Born in London, England, British jazz singer Jenny Evans lights up the night and day with her beautiful vocals. A woman with many gifts and abilities, she lives in Munich, Germany since 1976. A fascinating personality with a voice to match, Jenny Evans is a treasure for jazz listeners throughout the world!
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Jenny Evans, it is a pleasure to visit with you, and let me start this interview by saying I believe you have one of the nicest jazz voices around! What was your inspiration for putting together your current CD?
JENNY EVANS: To put it very simply, whenever I make a CD I record my favorite songs of the moment! My choice is very personal. GIRL TALK (ENJ-9362 2) my current CD, was actually recorded a couple of years back in the Munich jazz club "Alltoria". The trio and I used to work there very regularly so we had a repertoire for at least 3 CDs. My choice of songs, whether for live performance or for recording, has a lot to do with the lyrics and also the melody line. I have just recorded a new CD which will probably be out late Autumn 2000. Hans-Juergen Schaal from Enja Records was a great help and suggested quite a few songs to record. Through him I rediscovered the Ellington-Peggy Lee song "I'm gonna go fishin" and Oliver Nelson and Mark Murphy's "Stolen Moments" which I also recorded. On this CD I have been influenced a lot by musicians I have worked with in the last couple of years. I have quite a lot of original material: songs by the trumpet-player Dusko Goykovich, one with a beautiful balkan melody-line that I wrote lyrics to and called "Hope", another by the Lebanese oud-player Rabih-Abou Khalil where I do not sing a melody but vocalize a poem that I wrote. It's about the spirit of the Lebanon and I called his song "Still she dances". The title song will probably be "Angel Eyes". Although I used to think that the Frank Sinatra version was the ultimate rendition, I think that my version will send shivers up people's spine as well. I hope so.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Your background in music is unusual, and would you please share some of the major points with those reading this interview?
JENNY EVANS: It is probably unusual in that I don't have a formal jazz training. Neither of my parents play an instrument and they only bought a piano when the teachers at my junior school noticed that I was able to play simple tunes by ear almost immediately. Although we had Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra records at home and my brother started to buy blues records in the mid-sixties, I didn't really have access to jazz till I was about 19. While other girls at school were into the pop music of the time I was very interested in Early Music and sang with the "Heinrich Schutz Choir" while I was still at school. Then I moved to Munich and studied to be a Teacher of English and Music at the University here. Not typical for a jazz singer is that I am an actress as well. I have done quite a lot of serious theatre work but at the moment I am usually cast in roles where a singing actress or a singer who can act is needed. I think the fact that I am an actress has been very good for my career as a singer. I enjoy speaking to the audience and bridging the gap. I like to be a missionary for jazz.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Who are some of your favorite composers you enjoy performing, and why?
JENNY EVANS: I think the great song writers of the twentieth century were from the era of Rogers and Hart, Cole Porter etc. From 1984 till 1989 I ran a jazz club called, quite aptly, "Jenny's Place". This was a great rehearsal room for me. It was then that I started doing my "Specials"- Jenny Evans sings Gerswhin, -sings Irving Berlin, -sings the Beatles, - sings Cole Porter etc. I think that the perfect fusion of lyricist and composer with Rogers and Hart, George and Ira Gershwin makes these songs so good and of course this fusion goes without saying in the songs of Berlin and Porter. I love clever lyrics and the sound of them is also important for me. For example ".. you linger like a haunting refrain and I find you spinning round in my brain like the bubbles in glass of champagne". Those are great vowels to sing and I really enjoyed recording "You go to my head" for my SHINY STOCKINGS CD (ENJ-9317 2). But of course, no musician should forget what Duke Ellington put into the jazz scene. I haven't done a "Jenny Evans sings Duke Ellington" yet, but I'm planning to. I love jazz compositions from the sixties as well: Nat Adderley, Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: How did you perfect your accurate jazz phrasing? Your ability to project emotion in your songs is beautiful. Your style has much feeling!
JENNY EVANS: I don't know what "accurate" jazz phrasing is. Is there such a thing? I think that the jazz artist, like any other artist, can only get better the older he or she gets, the more experience they have. Sometimes I think it may have been better if I had just concentrated on one style since I started singing. But now I think that my experience in different styles has been good for me. I enjoy singing with different line-ups and I'm sure it keeps me on my toes. As to projecting emotion into a song, you have to believe in what you are singing or at least be a good actress. The human voice is the most unadulterated way of projecting emotion. If I can get an audience to laugh, cry or start dancing, then I know that I've done the right thing. Sometimes I get goose-pimples or goose-bumps as you say in America when I'm singing and I think to myself, that must be right.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: At what point in your life did you know you would become a jazz singer? What were the circumstances?
JENNY EVANS: As I said before I had no access to jazz till I was about 19. I didn't realize that I was singing jazz till the press described me a jazz singer. I have a natural technique and a very good memory for harmonic structures. While I was singing regularly with the Munich University Choir my boyfriend of that time said that the band he played bass with was looking for a singer. I'm someone who will sing at the drop of a hat (like the Irish and the Welsh do) so I started singing traditional jazz. After a while I had the urge to sing different material and started my own group which was more into Louis Jordan and material with a lot of drive, the style of music that is now called the Swing Revival That was in the late seventies. Older musicians then started to notice me and I began to sing with really good musicians. When I graduated from University with an MA in Linguistics I was already established as singer and in the theatre scene. So the decision to try and make a living as a singer/actress and not to go into regular employment as a teacher came quite easily for me.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: In contemporary jazz music, who do you see as the Cole Porters/Gershwins/Kerns/Mercers of the new century, from 2000 onwards?
JENNY EVANS: That's a difficult one. There's so much going on in the world musically - an input over-kill. I've no idea.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What do you see as major changes in American jazz, British jazz, world jazz?
JENNY EVANS: I come from England and live in Germany so I can really only talk about changes that I hear happening around me in Germany or when I travel. For me the most important change is the infiltration of influences from outside North American - from Africa, South America, the Arab world. Stylistically jazz has been influenced by electronic technology. What is "jazz" anyway? There are so many styles. Not so much musicians but jazz fans are very conservative in their view as to what jazz is. Musicians are far more eclectic. But, I don't consciously choose from different fields. What ever I have heard is stored in my emotional data-bank.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Who are some of your favorite jazz singers, past and present, female and male?
JENNY EVANS: Ella, Sarah in the past and now, I think, Dianne Reeves.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Was there one special jazz singer, or singer in general, who influenced you as you started your career? More than one?
JENNY EVANS: I don't think so really, although we are all influenced in some way. I think the credibility of a singer like Ella Fitzgerald was important for me. She and also Frank Sinatra, they tell the story.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: When you are giving a song interpretation, what is your process? How do you go about it?
JENNY EVANS: Singing jazz is great because it is not a re-productive art like, let's say, classical singing. Although a certain difference in interpretation is allowed in classical music, the melody line cannot be changed. In jazz, I am able to put my own personal touch to the songs, and the changes and the voicings can be adapted to however I think the song should be put over. I am influenced in my singing by what is happening musically around me on stage. It is like a conversation. I answer to the changes played and the drummer, the pianist, the bass player listen to the story I am telling, even if I'm scatting. Although I have big band arrangements, I prefer the freedom of working with a trio. It's easier to conduct a conversation with a couple of friends rather than gab at a cocktail party - only small talk's possible there.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Jenny Evans, it has been a pleasure visiting with you! Is there anything else you would like to share with the jazz listeners and jazz readers who enjoy your excellent performances?
JENNY EVANS: Well, I've never been to the US. So, go to your local record stores, buy my CDs, ring your local radio stations, ask them to play Jenny Evans. You never know, soon someone will ask me to do a concert in your neighborhood!