Interview with Norma Winstone
Last week I interviewed Norma Winstone.
Winstone sang in the early sixties mostly in pubs in East End of London (where she was born). She did sing around the Dagenham area too (Norma moved there when she was 10) but quite a few of the London pubs featured jazz at the time and were a great learning opportunity. Later on Norma joined Michael Garrick’s band in 1968. Her first recording came the following year, with Joe Harriott. In 1971 she was voted top singer in the Melody Maker Jazz Poll. She recorded the album, Edge of Time, under her own name in 1972. Winstone contributed vocals to Ian Carr’s Nucleus on that band’s 1973 release Labyrinth, a jazz-rock concept albumbased on the Greek myth about the Minotaur.
Winstone has worked with many major European musicians and visiting Americans, as well as with most of her peers in British jazz including Garrick, John Surman, Michael Gibbs, Mike Westbrook and her former husband, the pianist John Taylor. With Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler she has performed and recorded five albums for ECM as a member of the trio Azimuth between 1977 and 1994 their CD “How It Was Then… Never Again” was given four stars by Down Beatmagazine. In addition she made an album with the American pianist Jimmy Rowles (Well Kept Secret, 1993). (Wikipedia and Norma Winstone)
Norma Winstone is a singer of of brilliant virtuosity and flexibility; she can handle very complex lines and wide intervals, improvise with the fluency of an instrumentalist and also breathe life into a simple song. Her favourite singers are Frank Sinatra, Joe Williams and Carmen McRae, and other inspirational figures for her are Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor (Ian Carr, Jazz, the essential companion).
Mrs. Winstone, you’re active in music for more than 4 decades. How has jazz music evolved since you started performing or singing. We know there are labels for different kinds of music, can we label your music?I would rather that music did not have to be labeled. I guess the music I am involved in and have been involved in for many years is jazz. What I wanted to be involved in was music like I had heard from Miles Davis, John Coltrane etc but I have always loved cassical music too and I think that somehow the music has evolved to include these influences too.
According to the Penguin Guide to Jazz, “Edge of Time” is your best album. Is this your favorite too? Which album you produced do you like best? Why? Is this album your best appreciated album?No, this is not my favourite album and I can’t see how they think it is my best. It has a spirit of the jazz scene in London at the time and it was fairly ambitious for a first recording under my own name, but I was much better recorded later on ECM. I began to be able to listen to my voice and hear what I had hoped I sounded like. Edge of Time did have an urgency about it and was unusual in terms of a vocal album at the time (and probably even now), which is probably why the Penguin Guide thinks it’s the best, because I sound as if I am searching. I really like “Somewhere Called Home”, “Azimuth ’85” and “Distances” because I think that here I achieved something beautiful. “Distances” was nominated for a Grammy and won various awards for best vocal album so I would say that this has been my best appreciated album.
Bill Evans. He’s been your inspiration, as he’s been for a generation of (jazz)musicians. This year it’s thirty-three years ago he died. What does this mean to you?Bill Evans always touched me with his playing. I saw him twice at Ronnie Scott’s club and as soon as he touched the piano he made it sound so beautiful, even though at the time it wasn’t such a great piano. He always made me cry. He had his own voice which is what we always want to hear from a musician. His harmonies were always the best you’re likely to hear.Do you still learn from your youthful colleagues and what should they learn form you? Are you inspired by them as you were by the colleagues you played with in the seventies and the early eighties?I am always inspired when I sing with musicians who love the music and are prepared to be a bit adventurous. I don’t know what I’ve learned from my younger colleagues except how to make music with them. It is a precious thing when you find musicians with whom you don’t have to discuss anything and playing together just works. I have been lucky in all my playing partners.Jazzcritic John Fordham called your cooperation with pianist Jimmy Rowles one of the highlights of the mid-nineties in his book Shooting From the Hip (published in 1996). How did you experience working with Mr.Rowles?It was a great experience even to meet him and singing with him was a delight. I always loved the way he played the whole piano (not just the middle), rather like Duke Ellington. I remember breaking into a smile when we slipped into time after the verse of “Where or When”: it felt just right. He said that he felt that it was his job to make the singer sound as good as possible!Next tuesday I will interview well known jazzsinger Sheila Jordan, who was very succesfull with her album Portrait of Sheila (1962), do you have a question for her?I love Sheila. She is such a warm and lovely human being and it shines through her singing…. what could I ask her? How did she remain so dedicated and determined to carry on through the bleak times? but I guess I know the answer. She loves the music. What more do you need? To keep healthy, I guess, to cope with all the travelling.
Is there jazz in the future? Jazz is the most recorded musicstyle by now, but do you think jazz will reach our youth? According to saxophonist and flautist Dave Liebman the future of jazz lies with how it will be absorbed and transformed by parts of the world where it is new to the people. Do you agree with him?I’m not sure I understand what he means… do we have to keep on until we’ve run out of people who have not been exposed to jazz? Lots of young musicians are still interested to play jazz albeit sometimes with influences from different genres of music as Dave suggests. It shouldn’t have to stay the same. I think though that it gets more and more difficult for our youth to be exposed to jazz by chance, as it doesn’t have enough exposure in the media, but it was never easy anyway. It will survive in one form or another.Your musical activities span a wide range of styles and combinations. Which projects do you have in store for us?I have just recorded again with my trio (Glauco Venier, piano and Klaus Gesing, soprano sax and bass clarinet) and we have included some more contemporary/ popular songs as well as originals. At the moment we seem to be about conveying the meaning of a song more than experimenting, but that may change. I will also be working in England this year with a group of great British musicians we call “The Printmakers” including Nikki Iles, piano, Mike Walker, guitar, Mark Lockheart, saxophones, Steve Watts, bass and James Maddren, drums. There is quite an age range in this group but we seem to have the same musical objectives. Other than this we don’t know what’s round the corner but as long as the voice holds out I shall be singing.