With a voice that seems to come from her toes, Polly Gibbons was captured by soul music at an early age. That definitive moment came when she heard Aretha Franklin in the Blues Brothers’ film singing “Think.”
Polly did think about it and embraced the path (lucky for us). The UK artist recently performed “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl” at Joe’s Pub in New York City and laid out a sweet sound, the music coming through her body in waves. Giving space and props to her band members, this storyteller has a soaring voice that reaches all corners of the room.
Who are your biggest personal influences?
My faith and family.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Donny Hathaway, Fats Waller, D’Angelo and Nina Simone.
How does your interpretation of “Basin St. Blues” differ from your demo tape at age 18 to when you sing it now?
Ah, quite a lot! Not through any conscious musical practices, but in how much more living and singing I have done at this point.
It was a new song to me back then and I learned it just for the recording. I was only recently exploring jazz back then. Although I’ve not visited New Orleans, I’ve toured America a bit now and seen pockets of the jazz community. The lyrics are all the more vivid to me.
What was your first musical gig at 17 like?
It was in a bar in an affluent area of London with a group of 6 male musicians I didn’t know! I can’t remember how the first one felt, but I was probably a bit self-conscious and anxious to do a good job. I remember that period of time as good fun, hanging out, having a laugh, learning to sing the songs better and to perform with more confidence!
How has your career surprised you?
It’s pretty regularly surprising on some levels…Good and bad!! It’s the nature of the scene I’m in, I suppose. Being called by George Klabin [president] at Resonance Records and signing me up was a good surprise.
It’s been interesting visiting parts of the USA – the motherland of jazz.
How would you describe your voice?
Warm, a bit rough, bold, vulnerable, surprising.
What has been the hardest to refine: your pacing, range, endurance or something else?
I spend most time thinking about refining the truth and how I can be more ‘real’ within and without myself.
When you compose, what setting inspires you?
A variety can inspire. The countryside and nature, or being in the city.
What are the challenges and rewards of co-writing songs?
One of the challenges can be defining the heart of the song. There are so many rewards… exchanging ideas and building on them together, when one person’s focus is waning, the other can inspire with a new idea.
What does the name of the CD refer to, Is it Me…?
It’s the title of one of the songs I wrote with James Pearson, and we got to thinking, it has a level of intrigue to it and leaves a lot open to interpretation, which I thought was cool.
It works on another level as it’s such an eclectic album too!
How do you channel the pain necessary for a song like “Don’t Explain”?
It’s just there. I feel it.
How does music that is clearly set in a different world at a different time (“Porgy and Bess”) stay relevant to today’s jazz audiences?
Although it is definitely a different time, some human experiences still remain, but in an altered form. Jazz is a very rich and complex art form with deep roots that demand to evolve. It’s in its very nature!
Where have you toured?
I’ve played in parts of North America and Canada, parts of Europe, Indonesia and parts of Asia.
Where would you most love to perform that you have not yet?
I spent some time in Tanzania 10 years ago and I’d love to see more of the huge continent of Africa.
What’s one surprising thing about you that people should know?
I’ve sung Christmas carols ’round a piano with a few of the Rolling Stones.
Where do you go in your head when you perform?
Sometimes it can be surreal and dreamlike. Other times I can be very cognizant. I find myself toing-and-froing between thinking about being open and giving to the audience; or disappearing into feeling the lyrics.
Hopefully some collaborations, more songwriting, more gigging and making music around this large planet!
Thank you 🙂
Photo courtesy of the artist and Resonance Records.
(c) Debbie Burke 2017