Based in London, Sarah Ellen Hughes is one of a number of exciting new sounds on the British jazz circuit at the moment. She describes her sound as Swinging, sensitive and dynamic and upon first listen of her debut album 'Darning The Dream' I must say I whole-heartedly agree. British Jazz Blog caught up with Sarah Ellen this week to discuss the intricacies of her inspired sound, as well as her influences and exciting career so far!
Hello sarah, who would You say your top 5 jazz artists of all time are ?
Kurt Elling, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Mark Murphy, Rene Marie.
Sarah, what is it about jazz that made you decide you wanted to focus on the genre?
I used to sing in a choir when I was younger, and always felt that the music we were singing was too rigid – I wanted to change the melody and the timing, and interpret it in my own way. I had some friends at school who listened to jazz and got really interested in it, realizing that this was the kind of singing I could take control of.
What would your advice be to people just getting into jazz, be it simply listening, going out to gigs or beginning their performance careers?
I never had singing lessons – the way I learnt was to listen to CD's to build up my repertoire, and go out to gigs to find the performers I liked. One person I really loved was Claire Martin, and over the last few years I’ve had a few lessons with her which has been a great way of honing my singing.
The album seems to me quite bass driven. Was there any conscious effort on your part to make any of the instruments more prominent or were you solely focused on the vocal side of the pieces?
No, the album isn’t intended to sound bass driven – it’s a vocal album! But the intro to Love for Sale was so delicious that we decided to increase the intensity of that on the recording to show off Andy Hamill’s skills.
How is life on the British Jazz circuit?
The British jazz circuit is very healthy at the moment – loads of promoters putting on loads of gigs, although there are some sad stories of great clubs having to shut for financial reasons. For some reason our government doesn’t see jazz as very important! There are some great regular gigs that run each week – The Spice of Life (singer’s focus on a Wednesday), Scarborough Jazz Club, Seven Jazz in Leeds, and many more. These venues always put on top-quality jazz and take a chance on little-known artists to give them a leg-up into the National jazz scene.
Any exciting plans for the near future?
I have some very exciting projects in the pipeline: On 23rd March I’ll be launching my new band at the 606 Club in London. The band is called Sector7 and it’s a septet featuring jazz trio and 4 singers. The website is www.myspace.com/sector.7 I’m really excited about the music we’re making. Also, in the autumn this year I’ll be releasing my second album and doing a UK tour to promote it.
Who would you say is your all time biggest musical influence?
That’s really difficult – I’m influenced by people every day. I guess… my dad! He encouraged me to learn an instrument from an early age and made me practice more than I wanted to! I’ve also inherited perfect pitch from him – thanks Dad!
How did you get started out in jazz? I first started playing the flute in a local jazz band and one day the singer wasn’t there so I stood in. From there I quickly joined HYJE (Hertfordshire Youth Jazz Ensemble) and then moved on to NYJO (National Youth Jazz Orchestra) where I was given a gig the day after my first rehearsal, and continued singing with them for the next 7 years.
I understand you won the ‘Jazz Voices’ competition in Lithuania. Congratulations for start and Wow what an experience that must have been?
Thanks! It was a brilliant experience – in fact, the best of my life. I was really dubious about going, and it was difficult at first because there weren’t many people who spoke English there, but meeting people from other jazz scenes in other countries was a massive eye-opener and such a wonderful experience. I wrote about my trip on my blog: http://sarahellenhughes.blogspot.com/2010_04_01_archive.html
I also understand you do a bit of writing on jazz and in your personal blog for yourself. Is that something that interests you or strictly a hobby?
I write a bit for the LondonJazz blog page (www.londonjazz.blogspot.com) and I find it really interesting to go and see artists that I wouldn’t otherwise see. I also enjoy writing about my experiences on the jazz scene, and every month I do a “Top 10” list associated with something to do with jazz. www.sarahellenhughes.blogspot.com
Bit of a crude one but apart from voice what would you say your favorite instrument is and why?
I love the piano, because it can be bass line, melody and harmony all at once. I love doing duo gigs with just the piano. But there are many different timbres that I really notice when listening to music: soprano saxophone, vibraphone, violin.
Clear cut melodies seem to be a big part of your compositions. Do you write in any particular way or with any particular sound in mind. Or do you just ‘Let it flow’?
I just let it flow really – it takes me a while to write a song which is why I don’t do it very often, and I work on it until it’s something I’m really proud of. Usually, I’ll play it with my quartet a few times on gigs before we really settle in and each musician brings their own ideas to the arrangement of it.
Thank you so much for the interview Sarah
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