She likes to challenge herself all the time as she states herself: With her new album "Slow Fruit", Caecilie Norby casts off againher voice ever so soulful, mature and expressive. The 43 years-old Danish singer, privately and professionally closely associated with bass player Lars Danielsson likes good songwriting with strong lyrics that she calls "self biographical fiction"...
Carina Prange talked to Caecilie Norby for Jazzdimensions.
Carina: Being on stage and singing, does that in general mean to "do a show"? To present something to the listener that has to be well-rehearsed in advance?
Caecilie: One of the definitions of Jazz music is that there has to be a certain amount of improvisation. And that's exactly what I love about the music we do live on stage. Some of the themes arenearlyalways the same. But we stretch or shorten the forms differently from night to night, while we keep the forms much more straight on the albums.
But, yes, we are very well-rehearsed in terms of listening to each others sudden ideas or moodsand very well-trained when it comes to faking failures and wrong notes.
Carina: In other words, can you always be yourself on stage or do you sometimes play a role like in a theater-play?
Caecilie: Neither ... nor, I would say. I become myself in another professional way: A "persona" I unconsciously created over the years, I guess. A persona who is able to perform and stand much more than the private person outside the stage. It's like using the essence of my spontaneity and free will in a controlled way. A mix of adrenaline, routine and a great portion of love to the music. Actually it's a great help to have this "professional circus horse" inside of me.
Carina: Is it nowadays expected of jazz musicians in general to cross genre-borders, with the intention to make jazz more interesting for a bigger or younger audience?
Caecilie: I don't think it is expected of the younger jazz generation that they should be crossing borders. But a great deal of us has been experimenting and mixing different rhythmic genres, mainly because of the time this generation grew up in. My early musical background is Puccini's operas, "A hard days night" with the Beatles, Jesus Christ Superstar, Strauss´ Electra, Count Basie and ABBA. I didn't think in genres, only in the categories of good and bad music. And I still do.
Carina: How, do you think, may be the future of jazz look like?
Caecilie: I think that Jazz will be one of the music genres that will remain on the live scene. Today's Jazz is contradictory in the way that most of it stick to the roots, but at the same time it is still in constant development. Different styles and genres are mixed it in thousand ways, but still with the recognizable sound and spirit of Jazz.
To me the real spirit of Jazz is to challenge the musician and the audience during a concert. To be inspired by the atmosphere of the moment. Jazz will keep on producing new underground artists and styles, I think. Maybe because of this music's nature… The open forms, the improvisation factor and the minds of the people who are attracted to Jazz.
Carina: What are your dreams for your own musical future? Are there some things you'd like to try although they look unlikely or far off?
Caecilie: I've always had very many different ideas in various music styles. I like to think about music as I am going to the "musical supermarket" and grab whatever I want from the shelves and put it together in a big personal melting pot. But it seems that my finished "meal" always smells of jazz anyhow! (laughs)
Carina: You performed together with Dianne Reeves. What impact does such a meeting have? Did it have an influence on your musical and personal life?
Caecilie: It was absolutely an honor to perform with one of my idols in vocal jazz. She had such an output and knowledge about music. It was an unique experience for me to see how she prepared and worked on the material before our concert.
And also a great experience for me was to discover that I had to quit my idolizing of her to equalize my own musical understanding of myself. Simply to be able to create the open and non-hierarchic space it takes to make good music together.
Carina: Your own bands consist most of the time of men. Is it deliberate because another woman in the band maybe would bring some chaos into the structures?
Caecilie: Absolutely not! For the moment I am touring with my old rock band named One Two where we are two ladies in front and a female tour manager. And the chemistry is perfect … so it is more or less a coincidence that most of the people in my own band are men. But there are way too few female instrumentalists in Jazz! I guess the classical music took them!
Carina: Your album "Cæcilie Norby" from 1995 was your first recording for Blue Note records and you were at the same time the first Danish artist to ever be signed by Blue Note.
Caecilie: Yes, I even was the first Blue Note artist in whole Scandinavia! (laughs)
Carina: When did this cooperation start? Was it a dream come true?
Caecilie: It started in New York in 1994 when I was there to mix my first Jazz album. My producer did put up a meeting with Bruce Lundvall, the head of Blue Note in Lundvall's office in Manhattan. He took one hour where he'd shut off of all his telephones and sat down and concentrated on my music.
Then we agreed on a release date and that was it. I felt I was thrown into it. I got me an American manager as well. But as they said, I would have had to move to New York to really make it over there. And I felt way too home bound for that. I couldn't live outside of Europe!
Carina: What advantages does a smaller label like Enja Records offer for you as an artist now?
Caecilie: I feel that I have much more direct contact. Also because of the fact, that they're based in Europe, where I want to work in the future.
Carina: However the Japanese audience is also very fond of your music. What's special about the Japanese people, why are they so enthusiastic?
Caecilie: Over all I have the feeling that the Japanese people are generally enthusiastic about and interested in Scandinavian culturemusic, design, architecture and history. They love rather everything that is different from their world. But at the same time they care very much for their own old traditions. When it comes to Scandinavian Jazz music, I think perhaps they are drawn by the melancholic and blue atmosphere some people say we have up here. (laughs) So let's export it!
Carina: Do you work on enlarging the fan-base in Japan?
Caecilie: Not much for the time being because I mostly work in Europe right now, but there are plans to go to Japan next year in January. But it is only plans by now ...
Carina: Concerning your third album "Queen Of Bad Excuses", you defined the term "self biographical fiction" for your lyrics. Please explain that a bit further.
Caecilie: All my lyrics are based on true stories from my own life or from somebody's life who is very close to me. But to blur the naked truth I will always add a slightly different angle to it. That's where the fiction comes in. Or I will simply use my imagination.
For an example on "My corner of the sky", my second album, I wrote lyrics to Wayne Shorter's wonderful tune "Footprints". A text about a scenery from some savanna in Africa. Even though I never have been to Africa… What I didn't know, but surely made a little twist on the lyric, was that Wayne Shorter actually did think about Africa when he wrote the music!
Carina: The song "Zoeanne" is about domestic violence. Should a musician or a singer feel compelled to have a message, to propagate an opinion about important topics?
Caecilie: Absolutely not. You should never feel that you as any artist must express certain feelings, opinions or problems through your art. Only if you can't let be.
Carina: And while we talk about it, what should rather not be part of your lyrics? Which topics have better to be excepted?
Caecilie: I would never exclude any subjects or topics in lyric writing! The fact that there are no taboos or limitations makes the possibilities and inspiration endless. The only thing I would avoid in my lyrics is to be too personal about a private relation. Even though I have been very close to that!
Carina: Your husband Lars Danielsson is also the bass-player in your band and does the producing and co-writing of some songs. Isn't it sometimes necessary to separate the musical and the private live?
Caecilie: Lars and I share very much of the same upbringing when it comes to music. We are both raised on classical music and in our early teens we both have been listening to pop and beat like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and so on. Both of us have made experiences in successful Pop and Rock bands during the eighties and we both fell into the "big slimy Jazz-Soup" in our twenties.
We have the same references and backgrounds which makes it easy to communicate when it comes to roles and architecture, styles and attitudes in music. And apart from being my wonderful husband, in professional respect he is an extremely open minded and skilled musician on quite a few instruments! But yes, of course it is necessary to separate the musical and private life. And I think we're quite good at it actually! (laughs)
Carina: How do you manage to always inspire each other and to push each other further?
Caecilie: By hearing new music and playing with other musicians. Or by discussing different ideas and possibilities. And by arguing and throwing dishes! (laughs) No no, just kidding...
Carina: Your current album "Slow Fruit" gets a special atmosphere because of theas you expressed it"home environment". Is an intimate and relaxed atmosphere vital for recording a good album?
Caecilie: You would not necessarily need a relaxed atmosphere but more an intimate and creative one! But if you manage to create that in a studio with some of your dream musicians it would most likely be an experience you will be addicted to. It is like being a child again playing out late on a summer night with your best friends.
Carina: How much influence does the surrounding and the musicians playing have on the recording-situation?
Caecilie: Oh, quite a lot! If the only thing you see through the window to the recording room is a tired engineer who wants to go home, then you have to work harder yourself. And you have to find also the inspiration within yourself.
Carina: Compared to recording in the studiohow much does a live-performance depend on the audience, the stage, the place and perhaps the city or country, where it takes place?
Caecilie: Also quite a lot! (laughs) When you play livewhich is something completely different from studio recording!you use the atmosphere and the reaction from the audience you play for. Not to say that the enthusiasm can be measured in the volume in the applauds or if people are dancing or not. It's more the energy in the room, which I have become quite sensitive to over the years. That special energy is extremely interesting to use and share in improvisation music.
And, by the way, addressed to all the venues: It means more than you think, to be treated well by the people at the venue in terms of good rooms and good food! It doesn't take a lot, just so much that the bands feel that they are welcome…
CD: Caecilie Norby - "Slow Fruit" (Enja ENJ-9185 2)
Caecilie Norby im Internet: www.caecilienorby.com
Enja Records im Internet: www.enjarecords.com