Wine And Jazz – Interview With Singer-Songerwriter-Trombonist Elizabeth!

You can’t miss the exclamation point! Jazzy pop artist Elizabeth! has two albums to her credit, “Brainchildren” from 2011 and “hot and silver” from 2008, and one of the songs from her latest album, “Memphis Mix-Up,” was nominated as a finalist for best jazz composition in the 2012 International Songwriting Competition. She now travels the world with artists such as Michael Bolton, St. Vincent and Matt Wilson. This talented vocalist, trombonist and songwriter grew up in a musical family in Vermont, studied neuroscience at Harvard, has a Master’s Degree in Jazz from Queens College, and now lives in Los Angeles. Elizabeth! also teaches music and directs the summer Vermont Governor’s Institute on the Arts for high school students. This irresistible photograph of Elizabeth! was taken by John Mazlish.  Catch her on, too. She is in her element when performing and communicating with her audience. Elizabeth! is also the first person I’ve met who teaches via Skype — so full of ideas!

LD: What is the role of a vocalist and trombonist in an ensemble? What makes someone a great at these, both as a performer and a musician?

Elizabeth!: The role of a vocalist is most often that of frontwoman/frontman. They are the focal point for the audience as they often carry the story of the music through their words.  The trombone sometimes takes this front-and-center role, but can also be part of the accompaniment.  It’s so interesting that you make the distinction between musician and performer – for me it is essential to be both together.  I love both aspects!  I love to make interesting and moving music, and I love to interact with an audience.  I love the storytelling aspect of music, and the freedom of improvisation to create new music on the spot with my fellow musicians.  I think what makes a person great at both performing and musicianship is humility, creativity, and willingness to go with the flow.  The ability to be spontaneous is key to great music and great performances!

LD: What are some of your greatest moments when performing before a live audience? What are some of your greatest moments when practicing?

Elizabeth!: My greatest moments when performing in front of a live audience happen in the moments when I’m able to catch someone’s eye and sing something directly to them.  I love having fun with the audience – and love getting to feel their energy!  Audience members will often tell me their personal reactions to particular lyrics in my songs, and often they are very different from my original lyrical intention.  That’s so much fun – I love that my songs can elicit so many different and meaningful responses from people.

My greatest moments when practicing come when I get into the “flow” of it and lose track of time.  Often that happens when I am working on writing a new piece of music and trying different things over and over the same set of chord changes.

LD: Which cities in the US, Europe and South America have vibrant jazz scenes? Any idea why?

Elizabeth!: There is jazz in more places than you might expect.  I grew up in Vermont and there are amazing musicians and jazz lovers there!  My dad plays upright bass and trombone, and I grew up going to – and then playing – gigs with him.  Anywhere that people are interested in creativity, there will be jazz.

New York is really an amazing mixture of cultures, and that gives rise to an interesting and exciting combination of tradition and innovation.  You can hear an Israeli bassist with an American pianist and Cuban drummer, and it’ll be jazz influenced by hip-hop.  I love that!  I love the “traditional” music – I love Ella, Miles, Louis and the American Songbook – but we have to remember that they were pushing limits then, too.  We should continue to do that today and encourage people to go and hear live jazz that may not fit into a certain expected mold.

I’ve traveled in Europe and South America, and have seen great music everywhere I went. Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin….  again, anywhere people are interested in making new things, there will be jazz.

LD: What opportunities have arisen for musicians with the Internet and social media?

Elizabeth!: I love being able to teach lessons via Skype!  And MySpace, Facebook and Twitter in particular have allowed me to meet people from all around the world, and I’ve been able to hear music I might never have known about.  I still listen to and read “mainstream media,” but I love that I can get instant music recommendations from friends whose taste I trust.

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