American jazz singer Stacey Kent’s road to international acclaim is a long and winding one. After graduating from college, she moved to England to study at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama where she met Brit tenor saxophonist Jim Tomlinson. They married in 1991 and started performing together in London’s jazz clubs in the early 1990s.
The release of her debut album, “Close Your Eyes”, in 1997 was the start of a prolific and stellar career. Kent became an international star when she won the 2001 British Jazz Award and the 2002 BBC Jazz Award for Best Vocalist. She was also nominated for a Grammy award in 2009 for Best Vocal Jazz Album.
Kent will be in Singapore again in March to perform at Mosaic Music Festival and we were thrilled to be able to interview her via email.
You’ve been here a couple of times before. What do you like about Singapore?
I haven't seen a lot yet but it's an extremely beautiful country, which is very inspiring. I love the Botanical Gardens, especially the orchids. We try and get there every trip! We will make a trip there again this year.
Do you find the audience here more reserved than in the West?
No, I wouldn't say that at all. The audiences there have been extremely receptive. They know you've travelled a long way to visit them and share music with them and the welcome has been huge and warm.
You’ve released 13 albums since your debut in 1997, that’s prolific! How do you keep going like that?
Interestingly, I recorded more records and left less space between the albums early on in my career. At the beginning, I was a little more influenced by the label, who wanted me to keep putting out albums and then tour the album, then go in and record the next one, etc. To be honest, I didn't love the rhythm of that - I didn't feel like I had enough space between albums to reflect. As time passed, I was able to run the rhythm of our recording and touring schedule. I record far less often now and I think, as I result I am happier with my more recent albums. I will continue to take my time. I think reflection is very important.
How do you keep your voice in tiptop condition? Are there foods that you avoid?
I live a pretty healthy life. I don't eat dairy, and I think that makes a big difference. I also don't eat meat and I do not eat anything processed. Travelling is hard on the body so I try and stay well by eating extremely healthily. I try and get sleep where I can although that is not always easy when we are changing time zones, etc so often and taking early flights to arrive in the next city. When I am off the road, I live in the Rocky Mountains and I hike a lot. So, I think my lifestyle helps keep my voice in good shape. I also try and use my voice correctly when singing and speaking, so as not to put too much pressure on it.
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How do you keep yourself from being jaded?
Interesting question and thanks, because I am not jaded at all! I love what I do! I consider myself extremely fortunate to play this music I love and share it with people all over the world! But I do something that helps keep my music and my touring fresh -- I do not tour all year round. Jim and I purposely take time off from touring so that we can, once again, reflect, think about the music and get very excited to get back on tour. These periods off are very precious to us. We are very disciplined about keeping the 'off' period "off" and we always try and schedule concerts into an actual tour period, so as not to interrupt our periods of quiet and rest.
I guess collaborations do help keep things fresh. What was it like working with Kazuo Ishiguro?
Musically, I always feel like we stay fresh. I love the band I play with and the songs we choose to play and so it has been simple to keep fresh for me ... so far!
But working with Ishiguro was one of the best, in fact, THE best thing that has happened to me in my career. We met and connected at once. Before I met Ishiguro, I loved him as a writer and loved his vision of the world and the worlds he creates in each of his novels. To have him write for me personally, with my voice and my sensibility in his mind as he creates these songs for me, makes it indescribably personal and wonderful.
You’ve also worked with Portuguese poet, Antonio Ladeira. What was it like to sing in Portuguese?
Like with Ishiguro, we met Antonio and discovered that we had great chemistry. Antonio is an exquisite poet. Although his songs are in Portuguese and not everybody, to whom I sing, speaks Portuguese, I explain the universe of each (foreign language) song before I sing, and I hope that with that explanation and also with the mood of the song that Jim writes, people can enter into that universe with me.
Simply, I am a lover of words, the sound of words, and the poetry of the words themselves. Some words just feel so good to sing! This is something Jim and Ishiguro and I discuss a lot in the early stages of a song -- what words would suit me to sing, what sounds good coming from my mouth and what might not...
In March 2009, you received the National Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) from the French Culture Minister. How did you react when you were first informed about it?
This was an enormous honour! It came as such a surprise, so I was knocked out when I got the call! They called to tell me that they loved the work I was doing, spreading this love and passion for the French language around the globe and that they wanted to honour me for this. It was the biggest WOW of my career. I sing in French because it is indeed a passion for me.
And it is such a delight, as a foreigner, to share my passion with other non-French speakers. I love when I hear from fans on Facebook or after a show how much they love the poetry of the sound of the language itself, even if they don't fully understand what I am singing about, word for word. I wish my grandfather were still alive so that I could share this with him, seeing as he gave me this gift, teaching me to speak French as a little girl.
Apart from that, what have been the other highlights in your music career so far?
I play in Brazil a lot and most recently, I played in Rio de Janeiro for the 80th Birthday celebration of the statue, O Cristo Redentor. Jim Tomlinson and I were invited to be part of the occasion. This was a huge honour! We sang “So Nice” with the song's composer, Marcos Valle, and it was a spectacular night. Marcos, Jim and I also hit it off immediately when we met Marcos that week and we now have plans to do some other projects together in the near future.
You’ve also done an all-French album, “Raconte-Moi”, in 2010. How did that come about?
My paternal grandfather spent much of his youth in France before emigrating to the USA. He exposed me to a lot of poetry, music and movies. That's where my love of French culture comes from. I speak French fluently and I am as crazy about their poetry as my grandfather - I always knew that eventually I would make an all-French album.
You’ve been married for 20 years now… 21years this August. What has it been like to work with your husband all these years?
Jim is my best friend. We are good together! How do I explain this. I am extremely lucky. I love working with him, he continues to inspire and amaze me.
What can your fans in Singapore expect at your Mosaic Music Festival concert on 9 March?
It will be a romantic evening. We will play a mixture of songs from the last 3 albums as well as songs we have not yet recorded but plan to soon. It will be a beautiful evening, of that I am sure! We cannot wait to come back!
You will be performing with your husband in Mosaic’s imagine concert. How do you feel about performing in a concert with our local musicians?
We are looking forward to this event! It is always a joy to meet new musicians. (Look what happened with me, Jim and Marcos.) And it is an honour to be part of such a beautiful theme, put together by the promoters with so much love and care.