Carrying on the legacy through conscious music – an interview with Jazzmeia Horn


 The Music and Myth proudly presents an extensive interview with Jazzmeia Horn. At the time of this writing it is the only one of its kind on the internet.

For The Music and Myth, the INNtöne Jazz festival was a nice opportunity to hit the countryside, hang out at a farm, eat pork roast and drink beer while listening to some of the greatest Jazz in the world. But it was also more than that. This unconventional event offers another, very valuable experience: the chance at a glimpse into the future. Event organizer Paul Zauner has a knack for recognizing promising young talent and getting them in front of audiences a short while before they become prominent players on the Jazz scene. The most recent example is Gregory Porter, who performed at the festival in 2010 and won a Grammy for his record Liquid Spirit just this year. Seeing a young musician – perhaps only a few years away from international acclaim – in such a cozy, intimate setting is something truly special. The artist opens up in a way that becomes almost impossible after their eight hundredth’ gig and in front of very large audiences.  Just imagine being at the Apollo in 1934, the night Ella stepped on a stage for the first time and sang “Judy” and “The Object of my Affections”.  I know I would have loved to be at a Frank Zappa concert back in the ’70s and see a scrawny kid named Tom open with bawlin’ piano-ballads. At INNtöne, I knew I would get a similar opportunity, and one name that caught my eye was Jazzmeia Horn.

The twenty-three year old musician, fresh out of the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, has certainly been garnering much praise for her determination, her charismatic stage presence and her old school approach to music. I was looking forward to her set and to interviewing her afterwards. While her performance certainly exceeded my already very high expectations, so did the interview, where I discovered that Jazzmeia is just as warm, graceful and charming in person as she appears on stage. She also possesses an outspoken nature and an air of wisdom which seems to contradict her young age. That comes from an acute awareness of her place in the music industry and a powerful feeling of cultural responsibility. Like I’ve mentioned in the article covering her performance, when you are in her presence, you get the feeling that a very bright future awaits this musician. I am certain that the readers of this interview will get the very same feeling.

 Jazzmeia, what do you think of the Inntöne festival so far? How do you like it?

It’s great. Look at that!  Right there, see…(she points at a lady carrying a tray with plates of pork roast)

It’s why it’s called Jazz at the Farm. This is what it’s all about.

(laughs) Exactly, all this meat. I don’t even eat meat.

You’re in the wrong place then. 

Oh no, they have some good pasta. I ate some pasta earlier.

You had a great set, congratulations!

Thank you.

You’ve got a debut record coming up, is that right?

I’m working on it. We’ve only been in the studio one day. What happened was that the bass-player Eric Wheeler plays on the road with Dee Dee Bridgewater a lot. So I don’t want to just tell him ‘hey man, if you don’t get off the road with her you can’t play with me’ (laughs). That would be rude. I’m happy that he’s working elsewhere, you know?  But it’s hard.  Victor Gould, who plays piano, is occasionally on the road with Wallace Roney. Sometimes getting the guys in to have another session is just really complicated.  So I’m working on it.

Can you talk to me about the record? Is it going to be standards or original compositions?

Yeah, original compositions. They sound like standards. They are definitely swinging, definitely classic jazz. If you were checking out Ella or Bettie or Carmen McRae, it would be a mixture of that with maybe some Lauren Hill and a little bit of Erykah Badu and maybe some Jill Scott and Marvin Gaye. You know, it’s just a mixture of soul, really.

My music is conscious music. It’s about being aware of the food that you put in your body, being aware of the community that you’re in and how the environment affects you in the community that you’re in, but in music. ‘Cos that’s what Jazz is, you’re telling a story, you know? And why not speak about the story that’s happening right now? I think the music is definitely important and, especially since my name is Jazzmeia, why not carry on the legacy, right?

Because a lot of the young people are really not that interested in Jazz. I’m talking about the mass population. Especially people of the African diaspora, which is where the genre came from. They’re really not interested in the music because of the way the media portrays Jazz just in general. It’s not on the mainstream.  So people are not really conscious about the movement and how it’s going. I just want to free people’s minds, that’s really what I want to do. Everybody: white people, black people, Indian people, orange people, yellow people. Seriously, I’m so serious. I just want people to be happy. Be happy with themselves, ‘cos that’s what we can do. If we’re happy with ourselves we can have love to give to everyone else, you see? So that’s what my album is really about.

What will it be called?

Probably – this is about 70% right, it might not be this – but I’m thinking The Naked Truth Dipped in Culture. I’m hoping it can be released mid-September or early October.  It’s coming out this year. Hopefully by the fall, so that way I can submit my music in December or January to festivals, to book them a year in advance. That’s my goal.

 You’ve moved from Dallas to Harlem, what can you tell me about the Jazz scene in New York? What are the biggest challenges for you?  

I don’t really have any now but I used to. Being in school was really complicated because in America there are no schools that teach you what you want to learn. Especially college, but education in general. You have to be your own school. Schools have their own agenda as far as what they want to teach the students. They’re trying to teach you something that you’re not even going to need, something that’s not necessary for your day to day life, you know? But you can definitely learn from it.

So, with that being said, I moved from Dallas in 2009 and went to school in August 2009. It was very hectic for me because I couldn’t understand why, coming from Dallas, I’m learning less than I learned back home. And I’m in New York, where the Jazz scene is five thousand times better than it is in Dallas. And still I was learning so much more back home. It’s because the people are real to the music. Not to say New-Yorkers aren’t real to the music, because most of the population in New York is not made of people who are from New York anyway, especially in the Jazz scene. You’ll find that 30% of the Jazz musicians in New York are actually from New York . So it was just really hard trying to go to school and deal with somebody else’s agenda, when I have my own agenda. Because I was trying to learn how to improvise better as a vocalist, how to improvise better as a musician in general, how to work on my technique and find out really who it is that I want to be musically and what I have to offer other than a beautiful sound. Sound is there, that’s actually the gift. But then, how do you mold it? How do you manifest it into actually what you want it to be? So that was really hard because the New School was like ‘do this, do that’ and it had nothing to do with the goals that I was trying to reach so that…sucked. (laughs)

And then I learned how to cope with it. I said, ‘ok, this is what the New School wants me to do, and this is what I want do, so this is how I have to balance it out’. That was the good thing about it, I learned how to balance them. Then, once I graduated college, it was so much better for me because now I have my own agenda and I can check out other people and what they’re doing as well. Everything on Earth is recycled. Fashion is recycled. What we wore in the 1920’s, that shit is going to come back around again, we’re going to wear that again (laughs). So that’s what happens. We evolve but we recycle and keep on traditions as we grow. So I feel the same way with Jazz. A lot of cats are not really interested in playing straight ahead. They want to play out, they want to play all this other stuff. And I only know that because I was allowed to go out and check out the scene.

There’s so many killer musicians, I’m not the only killin’ vocalist on the scene. I feel like what I can do for people is just be professional and show musicians and other people that I want to work and that I want to be playing, and be professional about it. If you’re not professional you can definitely get cut. Like, if you don’t show up…forget about it!  They can just call another vocalist because everybody’s killin’. You’re not the only killin’ one so…you just got to be on your p’s and q’s with that kind of stuff. And also practicing.

It’s hard because I want to go around and say ‘hey guys, you wanna play, you wanna shed?’ and they’re like ‘no!’ But if I say that to a musician who is not a vocalist, maybe a tenor player or trumpet player, they’ll be like ‘yeah, yeah…what are you working on?’ We just vibe instantly. And I want to feel that way more with vocalists.

The elders – the vocalists who might be in their 50s or 60s – of course, yeah, they can understand it. It’s because they relate to the Jazz. Not that the young cats don’t relate, but the elders understand where I’m coming from and they’ll come to me and say ‘I’ll do it’. We all get together and we sing and stuff. But the vocalists who are my age, they are not trying to hear. They’re like ‘I have my own agenda, I have my own thing, I don’t care’.

Do you think that’s because of competition?

Yeah, and that sucks. I don’t like that. I feel like, if I can go to a trumpet player and say the same thing, I should be able to go to a vocalist as well. We’re all musicians, you know? That hurts my feelings a little bit. I take it personal sometimes. I have to learn how to stop doing that. But I’m working on it.

The scene (in New York) is just great. There’s so many great musicians. If my bass player can’t make a gig, I can just call somebody else. Whereas in Dallas, there’s only five or six other players I can call. So if I didn’t have a bass player I’d have to find another way to make it work, any way that I can. And there’s a club on every corner.

I just wish two things: that the clubs were reachable to the younger generation, kids who are younger than me, so…like…high-school. In a lot of clubs you either can’t go because you’re too young or you can’t go because it’s like fifty dollars. With the way the economy works right now how the hell are you going to charge a kid fifty dollars to get in a club? It’s really inaccessible. And not only that, I wish a lot more of the elders would come out to the sessions. Roy Hargrove comes out to sessions, you know what I mean? We can learn from the elders. So when they come out to the sessions that’s like hip, you know. If you went to the sessions back in the ‘50s or ‘60s, if you went to Lenox Lounge or you went to St Nick’s Pub you could always find…like…Gregory Porter used to hang out at St. Nick’s pub, Jimmy Heath used to hang out and you could just go to them and be like ‘hey man, can I get a lesson?’ Now you can’t do that, and that sucks. That’s why all these cats want to play this out shit that has nothing to do with the legacy of the music. Because the elders have disconnected themselves. So what happens when the young generation falls behind and the elders disconnect themselves? There’s where I feel like I come in.

I know you are heavily influenced by the older generations, but what about the younger artists? Who influences you? Who do you listen to?

Oh, we can go on for years about what I listen to (laughs). But right now my top 5 are: Rachelle Ferrell, Bobby McFerrin, Jason Moran, Christian Scott. I like Ambrose, the trumpet player, he’s killin’. I also love Dee Dee Bridgewater. I like Kirk, of course (piano-player Kirk Lightsey). I like a lot of Gretchen’s stuff but I wouldn’t…I don’t consider Gretchen a Jazz musician, but who the hell am I?

How do you write your music? Can you talk to me about your creative process?

This recorder that you have – let me see! I have one of these, and it’s an Olympus too. So what I do is I take it around with me everywhere. I have it in my pocket upstairs. And sometimes I’ll think of something and it will turn into a song. I’ll just record that little bit and then when I get home I can sit down at the piano and figure out what it was that I was thinking about two hours ago. So I have just this recorder with like a hundred short snippets of something. So what happens is, over time, as I practice and my musicality gets greater, I usually have a tendency to go back and listen to tune number 5, instead of say number 555. And I find that the way I thought about it then is so much different than the way that I think about it now because of the growth spurt. So I’ll go back and fix this and tweak that and do this and do that. I just have sheets of music that either I’ll turn into a song and play or I’ll use it as a jingle. That’s another thing that musicians don’t really know about, writing music for film.

Film scoring and stuff like that – the money is so good. I learned that from Carmen Lundy. I did the Jazz Ahead program in 2013 and she told me about film scoring and how to write compositions for films and for TV shows and for all kinds of stuff that has to do with media. Once I found out about that, some of my songs that I didn’t like or didn’t think that I would be able to perform on stage, I turned them into little jingles or something like that. So it really just depends on where I am and how I’m feeling.

I just keep that recorder with me because if I’m in a bad mood, I’ll sing a song about it ‘cos that’s who I am. I’m a vocalist. I have to vocalize no matter what I’m doing. I’m on the train sometimes singing and people are like “shut the f**k up!” (laughs) But I can’t help it, that’s just who I am. And my voice is the way to do it. I just keep that recorder on me.

One last question: where do you see yourself in 5 years? What are your goals?

I would just like to tour all over the world and have my music reach the mass population, simply because I feel like they need healing. There’s not a whole lot of music out there that reaches the mass, like Beyonce’s fans or Jay-Z’s fans. Those people are brainwashed. Seriously, they have no sense of who they are, where they come from. They don’t care because the media tells them who to be, what to eat, what to drink, what to think about, how to dress. And I just want to show them that not everybody is like that. And that can make the world a better place, you never know. I feel like I can choose my gift that God gave me to just bring people to the light. And that’s really what I want to do. Even if it’s on a small stage. Because as long as people are hearing and it’s touching somebody, even if it’s one person , I’m satisfied.

With that being said I thanked her for her time and, with a big hug, we said goodbye. A while later I tweeted the  following phrase:

Prediction: you will see Jazzmeia Horn at the 2015 Grammys, you’ve heard it here first folks!

That’s the effect that this artist has on you. She makes you think of great things – for herself and, implicitly, for the future of Jazz. Jazzmeia Horn has everything going for her. She’s got the look, she certainly has the talent and she seems to possess an innate understanding of the subtleties of artistic expression, demonstrated through the ease with which she connects with the audience. But she also has one more thing which I think will prove vital to her success: a personal mission.

by Andrei Cherascu

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: