Boppy, hip and with perfect bouncy phrasing, this is “Watch My Garden Grow” as Emma Larsson performed it at NYC’s Blue Note. Each phrase is given thoughtful respect with a storyteller’s grace. Accompanied by top-notch musicians who play deep and craft delicate acoustic lace around her, Emma pours her heart out into the air. The air is so grateful for the gift, as are her charmed audiences.
What themes inspire you?
Life. Emotions. Pretty much all my songs are written out of personal experience.
When did you start to sing?
I feel like I’ve always been singing. Through high school I was just dreaming and taking some private lessons. But it was when I was studying piano at the conservatory in Ostrava (Czech Republic) that I first got an opportunity to sing with a jazz trio and I loved it!
Why did you transition from classical to jazz?
My heart was always with groovy music; soul, funk, jazz. It was just easier to study classical music where I grew up because there was no jazz education really and very few jazz teachers. I finally switched when my hands started to ache from playing classical piano. That was when I started college and there was a jazz/rock program.
What specifically hooked you about jazz?
The feeling. Nothing beats a good groove! And the freedom and spontaneity.
What elements of your classical training do you bring to your music today?
I think it shows in my writing. And I love to think about form. At the moment I’m actually trying to reconnect with the classical side of me, practicing old pieces that I used to play. A big part of my composing happens at the piano; I just play until I find something that I like and can continue working on.
Was your family supportive of your career choice?
Who are your musical idols?
Many. Betty Carter, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin, Sizzla…
There are so many amazing musicians in various genres who have inspired me through the years.
Who are your favorite artists to perform with?
I really love to work with Shedrick Mitchell, he has so much musicality. Billy Harper was fantastic to work with.
How would you describe your style?
Modern jazz. Groovy. Hip.
Do you write the lyrics and music as well?
I write most of the music and lyrics. Sometimes I write music to someone else’s words. I’ve also written lyrics for other people’s music and projects.
How do you take care of your voice?
I stay in shape by running, that’s good for breathing and endurance. And I have some vocal exercises that I do daily. I eat healthy and drink a lot of water. In winter I have a humidifier in my bedroom.
What do you want people to get out of your performance?
I want them to say “Wow, I haven’t heard that before.” I hope people can relate to my songs with their own stories and life experiences. A fan once wrote and said my music made her feel “energetic and peaceful at the same time” – that made me happy!
Talk about the personnel in your band and how you mesh together.
It was really beautiful how the music came together. Everybody brought their “thing.” Shedrick has his really hip modern voicings and a little R&B/gospel vibe.
Billy is a very straight-ahead type drummer, and Eric is this amazing bass player who plays everything. I think the band has a unique sound because of this chemistry.
What was it like to play the Blue Note in NYC?
It was amazing. A moment when you have to stop and give yourself some credit for the hard work and say “yes, I’ve made it this far.” As far as I know, I’m the first artist from my country who has been a headliner at The Blue Note in NYC.
What is the jazz scene like where you live?
I live in NYC so I’m lucky to always have access to good music and musicians. There’s also so much other music from all around the world here, so a lot to get influenced and inspired by.
Why do you think jazz isn’t more prominent in daily culture- TV, advertisements, movies, in shopping malls, etc.?
Perhaps it’s not “catchy” enough…it requires a little bit of attention.
What inspired “Sing to the Sky” and what is your favorite track on it?
Life. I was getting over a toxic relationship when I wrote most of the songs, but I wanted to focus on the strength of moving on.
I like “Watch My Garden Grow” because it’s about inner peace; when you start to remember your dreams it’s a good sign you’re getting yourself back together. I’m happy how the music and poetry came together.
Musically, I was very inspired by Billy Harper’s music at the time, and I was singing in his vocal group. And of course John Coltrane’s music, especially “A Love Supreme.”
I’m getting my head back into writing and composing for my next recording. I’m also preparing for a recording with jazz standards.
Future projects going into 2018?
Playing more gigs internationally.
Where have you not played that you would like to?
Since I never really established myself in Sweden before I left the country, it would be nice to go back and play at the Stockholm Jazz Festival.
For more information, visit http://www.emmalarsson.com/.