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Interview with London Jazz Singer Sarah Ellen Hughes

London-based jazz singer Sarah Ellen Hughes captures your imagination with her charming, clear-as-a-bell voice and beautifully executed interpretations of classic jazz tunes. Here's a jazz singer who has it all, the ability to improvise, an impressive, quality vocal range, and an emotional delicacy that combines passion with a light touch.

With the launch of her new CD The Story So Far and tour, Sarah offers her insights into her world of music. Click here to listen to Sarah Ellen Hughe's new CD with pianist Rick Simpson, drummer Darren Altman, bassist Tom Farmer, guitarist Chris Allard and sax player Dave O'Higgins.

Q: Jazz is a repertoire that singers repeat throughout their career, how do you find fresh ways to approach the songs, what inspires you?

"With repertoire that I perform frequently, I find that playing with the same band regularly really helps in keeping interpretations fresh because we trust each other to add or improve what we've played before so that each arrangement is continually growing.  I try to listen to as many different singers as possible to come up with fresh ways to interpret standards - to listen to versions that I like and try to incorporate aspects of my favourite singers into my own performances."

Q: What is your process to come up with new arrangements for songs?

"To write new song arrangements, I will usually write the basics of rhythm, chords, and form on the music, then present it to my band either at a rehearsal or at a gig, and see where it goes from there.  Quite often when I'm out at a gig listening, I will hear something I really like and scribble it down in my diary, then when I sit down to write something, try to incorporate bits of what I've heard other people do."

Q: Describe how your new CD came about.

"My new CD came about because I was told by my distributor that I needed to be making a release in 2011!  I wasn't at all ready to record anything artistically, as I thought I hadn't really progressed enough since the last album, but when I thought about it I realised that I have had a massive focus over the last year on vocal harmony (particularly with my new group Sector7), and so I concentrated on making this a feature of the repertoire chosen for my recent CD.  It's great to be able to go into the studio and multitrack voices, so by the end I could have 5 backing vocal lines to create the sound I wanted, with just me in the studio!"

Q: Tell us about the main reasons you decided to become a jazz singer.

"I decided to become a jazz singer because I realised that I was good at it, and it felt natural to be singing jazz.  I used to be a primary school teacher, but I wasn't cut out for that as a full-time job, so now my main job is an artist, and I still do some teaching in my spare time."

Q: What are your impressions of the modern jazz scene and market?

"The main impression that I get of the modern jazz scene and market is that of the audience demographic.  Unfortunately, jazz audiences in this country seem to be dying out - I will often play gigs to a whole audience who is more than twice my age.  I don't understand how this is happening - there are so many students and young people who are playing jazz, so why aren't they going to listen to it?  Maybe it's because making it as a jazz musician is so difficult, that there simply isn't the time to go out and watch gigs as well as doing your own promotion and practise."

Q: Please give us some main biographical highlights and how they link with jazz music and your career.

"My main achievement so far has been winning the 2010 International jazz singing competition "Jazz Voices," which was held in Lithuania.  It was a brilliant experience - it was fantastic to meet other people from different jazz scenes in different countries and be able to learn from them."

Q: How do you feel about singing jazz?

"I love singing jazz, and I particularly love being a singer because the voice is the only jazz instrument which allows you to utilise lyrics.  I love exploring lyrics, and using them to change the interpretation of a song."

Q:Tell us about your new tour.

"My new tour is already underway!  We had a few gigs in September (You can read the gig reports here: www.sarahellenhughes.blogspot.com), and will be going back on the road next Thursday, touring all around the UK, until we finally finish in Southend at the end of November.  We aren't staying away from home the whole time - the longest time away is 4 nights - so it's good to be able to come home through the tour and get down to work (planning the next one!) and stay grounded."

Visit Sarah Ellen Hughes' website to learn more.

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