You’re appearing at Chichester Jazz Club on 17th November performing the music from George Shearing’s The Swingin’s Mutual.
I’m doing a lot of The Swingin’s Mutual but also some of the music that he did with Dakota Staton. Some bluesy stuff that she did with his quintet. Some of the quintet arrangements I arranged myself for vocal. It’s very much a tribute to George Shearing as a whole, using the quintet setup, with a vibraphone but mine is guitar because the original had guitar, vibraphone, and piano, bass and drums.
How did you first get into singing jazz?
I was originally a classical musician, so really I never thought about singing jazz as a career until 2009. Basically when I finished my classical career in 2004 I essentially gave up the cello and then I went into classroom teaching, 11-16 year olds, a normal comprehensive, it was my life. Obviously doing the 9 to 5 thing, I was missing performing a great deal. I was walking past this jazz club and it was an open mic night, like a jam session, and I got up and sang. A guy came up to me and asked if I was a singer. I said ‘no, no’ and then he said ‘well, you should be’. I felt absolute euphoria doing that and I really wanted to learn more about jazz harmony and chord progressions because being a classical musician, obviously there’s harmony involved but you become a very good reader. So I was never using my ears in that fashion and it really excited me to do that. Within the year I had quit my job and I was trying to make ends meet with that, with a little bit of teaching on the side. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since, really.
But I always listened to jazz, from my father. He had a lot of records. He was a big George Shearing fan. And Errol Garner. He loved Lester Young and the earlier tenor players. I definitely heard a lot as a child, so I guess it’s an accumulation of all those things that got me here in the end.
Who would you say were your favourite jazz singers?
The funny thing is, I never really listened to singers much growing up. The emphasis was always on piano players, through my father, and some tenor players. But the first singer, I would say, was Sarah Vaughan.
I didn’t really properly start listening to them until 2009, when I started with jazz and I really wanted to become a vocalist. Before then I was listening to Miles Davis and basically instrumental jazz.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve already done one album, From Shadow Into Light, and I’ve just recorded a duo album. All standards, no originals, just standards. And it’s seven tracks of piano and vocal and seven tracks of all organ and vocal, which hasn’t been done very much. So I’m in the process of picking all the takes and then getting it mixed. Hopefully that’s going to be done by Christmas. There’s been lots of obstacles in the way of doing it but that’s my second album, and I’m really looking forward to sharing it. I wanted to do something exposed and doing a duo album, you can’t get more exposed than that.
What else do you do outside of music and jazz?
Currently, nothing! I do the odd wedding, functions and stuff to be able to pay the rent but it’s pretty much full-time. When I first moved to London I was doing catering jobs, making canapés at people’s houses, trying to make ends meet doing anything really. Being on the scene it’s all down to being here for a while until people finally get to know what you’re about, what you do and who you are.These things really take time, I’ve realised. People won’t get back to you, if you ask for a gig, for years. And then they hear about you enough and eventually take a chance on you so I just think it’s literally been a matter of time and me being on the scene long enough for people to take a chance with me.
What else are you doing musically?
I’ve been asked to do some shows at Ronnie’s, which is a real step forward for me, to be able to do my thing there now. I feel that recently things have really taken a step forward and got a lot better here for me. So I’m excited about that. I’m also doing a show during the London Jazz Festival at the 606. Steve Rubie has called it ‘Sara Goes to the Movies’, so that’s really Great American Songbook and how these beautiful tunes feature in the movies, the story behind it and what’s going on in the scene. For me, that’s something that I really feel passionate about. To bring these songs alive rather than just say ‘hi, this is a song that I heard on an album and we’re going to sing it to you like this’. To actually bring it back to the story and appreciate where all these lovely songs, timeless songs, have come from. That’s on 13th November at the 606. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m going to be doing a lot of Judy Garland tunes in a jazz singer style.
Sara Dowling appears at Chichester Jazz Club on Friday 17th November, 2017.
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