Cambridge Jazz Festival is soon to return, with oodles of grooves, rhythms and tunes to keep you captivated – Miriam Balanescu meets the festival’s first artist-in-residence, Zara McFarlane
Jazz is a genre defined by a resistance to rules, its key features including syncopation (boldly veering away from ordinary rhythms), rebellious distortions of pitch and timbre and fluid improvisation – meaning no two performances of one song are ever quite the same.
For Zara McFarlane, this year’s Cambridge Jazz Festival artist-in-residence (and the first ever), the improvisational element is what makes the genre so special – and the festival so valuable as a platform. “Because jazz is such a live music art form, having those spaces is really important,” she states.
After attending the Brit School, Zara studied vocals at Guildhall. “I ended up performing some gigs with one of my teachers because he said my voice lends quite well to jazz,” Zara recalls. “The reason jazz ended up being something that made sense to me was because I’d studied musical theatre. When I started learning about jazz, I was familiar with a lot of the repertoire because loads of the standards come from musicals.”
The Mobo award-winner – invited to jam on Later… with Jools Holland in 2014 and featuring on radio stations worldwide – consciously shaped herself as a jazz artist to start with, despite growing up on a diet of reggae. “Some of my songs didn’t start out as jazz songs,” Zara says. “But I knew I wanted to have a jazz aesthetic.”
As time went on, Zara’s sound evolved. Her second album, 2014’s If You Knew Her, “was more celebrating the black women in my family – there’s a lot of them,” Zara laughs. “I leaned toward the jazz style, but because I grew up in a Jamaican household, I’ve always loved Caribbean music. It was a very natural thing to start bringing in those sounds.” […]
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