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Debbie Deane - "How to be oneself"

Another female singer in jazz - nothing new? Generally spoken this may be correct. However, sometimes there emerges another star on the horizon, a woman who is just herself - with enough charisma to make everybody feel good and thus proves her superior talent to the audience. One of these few people is Debbie Deane. She does not need press-campaigns presenting her as the best-looking woman in show-biz: she simply sings and plays the piano ...

Debbie Deane

Carina: You studied classical piano in your early years - it was your elder brother who showed you the way to folk, funk and jazz. How come that you fell in love so much with this music that was new for you, that you studied jazz and started to work in this field of music?

Debbie: Before I went to the Berklee College of Music, music was a passion that my older brother and I shared. I also grew up singing with my singer/songwriter friend Laurie Geltman who I went to summer camp with. When we were older she suggested we both go to Berklee to study music. That's how I heard about the school.

I had no idea what to expect. Then I felt like a kid in a candy store exposed to so much music and people from all over the world. I went to every clinic and every performance. Growing up I studied classical music and fooled around with playing Joni Mitchell & Neil Young songs but I felt like a beginner when I went to Berklee.


It was one thing to love listening to jazz
and a totally different ballgame to play it!

I had to catch up and spent all my time practicing. It was one thing to love listening to jazz and a totally different ballgame to play it. I was also exploring singing jazz standards which was thrilling. I was lucky to study piano with an inspiring teacher named Craig Najjar who then persuaded me to take his songwriting workshop - just to try it.

I was curious but it never crossed my mind to write songs because I was too busy transcribing Miles Davis solos. But writing opened up a very unexpected world that allowed me to combine the jazz I was immersing myself in with the rock/pop/soul/singer/songwriter music that I grew up with. I could finally express myself! There were ten of us in the workshop and we became very close. We were very vulnerable - like little babes and we all grew in front of each other's eyes. That was a special time.

Carina: When I listen to your debut album, I do not hear only jazz - there are songs that border to pop-music, folky elements are there, too - and much more. How would you define your music?

Debbie: Yes, there are many influences in my music. Sometimes I like to call it 'jazz-folk'. Sometimes I think it's 'pop-soul-jazz-folk'. I just want people to enjoy it.

Debbie Deane

Carina: To combine singing and piano-playing is kind of "in" at the moment - Diana Krall may be a good example for that. How are you going to find your own way, how is it possible for you to stand out against the other female singers and stay yourself?

Debbie: I'm glad to hear that female piano players are "in"! Diana Krall is great. The main difference is that she is performing jazz standards rather than her original material. I'm just going to keep on writing and whatever comes out, comes out! Making this CD has been such a great experience for me - and it has already helped me find my own way!

Carina: Your singing has a very sensitive way of coming into the listeners ears - your lyrics are about love, hate, normal life and feelings. Wherefrom do you get the ideas for your songs? Your music seems to be very personal - isn´t that sometimes irritating to let people know so much about your inner self?

Debbie: I usually write the music first and then sing "gibberish" words that might fit with the melody. Sometimes those words can dictate the content of the song. I realize the music seems personal, but sometimes I start from a personal place and then take a big left turn. The songs aren't all about me! But my emotions are definitely what inspires me to write in the first place.

Carina: How did you get in contact with the other musicians who are involved in your new album?

Debbie: That was one of the exciting things about going to Berklee - meeting so many different musicians from all over the world! I moved to Brooklyn with other musicians. We lived in a group house and there were sessions all the time. Eventually everyone knows everyone in NY and they all happened to be jazz musicians. I just asked - and they said yes!

Debbie Deane

Carina: Sometimes your lyrics seem to be very difficult to sing - the constructions of your sentences are complicated - how do you manage it to make them sound so easy?

Debbie: I'm glad they sound easy. I try to fit the words to the melody I'm hearing ... - Sometimes it takes a little while for me to get the phrasing to work. I used to feel that way about Joni Mitchell's records growing up. - It definitely took many listenings to be able to sing along.

Carina: What about your singing technique. Do you have a "special approach" to singing? Please tell me a little bit more about it!

Debbie: I was never very disciplined with singing technique. But I have come to realize that my voice works much better when it's warmed up. I love the stories of how Sarah Vaughan could smoke, drink, eat a big meal and do whatever she was into and then get up and sing. I wish I could do that!

Carina: Your songs leave space for quietness in between - they are not so "overloaded" - are you arranging in a way with the idea "less is more"?

Debbie: I want to get the song across. I love the simplicity of a guitar/voice or a piano/voice. Of course I love huge bands like "Earth, Wind and Fire" or a Philharmonic or a Big Band. But I just wanted to keep it simple and record the songs like we perform them live.

Debbie Deane - "Hit The Rewind"

Carina: One question - maybe everybody is going to ask that nowadays: what has changed for you after September 11th ? What about your friendship to people here in Europe - is the relationship the same as before?

Debbie: I live in Brooklyn a half a block from the New York skyline. My brother, his wife, and my two cousins work across the street from the Twin Towers and they were lucky to get out. A friend of mine was lost in Tower One. The fire stations in every neighborhood have been decimated and everyone I know has been directly affected. I went through a period of thinking nothing was important.

I had a gig scheduled two weeks later and I was going to cancel it, but at the time, Mayor Giuliani was encouraging everyone to get back to their lives. It ended up being very therapeutic. It's still hard to comprehend and a challenge to stay hopeful. We have to appreciate everything in life because it can end at any time.

As far as my relationship with people in Europe. I love Europe - I have many friends who live there who called me after the attacks. There was a beautiful sense of caring through the world.

Carina: Have you got a sort of philosophy for life?

Debbie: Live and let live. One day at a time. Love makes the world go around!

Carina: Plans for the future - what about a tour in Europe?

Debbie: I'm writing more material and I hope to make another record in the near future. Also, a tour of Europe this spring or summer is in the works! Can't wait!

Carina Prange

Debbie Deane im Internet: www.debbiedeane.com

Fotos: Jill Greenberg / Julia Schell

Cover: Kurt Schötteldreier

mehr bei Jazzdimensions:
Debbie Deane - "Hit the Rewind" - Rezension (erschienen: 17.10.2001)

© jazzdimensions2001
erschienen: 3.12.2001
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