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TEA BREAK

The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine
that also gives jazz musicians an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.

 

Fini Bearman (Multi-Instrumentalist, Singer, Composer) - October 2020

 

 

Fini Bearman

 

Multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer Fini Bearman is Professor of Songwriting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. As the students return, Fini also releases her new album La Loba, a solo album but joined on several tracks by cellist Zosia Jagodzinska. The album, quite rightly, is already receiving attention. Writing in the October issue of Jazzwise magazine, Peter Quinn says: "An album which sparkles with insights into memory, self-discovery, femininity and creativity, the vocal arrangement of My Ideal, a song which moves from blissful stasis to an urgent pulse, is one of the most transporting things I have heard this year ...One of the year's musical highlights, La Loba marks Bearman out as one of contemporary music's most imaginative song stylists."

Fini herself studied jazz and classical voice at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama graduating with a BMus (Hons) in 2007. She went on to complete a Masters in performance and composition from the Jazz Institute in Berlin, where she studied composition with US guitarist and composer Kurt Rosenwinkel, and singing with US vocalist and improvisor Judy Niemack. Since then she has built up an impressive profile as both soloist and collaborator/side-woman, touring the UK and across Europe, including Ronnie Scott's, The Barbican, The A-Trane (Berlin), Cafe Mercedes Jazz (Valencia) and New York venue Dizzy's (Jazz at the Lincoln Center). She has performed at major jazz festivals and on radio. Her music is described as having: 'a ‘rare sense of melody running through her eclectic compositions, full of catchy twists and turns ... it melds diverse influences from jazz, folk and contemporary music into an 'arresting and uniquely personal' sound. Sometimes dealing with settings of poetry and other times original lyrics, ‘her voice, effortlessly moves between a light precision and warm soulfulness and is unmistakably her own’.

That is reflected in her varied album releases to date. Step Up came out in 2011 and her interpretation of the music from Porgy and Bess in 2014.

 

Listen to There's A Boat That's Leaving Soon For New York from that album where she was joined by Matt Calvert (guitar); Ross Stanley (organ); Jon Cox (double bass) and John Blease (drums).

 

 

 

Porgy and Bess was followed in 2016 by Burn The Boat. In his review, Bruce Lindsey said: "It's a beautiful recording..... What's immediately apparent on Burn The Boat is Bearman's own commanding ability as a writer. From the drama of "Sand On Sand" to the poppy "Gone" and the grungy, unsettling rawness of the title track ....she's on top compositional form. She also has a talent for crafting melodies in sympathy with the words of others; three of the tracks here are based on poems: Lisbon's Fernando Pessoa, whose work also appeared on Step Up with "I Know, I Alone"; Langston Hughes' "The Idea"; and e.e.cummings' "Such A Fool." ...' For Burn The Boat, Fini was joined by four of the UK's 'in demand' young jazz musicians - Matt Robinson (piano); Nick Costley-White (guitar); Conor Chaplin (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums).

 

Listen to Say The Words from Burn The Boat.

 

 

 

Fini released an EP The Bear & The Fish in 2017, but now we have another major recording, La Loba, released in October 2020. Fini says: " It's half solo/half duo record (I play everything but cello on it), exploring songwriting, inspired by jazz and everything else beside - Joni, Paul Simon, Chris Thile, Yola." When she says she plays everything but cello, she means voice, piano, guitar, charango, mandolin, ukulele, electric bass, percussion, glockenspiel and tenor saxophone.

La Loba has so much to commend it - the stripped back simplicity of tracks like Empty, the originality of arrangement in I Deserve, the voice multi-tracking complemented by the cello in Talk, the story-telling in La Loba ... it is an album that requires several plays to appreciate it fully.

 

Llisten to the title track from La Loba.

 

 

 

 

 

Fini Bearman

 

Fini dropped in for a Tea Break

 

Hi Fini, thanks for stopping by, can I get you a tea or coffee?

Hi Ian. Yes, tea please!

 

Milk and sugar?

A little milk, but not too much.

 

So, you are the Guildhall’s first professor of songwriting! Congratulatuions – that's a really exciting role. I hear the students are back at Guildhall. How is it going? Have the restrictions meant a lot of re-organisation and different approaches to the way you work?

Yes! and I’m about to start my fourth year there, teaching songwriting and jazz voice. It’s an incredibly inspiring job- the students are not only a talented bunch, but they're also really motivated -  'on it' in terms of creativity - writing and producing music - and getting themselves out there. It’s great to be back in the building this Autumn after all our teaching went online in the Spring. The restrictions have affected the size of classes, and some things will stay online, but the school is doing Zosia Jagodzinskaeverything possible to accommodate the rules etc to ensure that as much of our teaching as possible can happen in person. 

 

So much is having to change. You have a lot going on at the moment. You have a new album out too! Thank you for sending me through details of La Loba - it is a great album. Why did you decide to go for a solo release? Solo apart from Zosia Jagodzinska's cello on some tracks that is? Was there a reason for bringing a cello in?

Most of the songs on the album started off as compositions for voice and cello (sometimes with me playing piano or guitar in addition). Zosia and I had played together before in Raph Clarkson’s band, the Dissolute Society, and apart from being enamoured by the size and resonance of her sound, I also wanted to explore more open and stripped back songwriting, and 2-part writing is as stripped back as it gets .. It was really eye-opening exploring writing in this way, especially when you’re thinking about the narrative of a song and story-telling - the cello is so rich and sonorous -  almost like another voice. So anyway, Zosia and I were working towards a concert to celebrate International Women’s Day in March 2019, and having that deadline to work towards meant that after the gig I thought I may as well record them all. Recording at home took *some* time - I think I started at the end of June and finished early 2020, and as you know from listening, I got a little carried away and filled out these compositions quite a lot, so the music has evolved a little!

 

Zosia Jagodzinska

 

 

 

 

The story-telling is a key feature. Zosia plays on the first track And We Climb – what is behind that one?

The title came from an interview I heard with Brian Eno who was talking about how he stopped using personal pronouns in his own songwriting. He said, ‘consider the difference between and I climb, and and we climb - how much more inclusive does the we sound/feel?’. So I liked that starting point, and then I remembered the story a friend of mine from West Berlin told me about the squatting that happened in East Berlin after after the Wall came down, because there were all these empty buildings after people from the East defected to the West. I imagined being a kid at this time and running away to live as adults in these majestic old alt-bau buildings.

 

There are many different themes and influences in the words and music– do you have a favourite?

Paul Simon!

 

You mention the different genres that influence the music. I can see there is a way of singing or playing that has a ‘jazz’ approach. Is there a way of writing that particularly opens itself to a jazz interpretation?

OOh! Interesting… I don’t think so, really - anything is open to jazz interpretation I think. Obviously it could be easier to imagine when the melody is freer perhaps, or when there is a lot going on harmonically, but maybe that’s lazy to say. Improvisation is a pretty fundamental component of anything calling itself ‘jazz’, so I think as a writer you have that in your mind - how can this music be opened up, broken down, re-interpretated, etc.

 

Joni Mitchell

 

I can hear some tracks reflecting Joni Mitchell. Joni has been unwell for a while – she suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015, but has been painting again and I see in the NME that James Taylor has apparently said that she might be coming back with new music. If you could sing a duet with Joni, which of her many songs would you choose, and what would you ask her during a tea break?

I imagine Joni would have some pretty on the nose things to say about the current political climate right now. I have been enjoying the Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile version of Marcie at the moment, so maybe that. I think if we were hanging out I would just want to hear her talk about anything and everything - writing, music making, Jaco (!), how she views creativity and her voice.

 

Joni Mitchell photographed by Mark Seliger in 2019 from an article in UNCUT magazine about her album Shine.

 

 

 

That is a beautiful, gentle version of Marcie by Brad and Chris.

Click here to listen to Joni Mitchell's Marcie by Brad Mehldau and Chris Tile.

 

Talking about Joni prompts me to look out her albums again - Court And Spark was the first one I bought. I know that I love songs from most of them, but I don't have Mingus. It's time I rectifed that!

I have a few biscuits in if you fancy one - let’s see- Hob Nobs, Bourbons, Custard Creams?

I’m not a mega fan, to be honest, but I’ll take a fig roll if you can find some.

 

Those are one of my favourites! I usually hide them away .. but for you...

I guess all songwriters are asked the age old question which comes first, the words or the music? How do you answer that with your students?

It goes both ways, and if you only write one way, turn it around and try it the other - guaranteed you will write something differently just by switching it on it’s head. I encourage my students to mix up their approaches as much as possible to keep it fresh and keep the ideas churning - keep pushing and challenging yourself, starting somewhere new or unknown to keep the flame alive.

 

That's really good advice for all of us, I think. One thing that always intrigues me is that so many songs have been written over time, how can anyone know that the song you come up with has not been written before? If it sells a million, is someone out there going to claim plagiarism?

That reminds me of a Richard Curtis film from a few years ago called Imagine, did you see it? The Beatles didn’t exist (?!) and a random guy started getting famous from their songs that only he remembered.

 

I think you mean the film Yesterday that Richard Curtis made with Danny Boyle. It had the strapline "Imagine there’s no Beatles. It’s easy if you try". It is a wonderful film and Himesh Patel as the main character is perfect. You're right, it is a lovely illustration of re-imagining songs.

 

Here's the trailer for Yesterday.

 

 

 

 

Zola Mennenöh

 

To be honest it’s a legitimate concern for me at least in terms of what you’re singing about - do we need another song aboutlove? So.. when you do feel compelled to write about the much sung about stuff, you need to find a new angle, or work out what it is about your song that is worth saying. 

 

 

That makes me wonder how many of the songs in the Great American Songbook are about 'love' - quite a high number, I would guess. And that in turn makes me think about the subject areas others write about - social injustice, those who 'tell stories', and then there are those where the ideas are rather more obsucure - has anyone ever explained A Whiter Shade Of Pale or Steely Dan's Bad Sneakers? I am sure there are others. Is there a songwriter you think we should hear about who people might not have come across?

An old friend from Berlin has an album coming out - she’s called Zola Mennenöh and the album is called Longing For Belonging, and out in November. I think it will be very special. 

 

Zola Mennenöh

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to Zola Mennenöh singing I Will Be Yours, Forever from the album Longing For Belonging.

 

 

 

 

Apart from your teaching work at music colleges, you also teach privately online. How is that going in these Covid days?

I don’t do a huge amount at the moment because my life seems to be taken up with all the stuff that comes with making and bringing out an album on your own (seemed like a good idea at the time!). At the beginning of lockdown I didn’t really stop working for about 4 months - making album artwork and animating music videos for the singles -  so I’ve been trying to have a bit of a break from all that, too!

 

How about another tea/coffee? Tell you what, I’ll play Beholden from the La Loba album while I put the kettle on.

I’ll take a decaf if you have it, thanks!

 

On its way. Thanks for dropping by, Fini. Our Tea Break has raised so many things to think more about and to listen to.

Thanks for having me :)

 

 

 

 

Click here for details and samples of La Loba. Click here for Fini's website.
Click here
for a solo live video stream that Fini performed in July playing songs from the new album (47 minutes).

 

Fini Bearman

 

 

Utah Teapot

 

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