Deborah's 'old jazz days' leading back to the future
Triggered by this phrase:
'I'll be wielding my 32-string electric body harp in an early evening set reminiscent of my old jazz days',
which Deborah Henson-Conant recently used to describe her Opera House Bar performance at the World Harp Congress in Sydney, we questioned her about those days, and their relationship with her current activities and goals.
What is it exactly that you call 'your old jazz days'?
The biggest difference in 'my old jazz days' was the venues. The Opera House Bar in Sydney is more like one of those 'clubs' -- and these days I generally play in theaters or concert halls. The venue makes a difference in the repertoire: In this case, because The Opera House Bar it's a popular evening spot, I know that at least some of the audience won't be there to 'see me' which is more like the old days. That also means I'll pick the material differently be prepared for a less singlarly-focused audience - so, for example, i'll choose material that I know I can deeply focus on even if a few audience members might be distracting, I'll focus on Blues, upbeat tunes with a lot of rhythm and energy and probably some standards -- things people can enjoy even if the environment may be a little distracting.
Why did you diverge from it?
I decided I wanted to move away from doing 'sets' and really focus on creating 'shows' which are much more diverse musically, and which often have a theatrical aspect to them. It's not that a show is 'better' than a jazz set, it's just that it's much more 'me,' because my own musical focus blends both musical genres (like Blues, Flamenco, World, cabaret) and performance genres (like music, theater, movement, humor). I just need that broader pallette to express my own broader musical passion -- and I grew up seeing a theater stage as 'home' versus seeing a jazz club as 'home.'
So this will be fun in a different way. It'll let me stretch out the way I used in my jazz-focused days versus the ways I stretch out now.
Does this occasion mean you're kind of getting back to it?
I was about to say, "I'm not getting back to it or getting away from it" and then realized that the online courses I've been creating and teaching in the last 2 years, ARE leading me back to a more pure jazz expression, as I work towards creating a jazz-harp curriculum for other harp players. I was very lucky in the way I learned jazz, and it taught me a level of fluency that allowed me to integrate a lot of other styles into it and eventually to develop my own unique-to-me style, and I want my curriculum to take other harpists that same route. (And by the way, harpists interested in being on the "First to Know" list for those courses should follow this link http://bit.ly/1st2No)
I hadn't actually realized the affect of developing that curriculum on my own playing - but it IS leading me back as well as leading me further out! So thanks for that great question!
Is there anything else we can expect in the near future that refers to 'your old jazz days'?
Very much so! UK harpist, Shelley Fairplay, offered to come to Boston this Fall to be the guinnea-pig for the jazz-harp curriculum I'm developing. That means that Beta-test-versions of the some of the courses may be available as early as November. So if people are interested in being on the Beta-test team for those courses should make sure to sign up on the First to Know link http://bit.ly/1st2No. My big focus right now is on setting up structures and programs to pass on what I've learned in the past 30 years, so while I'm very focused on my own composing and playing, it's all filtered through my goal of passing it on through publications and learning programs, which is why I'm so happy to be collaborating with you, with CAMAC and with other festivals around the world that all help me pass this on!
As for the Opera House Bar show - that's just going to be pure fun!
Thus Deborah's answers, straight from the World Harp Congress in Sydney, Australia - Tue. July 22, 2014
A fun and interesting read? Here's Deborah's weblog, where you'll find much more inside stories: http://www.hipharp.com/blog/
Deborah in her 'old jazz days' - as pictured on her jazz album 'Round the Corner: