This is the epitome of stepping out of a comfort zone to do an interview about a genre of music of which I have nearly zero knowledge. But it is so worth it, I found, as I was sucked into a maze of woven sounds that seemed familiar, yet not quite….
An interesting comment on my “About” page brought me to a website where I could listen to snippets of jazz-infused covers of 80s New Wave tunes. At once astounded by the prospect, as I thought about it further, I realized that there are very few “pure” music genres. Everything that we know to be a specific music style, e.g. Rock&Roll, New Wave, R&B, Hip Hop, Funk, Punk, Post-Punk, Industrial, Grunge, etc., has been built upon a foundation of musical DNA that has existed since the first cave man banged some rocks and sticks together.
There are many, many extraordinary artists out there who successfully infuse different sounds into their craft and the outcome is outstanding. Beverley Beirne is one who has taken quite a unique route by capturing a nearly pure jazz inflection and melding it flawlessly with styles inherent to the 80s, a very eclectic period to begin with.
Beverley has graciously indulged my wide-eyed interview questions about her style and her forthcoming collection titled “Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun” (or “JJWTHF” for short), scheduled for release on June 15. Please read on for an in-depth glimpse into a ground-shaking, axis-tilting artist’s craft.
MissParker: What initially piqued your interest in Jazz?
Beverley Beirne: I was brought up with jazz in the house as my Dad was a huge jazz fan. So it wasn’t unusual to hear Erroll Garner, Sarah Vaughn,or Ella Fitzgerald. But my Mum was into Abba and 80s music, so I guess that explains this album a little!
MissParker: Who can you cite as your influences?
Beverley Beirne: All the beautiful singers I have ever heard I’m inspired by. Coming from a classical background, I really appreciate the stamina of classical singers. But, having said that, listening to Sarah Vaughn you hear that but with so much expression. There are also so many amazing pop voices–Kate Bush, Kirsty McColl, Eddie Reader–these ladies have beautiful voices, but tell a real story too.
MissParker: Are you professionally trained, or does this beautiful gift come naturally?
Beverley Beirne: Yes, I trained classically when I was in my late teens and I did really love it. It’s something I’ll always be grateful for this early time in my singing career, as I learned so much technically about the voice. My only issue, for me personally, is that it’s really hard to be individual within the classical constraints, which is, in the end, what drew me into jazz and being able to really express my own individuality. Over the years, I’d say my voice has become more authentically me.
MissParker: You mentioned your mum was into 80s music. Is this why the 80s have a special meaning for you?
Beverley Beirne: This was the era when I was listening to Top of The Pops and heading into town to party at the clubs. Definitely my party era! They were a lot of fun, these songs. But you know when you really listen to them, there’s some great melodies and a lot of the lyrics are really fantastic. And, the singers back then–they were really great.
MissParker: What does your core audience look like?
Beverley Beirne: It’s mixed, depending on the venue. Jazz does tend to attract an older audience, but saying that I get a lot of the younger generation turning up and this album especially is attracting a younger crowd. It’s been a real education to me that kids in their teens and early 20s are really into this music–they actually know all these tracks really well!
MissParker: Who are your backing musicians?
Beverley Beirne: I’m incredibly fortunate to work with some fantastic musicians. On this album, I have some of London’s leading dynamic young musicians; we have the hugely talented Sam Watts who is also my co-arranger on this project, Flo Moore on double bass, Ben Brown on drums and percussion, and Rob Hughes on sax, bari, and flute–all of whom I have the greatest respect for.
MissParker: Are the interpretations collaborative with your musicians, or does someone take the lead and the rest follow?
Beverley Beirne: This album was in the making two years before I went to the studio. I had a lot of fun choosing the tracks and trying to make them work. I then created lead sheets for them and figured out how I wanted to do them–I then went to London to work on the arrangements with pianist and co-arranger Sam Watts. We both really felt we had something special after the first morning. Sam then worked on the final parts/harmonies. But saying that, even when we went into rehearsal prior to recording, we’re not a dictatorship, so we were both really open to what the band had to throw into the mix.
MissParker: Do you do original material, as well?
Beverley Beirne: This is something I do for my own pleasure, at the moment. I’m working on developing my piano playing, which I’m really enjoying and this really helps with this. I have a project I’m tinkering with and enjoying, but it won’t be out there for some time yet.
MissParker: How would you say that Jazz has influenced contemporary music (rock, new wave, post-punk, industrial, etc.)?
Beverley Beirne: Well, the blues influenced everything, especially jazz which started from the blues. But it is really interesting to look at the flow of this into rock and pop and R&B. Contemporary jazz now is often a fusion of a variety of different styles, all informing each other, so it’s always great listening to the new vibes in London and in the North of England. We’re really fortunate with so many creative jazz folks creating beautiful original music.
MissParker: Do you ever get any feedback from the original artists about your interpretation?
Beverley Beirne: I’ve been really lucky to have some feedback from Noddy Holder, Limahl, and Robin Scott from M, all of whom have been really supportive of the project. Noddy and Limahl have given me a couple of fantastic quotes to use, and Robin was really interested in how we managed to create his track, which is a real hip track on the album. You have to remember that I’m a real fan of these guys–this is why I chose their songs, so to have their approval means the absolute world to me.
MissParker: Do you have a favorite track on the forthcoming collection? What makes it so?
Beverley Beirne: This is like choosing your favourite child! I love Prince Charming ( I love the vibe with the hand claps); Bette Davis Eyes and the 5/4 vibe which is really great to sing against; Cruel Summer is a fantastic track and has always been a favourite; Waiting for a Man Like You, as I sing in a more gospel style voice I don’t always use; and I have to say Come On Feel The Noize, as this was the first interpretation that I did and had been singing at a Christmas Gig for four years. Because of the huge audience response to it, it was the seed that started me down creating a whole album of these pop interpretations.
There you have it—Beverley’s gift/my challenge to you: new musical territory to explore. Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Visit: JJWTHF/Beverley Beirne website
Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun – Teaser
Beverley Beirne – Cruel Summer
Beverley Beirne – Too Shy