Imogen Ryall has recently been making a name for herself performing and teaching around Sussex.
Editor of The Sussex Jazz Mag, Charlie Anderson, and aspiring jazz vocalist Anabel Alegre sat down with her to talk about her love of jazz, her love of teaching and her development as a musician.
Charlie: How did you first get into jazz?
“My Dad had quite an eclectic record collection. He had all sorts of things including Frank Sinatra and Art Tatum. My Dad is an amateur pianist, but actually rather good, but also rather self-deprecating about it. So he had various albums of jazz pianists like Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson. And he had some Mike Westbrook albums because, also, he’s an actor and he worked with Mike Westbrook. So the first jazz singer that I heard was actually Norma Winstone, who was my earliest influence. At that time, though, I didn’t really know what I was listening to.”
“After I left school I did the jazz course at Chichester. When I was 16 or 17. At that time it was called the jazz and popular music course and at that time it was the pop side that interested me. And then somebody played me some Billie Holiday and I just thought ‘I’d like to sing, or to try to sing, like that’. Actually, I was playing piano then, as well, I wasn’t really singing although I always sung. I wasn’t really thinking of myself as a singer. I sang something and people didn’t go ‘urggh’, so I carried on. That was the start of it and I got into various other things from there.”
Anabel: Did you always love jazz?
“When I did the course at Chichester, that was the thing that started me off. I don’t know why jazz in particular. Jazz is really the only thing that really holds my interest. I can listen to it again and again and not be bored with it, and find something new every time.”
Charlie: What’s your practice routine?
“It depends on what I’m doing. I’m teaching quite a lot, and I’m always learning. I’ve always got songs on the go that I’m learning, so I’m using my voice quite a lot.”
“Practice-wise, I can’t say, at the moment, that I’m doing a massive amount. I’m singing a lot and teaching a lot. Normally, if I’ve got a period where I’m not doing very much then I’ll find a piece of music or an instrumental solo and I’ll try and learn it. That, I guess, is my practice because I’m always trying to improve my harmony and get my soloing, my scat singing, better. So those are the things that I will do and, for me, my way of learning is to listen and trying to reproduce instrumental solos. Sitting at home and doing scales, I don’t do a lot of, which is probably not the best advice to give to other people but that’s just what’s happening at the moment.”
Anabel: Do you have any tips for singers?
“Listen, listen, listen and listen again. Listen specifically to certain things. Maybe a whole album, just listening to the bass, try and sing some of the bass lines; listen to the piano player, how they’re comping. Really hone in on the different aspects of the rhythm section.”
“Listen to lots of singers, but a really big, wide range. Don’t limit yourself to just what you like. If somebody you admire says ‘listen to such and such’, I always listen to everything people say and I try and listen to everything. It’s something that people don’t do that much of, really. When you start learning, you kind of just want to do it all the time, you want to do, sing or play. Listening is certainly a very important thing when it comes to playing with other people.”
“Give yourself time to get immersed in the music and to learn the songs that you want to do. Don’t be in a hurry to sit in and I think it can be quite a big thing in terms of confidence for quite a few singers when they’re just beginning and they don’t feel that solid and confident in what they are doing. And if the band is not that solid either then it can all be a bit of a train wreck. So I think it’s quite good to give yourself time to really feel solid in what you’re doing, and always to be responsible for rhythm and harmony, not just singing the song and singing it well, but being aware of what’s going on with the musicians around you. It’s all about listening.”
Anabel: How long does it take to get good?
“It depends on the individual. I’ve been singing professionally for 25 years and I still feel that I have a long way to go. It’s a constant journey. You should never feel ‘right, I’ve done it’. You should always be learning. Also, what’s the definition of ‘good’? The more you do it, the more confident you’ll be. The more positive and constructive feedback that you get from people, that’s also very helpful. Sitting at home and singing is not the way forward.
Charlie: I’ve noticed that when you sing, it’s more like you’re a musician in the band.
“That’s a very nice complement. Thank you. I hope so.”
Charlie: Is that something that you’ve worked on?
“Funnily enough, I always wanted to be like that. I did a course at the Guildhall and to be the girl singer in the front in the sparkly frock was very much frowned upon. They really didn’t want that. You were very much supposed to be part of the ensemble. And I always quite liked that because I was always quite shy, really. To begin with, I didn’t really like doing the bits of chat that was expected of me on gigs. So that appealed but since leaving and working I still don’t do a huge amount of chat but I am comfortable in that role if it’s required of me. But I like it if I can just be part of the band. I think that’s why I’m trying to get the whole vocal trumpet/trombone thing going because that allows me to be a bit more part of it. You don’t just sing the tune, you can then have a bit of a solo and be more a part of the music. I’m getting there with that.”
Charlie: So, what are your future plans?
“What I’d like to do, what I need to be doing, is recording another album. The last one was four or five years ago. So I would like to do something. I’ve been working quite a lot with Julian Nicholas, an amazing musician and educator.”
“I’m doing a gig at The Plough in Rottingdean with Julian Nicholas and Czech pianist Emil Viklicky. I’m really excited about that.”
“I’ve never really had game plans, to my detriment in some ways. Recording would be nice to do, if not this year then the beginning of next year, and lots of gigs.”
Charlie: What are some of your favourite albums?
“Mingus Ah Um, Kind of Blue and Joni Mitchell’s Mingus album. Those were some of the first albums that got me completely hooked.”
Charlie: And what are you listening to at the moment?
“I’m listening a lot to Blues and the Abstract Truth [Oliver Nelson], Al Jarreau, Norma Winstone and a really good singer, who’s not that well known, called Meredith d’Ambrosio.”
For more information on Imogen Ryall visit:
Interview conducted by Charlie Anderson and Anabel Alegre at The Queen Victoria pub, Rottingdean.