistic journey and they are looking forward to more UK dates in 2024.

2024 marks also the launch of Hallers new project "ORBIT," a project marrying spoken-word with musical improvisation. The inaugural lineup featured an ensemble including Maddalena Ghezzi on vocals and Kate Shortt playing the cello, Alcyona Mick on piano and Jeffrey Durrant on spoken word. Allowing for the artistic process to unfold in real-time, renowned live painter Natalie Webb also joined the unforgettable evening.


Tap Dance, improvisation  

Teachers and/or influences?

The "Freedom of Art Improvisation Session" that used to be held at the Vortex Jazz Club in London, by Cleveland Watkiss, Orphy Robinson, Tori Handsley and Paul Bradshaw still to this day is the biggest influence in my life in the music.

I met Cleveland at a gig at Cafe OTO where he played with Mark Sanders, Robert Mitchell, Jason Yarde and Neil Charles, I remember it like it was yesterday. Cleveland was reciting poetry by James Baldwin and used it for his vocal Improvisation.

We started talking after the concert and he told me to come to the Vortex the next week to attend his free improv jam session. It became my holy grail. I think I missed about three sessions in five years!

This was my introduction to free improvisation. The musicians attending the session were world class, and I work with many of them now.

You never knew what was going to happen, or who you would play with. The first time I ever improvised I was paired with the great drummer Mark Mondesir. Paul Bradshaw put on music between the sets and I spent most of the sessions standing next to him looking at the vinyl he brought, learning about the music and discovering so many artists and bands I had never heard of before.

I am so lucky I got to come up in a time where this session was flourishing. Cleveland and Orphy are the reason I have a career now, they taught me how important it was to learn musical languages, listen deeply, and be brave with the decisions I make. They are still one of my most important support systems to this day.  

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

Since I come from a dance background being a musician wasn't always on my radar. It happened gradually. I was just naturally surrounded by so much music and I realized that I could express myself within the realm of jazz and improvised music through tap dance somewhere along the way, and that was it.

I also knew that tap dance wasn't necessary the first instrument everyone would think about. I knew I had to work three times as hard as anyone else just to get a foot through the door.


Your sound and approach to music.

I listen to a lot of trumpet, saxophone, flute and piano. When I tap dance there is a lot going through my head. There are melodies, harmonies, extended sounds, rhythms, and a lot of emotional storylines. It all somehow gets translated in an abstract way and comes out through my feet.

I work on my sound a lot. Different parts of the tap shoe naturally have different pitches, for example the front tap is narrow in the front and wider in the back so depending on which part of your foot you use to strike the floor, it will sound differently. It's all about being aware of what is there naturally, as a consequence of how the shoes are built, and also what you have to do to maximize that potential.  

Your dream band

This is a really difficult question to answer, there are so many musicians I want to work with.

One day I would really like to do a duo with the great South African pianist Nduduzo Makhathini, I also would really love to work with Andrew Cyrille and Sam Newsome.

My ideal band here in the UK would be Mark Sanders, Cleveland Watkiss, Orphy Robinson, Liran Donin, Byron Wallen and Jeffrey Durrant. This is bound to happen at some point, I can feel it in my bones!

Road story: Your best or worst experience

My worst experience happened when I was on tour with the Opera AIDA. My background is in dance, and back then there was a huge surge of dancers training in fire performance. So for a few years I used to fire breathe and sometimes do fire poi, which I was never really good at.

I was much less experienced back then so adapting to a new stage every night was a bit of a challenge for me. My job was to go on during the "triumphant march," do my little poi routine and go off.

The stage in Watford was much less deep than any of the other theatres we had been at, I didn't realise I had less space and when I swung my poi it hit one of the stairs that led up to where the Pharaoh sits and the poi bounced off the stairs and onto my head and set my hair on fire. To make matters worse the conductor started laughing and he was right in front of me. That was the longest and most embarrassing two minutes of my life.  

Favorite venue

My favorite venue is the Vortex Jazz Club in London. So many life-changing experiences happened there for me, sometimes as an audience member or as part of the freedom sessions, my first gigs as a leader in the downstairs bar, I even rehearse there quite frequently. This place is really, really special to me and somewhat my spiritual home.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

Shoulders I Stand On is my favorite (out of two) albums I released. It is a really special project for me because it is the story of my life, and every piece is dedicated to a person that is really important to me. The music helps me celebrate some of my greatest heroes, my guardian angels and teachers. The album is structured as a suite with the traditional Catalan lullaby "The Song Of the Birds" (el can't dels occels) forming the introduction and end of the suite. Pau Casals made it famous when he played it at the United Nations after a 40-Year strike. "Thicker than blood," "Fearless," "Together We Are Steamv and "Forever and a Day" are originals that I co-wrote with Meg Morley. "Ascendant," "Atlantic" and "Giske" are freely improvised pieces.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

As a tap dancer I am a little bit rare in the world of recorded music. There are some recordings, but not many compared to other instruments. I am contributing a different take on percussion.

Did you know...

I am a boxer, before Covid I was a member of the Left Hook Boxing Club Amateur team here in London, I had to stop during Covid and haven't made it back yet, because creating and releasing Shoulders I Stand On was all consuming.  

Music you are listening to now:

Charles Lloyd: The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow (Blue Note)
Espen Berg: The Hamar Concert (Naxos Classics)
Freddie Hubbard: Breaking Point (Blue Note)

Desert Island picks:

Byron Wallen: The Back Flag (Twilight Jaguar)
Booker Little: Out Front (Candid)
Charles Mingus: Me, Myself an Eye (Atlantic)
Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet (Resonance)
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (Impulse!)

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Jazz is ever-evolving. There are great players around, some just out of college, some have been around for a long time. There is a great mix of international influences, and a blend of different traditions. We have to just be careful that we still remember the history and lineage of the music whilst we reinvent it. Sometimes I have the feeling that gets lost a little.  

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

I think it is really important that musicians take their careers into their own hands. It is necessary that everyone has a basic understanding of how the music industry works, how to promote their own releases and shows, and how to connect with and grow their audiences. I don't think the "I am an artist, I just wanna play music and don't care about the rest" approach works for most people.  

What is in the near future?

I am working on getting a recording session sorted out with the great saxophonist and clarinetist Paul Jolly in the next few months, am playing at Limmitationes Festival with pianist Olly Chalk in Austria in May as well as a small Germany tour in October, have a few dates coming up in the UK with my trio including Battersea jazz Festival in July, and planning a live recording of my ORBIT project at the Vortex Jazz Club in London towards the end of the year, so it is looking to be busy!

I am super motivated and inspired, and just want to keep it moving.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Beethoven's 9th Symphony.  

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Dancer, which I am already.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

Plato, I just wanna see how the ancient Greeks really where, and how they came up with all of these profound thoughts.

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