Hi Tatiana, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Hello! Thank you for having me. This past year has been quite a storm, and 2018 has started with a bang. A lot of traveling, an Avalon CD coming out soon, many new projects, new collaborations… overwhelmed in the best possible way!
Can you tell us more about Avalon Jazz Band’s upcoming album?
It’s a tribute to Paris, where I eloped to as a teenager and where I lived for a few years before moving to New York. Those years were full of bohemian magic and have defined who I am as an artist. I was inspired to seek out songs about the French capital after I released the single « Paris Paris » on my latest EP. It’s a city whose very name is enough to capture anyone’s imagination and inspire an intoxicating sense of fascination and romance. It remains the first tourist destination in the world. There are so many jazz standards about Paris, and we always hear the same tunes played over and over again… but since there have been literally hundreds of songs written about Paris, I wanted to give listeners a chance to discover some beautiful gems that have fallen into oblivion and deserved resurrecting. To that repertoire, I added one of my own original tunes called « Oh, Guillaume ».
Did any event in particular inspire you to write that song?
Shortly after I moved to Paris, I randomly met a handsome young man walking on the street and we quickly became best friends. He worked in his father’s bookstore « Au Pied de la Lettre » in Montmartre, right near the Sacré Cœur, and every day I used to go chat with him for hours among the art books and Doisneau postcards. We used to walk around the narrow streets of Paris at night, smoking cigarettes and dancing by the river under the lamplights. It was absurdly romantic. And yet it always remained strictly platonic. This song is about the freedom of being romantically inspired by a boy without falling in love and without feeling any tension or physical attraction. It’s about a very deep and unique kind of friendship that Guillaume and I still share today. He reminds me that I’m sixteen years old forever.
Any plans to release a music video for the single?
Actually I would love to shoot a video in Paris, on the sites of our friendship: the street where we met, the bookstore, the steps to my old home… and have him play his own part in it. I haven’t asked him yet, I guess this is how he finds out (bonjour, Guillaume)!
Is Avalon Jazz Band’s upcoming CD the continuation of your latest album « Je Suis Swing »?
Absolutely. « Je Suis Swing » was a tribute to the Zazous, the swing kids of wartime Paris – a subculture of teenagers who protested the war through fashion, jazz and swing dancing… and by being as reckless, insolent and rowdy as they could. The backdrop to this movement was Paris: the cafés, the medieval cellars, the carousels, the paved streets. It was paradise for these runaway kids, these future existentialists. To follow up this last project, Avalon’s upcoming CD is a patchwork of Paris through my own teenage eyes.
What is your arranging process ?
I have a team of such excellent musicians around me that my source of inspiration is endless. They all have such unique musical personalities that arranging music is like writing for characters in a play. I can hear them so clearly in my head and I know in advance how each of them will make a song special with the very charming, subtle touches that only they can produce. For this CD I wanted every tune to be like a tableau and offer a clear image of Paris under the snow, Paris on a crowded avenue, arriving at the Paris train station in early September, sitting on a bench with your lover in Paris, sparrows chirping at midnight in Paris… bits and pieces of my Parisian memories.
Do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating with someone else rather than on your own?
I am a total control freak – one might even say a borderline dictator. I have a very specific vision, I’m on a mission and I need it to come to life, and I know how to do it and I will make it happen at all costs! It’s honestly just as annoying as it sounds and my bandmates are incredibly patient and supportive, as long as I allow them to make fun of me, which I gladly do, because I need the comedic relief more than they do. Collaborating with other people is therapeutic for me, since I learn how to let go and I can find peaceful inspiration. I hope to do it more in the near future; I have some exciting projects in the works.
What is it about jazz that you find so fascinating?
It’s sincere without losing sophistication. Brutally honest and dreamlike at the same time. Jazz is full of contradictions wherein both musicians and listeners can find the freedom they choose for themselves.
From all ages – why did you choose to focus on early 30s and 40s jazz rather than going for a much more modern approach?
The more pop music turns away from acoustic instruments and turns towards computers and robots, the more I find myself attracted to older styles of music. I’m not ready to let Skynet take control of music just yet. Counterculture nowadays is defined by everything that is vintage, manmade, organic, etc. Many people are tired of processed food, processed music, processed love. My search for more soul and humanity is through old forms of jazz because that’s what captured my primal fancy as a kid. It’s linked to a very pure and innocent childhood emotion that I try to channel and get my inspiration from.
How has your upbringing influenced your music?
I was very lucky to grow up in a bohemian family with musician parents. My childhood was an artistic experiment to them. Every moment was « let’s see what the child will do with this » and there were no limitations, no inhibitions. Of course this made me into a very weird kid and social interactions with other children were often rather complicated, but it taught me to value absolute and fearless freedom of expression. Life is just a game, and so is art. That’s how I treat my music.
What role does France play in your writing?
I am very influenced by French literature in general, especially surrealism and existentialism. Writers at the time were deconstructing language in a very irreverent, childlike and romantic way, which I think is very similar to jazz. My greatest inspiration is Boris Vian, who was a writer, poet, lyricist, trumpet player, and jazz chronicler. He revolutionized the use of the French language.
Where do you find the inspiration for music and lyrics?
I completely refuse to write songs which have a « message » in them. I’m in the romance business. I want to talk about the little details of life that move us, take us back to our childhoods, remind us that we are humans with very brittle souls. The things that might give some hope back to our broken and tired hearts. I need it for myself, so I suspect others might need it too. Some laughs, some tenderness, some healthy nostalgia, some urgently needed oneirism.
Any plans to hit the road?
I will be performing with Avalon Jazz Band at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on May 3rd and 4th. I am ecstatically excited about those concerts, since I find New Orleans to be one of the most magical places in the world. I am also looking forward to being reunited with my “soul-sister”, jazz singer and Big Easy native Sasha Masakowski, who will be harmonizing with me on a few tunes. After that, I go on tour in France for a series of concerts invited by my friend, washboard player Stéphane Séva, who will be performing as special guest with my band.