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Interview with Michele Hendricks
by Chrissie Carpenter Oppedisano


Fai click qui per leggere la versione in italiano

Michelle Hendricks, singer, arranger and composer, is one of the most renowned jazz artists of today. She is John Hendrick's daughter and this week she taught a workshop on improvisation and vocal jazz at Spoleto Arts in Spoleto, Italy. I had the immense pleasure of studying with her and having this lovely chat.

C.O.: WE KNOW THAT YOU ARE THE DAUGHTER OF A JAZZ LEGEND. WAS YOUR PASSION FOR JAZZ AN OUTCROPPING OF THAT? DID YOU STUDY MUSIC AS A CHILD?
M.H.: Probably… I've always wanted to sing. It wasn't particularly jazz in the beginning but when I was young I was always in the city choirs, church choirs, etc… when I was in my teens I was working with my father during summer vacations but I had my own groups and I was doing Top 40 or R&B… the music of the day. I was into the music of my peers. Little by little I started to like jazz. My appreciation of it grew. My father was actually very smart. When we went to him and said, ‘Dad, listen to this' and it was a group like Emerson, Lake & Palmer or some really important popular group of the day, he listened and said, ‘Mmm… okay… now listen to this' and he put Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson on and they were always better! So, little by little I really started to appreciate the jazz players.



C.O.: DID YOU PLAY A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT AS A CHILD?
M.H.: I took piano lessons, but like any other child… I don't remember how long… maybe a couple of years. I learned a dozen or so children's songs.

C.O.: DID YOU EVER GET TIRED OF HEARING BE-BOP AS A CHILD?
M.H.: No… I really didn't listen to it much as a child. I listened to what my friends were listening to! The Beatles, Led Zeppelin… there were posters all over my room!

C.O.: IN YOUR MUSICAL QUEST, WHAT CAME THE MOST NATURALLY FOR YOU AND WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING?
M.H.: I don't know!!! Scatting didn't come right away, oddly enough, even though now that is what I love to do. I wouldn't have dared to sing classical music…. The thing that came most naturally was harmony! I was always good at harmony and directing the choir.

C.O.: MANY AMERICAN MUSICIANS HAVE MOVED TO EUROPE TO PURSUE OR CONTINUE THEIR MUSICAL CAREERS. WHY DID YOU MOVE TO PARIS?
M.H.: Love! Amour! I fell in love with a Frenchman! Well, actually, I fell in love with Paris too! I always knew that one day I was going to live in Paris… then I met my husband and it was decided… I'm coming!

C.O.: DESCRIBE A TYPICAL DAY IN YOUR LIFE.
M.H.: Well, now I have two small children, so a typical day is basically like 24 hour suicide watch! My day is basically spent making sure my children don't kill themselves! Anyone with two small children under the age of 4 knows what I'm talking about!!!

C.O.: HOW DO YOU BALANCE OUT CAREER AND FAMILY?
M.H.: Well, the balance is pretty lopsided! It's really about the kids right now! I'm hoping that next year, when Daniel, the little one, goes to nursery school, I'll have more time to get back to arranging and stuff….

C.O.: DO YOU BRING THEM WITH YOU OFTEN WHEN YOU TRAVEL AND DO WORKSHOPS?
M.H.: In a situation like this, yes… in the summer when my husband can take vacation…. but unfortunately, I have had to say no to a lot of work since having the kids.

C.O.: TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR CAREER. I KNOW THAT YOU HAVE RECORDED SEVERAL CD'S. CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT THEM?
M.H.: There are 3 CD's released on my own name and they are all on the MUSE label which has now been sold… Another company bought MUSE and so now my CD's are ‘collector's items if you can put it that way! They are very difficult to find! I recorded another album that hasn't come out. It's a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald with Tommy Flanagan and his trio. Hopefully that will come out one of these days. The next project I'd like to do is an album of originals. Since I've been living in France I have a lot of originals that have never been recorded. Actually, all of my CD's have at 3-4 original compositions. They also have re-arrangements or re-vamping of things… That is one of the things I really like to do. It is very rare for me to sing a standard, just to sing a standard. I always try to do something different.

C.O.: YES, IN FACT, YOU ARE ALSO A COMPOSER AND AN ARRANGER. THIS WEEK WE SANG "TRIVIA MADNESS", A WONDERFULLY RHYTHMIC PIECE WHICH HAS REALLY INTERESTING WORDS! WHAT INSPIRED THAT PIECE AND HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO COMPOSE IT?
M.H.: Well, what inspired it is that I am a big ‘JEOPARDY' fan!! (marco, questo e' un game show dagli stati uniti, molto popular nei anni 70 e 80…) I used to watch JEOPARDY all the time! Nobody could interrupt JEOPARDY! 7:00 – 7:30 pm in New York – Don't call me! I'm watching JEOPARDY!!! So, that was the inspiration for that piece…. How long did it take to write it? Wow, I have no idea! I can't remember!

C.O.: THE ARRANGEMENT OF ‘WHERE IS LOVE' IS STUPENDOUS… SEVEN VOICES SUNG ACAPELLA! HAS THAT ARRANGEMENT EVER BEEN RECORDED?
M.H.: No, it hasn't and it's a pity!

C.O.: DID YOU EVER WANT TO BE A POP OR ROCK SINGER?
M.H.: Not really… No…

C.O.: DO YOU FEEL THAT JAZZ MIXED WITH POP OR SOUL IS GOOD FOR ATTRACTING THE PUBLIC TO JAZZ OR DO YOU PREFER A STRAIGHT AHEAD JAZZ APPROACH?
M.H.: Well, if you mean groups like ‘Earth, Wind & Fire', ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears' or ‘Chicago', yes… I think it attracts the public to more straight ahead jazz. They were pretty jazzy groups.

C.O.: YOU ARE A WONDERFUL EDUCATOR OF SCAT SINGING! WE EVEN HEARD YOUR HUSBAND DO AN INCREDIBLE IMPROVISATION AT ONE OF THE JAM SESSIONS DURING THE WEEK. DID YOU TEACH HIM TO SCAT?
M.H.: Not at all! He's just a natural! He's been a jazz fan since he first discovered jazz many years ago! I keep telling him that he's a singer but he won't listen to me!!! He is a sound engineer, but he is a very good singer!

C.O.: RECENTLY I'VE HEARD MANY DIFFERENT OPINIONS FROM MUSICIANS REGARDING SINGERS IMPROVISING. SOME LIKE IT AND OTHER ARE TOTALLY AGAINST IT. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THAT AND WHY DO YOU FEEL THAT SOME MUSICIANS DON'T LIKE TO HEAR SINGERS SCAT?
M.H.: I think singers improvising is like anything else… there is good and there is bad. There are good musicians and bad musicians, there are good singers and bad singers, there are good improvisers and bad ones! Whether it's vocal or not, good is good and bad is bad. So, I think most of the time that musicians don't like singers because… well… in fact, one of my battles when I teach is that I'm trying to get rid of that bad reputation that singers have. Singers should know a little bit about what they're doing. They should understand the chord progression… they should have the same understanding of what's going on in a song that a musician does and I think that is what makes musicians angry. The singers just feel like they can get up on the stage and do anything and, well, the musicians put a lot of work into what they do and so, I think they resent it a little bit. But, back to the question, I don't think there is a musician in the world who doesn't like Ella Fitzgerald… so, when it's good, it's good!

C.O.: IN THE WORLD OF JAZZ, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR A SINGER TO SCAT? WHAT KIND OF BALANCE SHOULD THERE BE BETWEEN SINGING A SONG, THE LEVEL OF INTERPRETATION AND IMPROVISATION?
M.H.: That's a toughie! I tend to miss it when I hear a singer who doesn't improvise at all I find myself wishing that she did… although, Sarah Vaughan, who is one of my heros, didn't really improvise all that much. She just sang the tunes and it was fantastic. It's hard to say. There are no rules really! I think it's good if a singer can improvise. I think it adds to the overall performance, or the overall presentation of what she's doing. Is it a hard rule that to be considered a jazz singer you should improvise? I don't think I can really say that, no… But even though you don't scat you can definitely improvise on the melody and the phrasing… you know, put your own little touch to things.

C.O.: MANY EDUCATORS TEACH WHAT SINGERS DEED TO DO… HOW ABOUT SOME THINGS NOT TO DO?
M.H.: Hmmm. what are some things NOT to do in improvisation? Mostly what I tell people NOT to do is to present the voice… For example, when what they are doing is ‘oh look at my voice…. see how high or low I can sing, and look at the clever jumps I can do!' That gets boring for me very quickly. If you have a good voice, people are going to know it and so you don't have to ‘show it off' all the time.

C.O.: WHICH TYPE OF INSTRUMENTALISTS DO YOU ADVISE SINGERS TO LISTEN TO AND WHY?
M.H.: For improvisation, the saxophone because there is a wealth of colors, sounds, nuances, growls, and textures. There's so much there… People are always asking me what kind of syllables they should use and I tell them to listen to the sax. That's what my father always said! Listen to the sax!

C.O.: I'VE NOTICED THAT WHEN YOU WORK WITH STUDENTS YOU SEEM TO CONCENTRATE ON HELPING THEM IN PERHAPS ONLY 1-2 AREAS. IS THERE A SPECIFIC REASON FOR THAT?
M.H.: Really? I'm not aware of it! I guess I just comment on things that strike me. When they do a little presentation for me while I'm watching and listening, I comment on the main things that strike me. It depends on their level too. When people are out of tune a lot they are usually more beginner level and so I try to concentrate on that whereas someone more experienced might need help on a rhythmic level, or physical presentation…

C.O.: YOU HAVE BROUGHT TO LIGHT A VERY DIFFERENT WAY FOR A SINGER TO LISTEN TO MUSIC WHICH IS ESSENTIAL FOR IMPROVISATION AND THAT IS LEARNING THE WALKING BASS LINE AND MEMORIZING IT LIKE A SONG. CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THAT?
M.H.: Well, I find that when I'm improvising, if I can hear the chords in my head it's so helpful! It's so helpful to know what to do when I'm improvising... When I don't hear the chords it's very difficult. So, I think it's essential that singers start to learn to hear the chords in their head and one of the best ways I have found to do that is using the bass line. If you can walk a bass line for a song, you probably have the chords in your head! You can't walk the bass line if you don't have the chords in your head, so the two go hand in hand!

C.O.: IF YOU COULD SAY JUST 3 THINGS TO A SINGER TO HELP THEM GROW MUSICALLY, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
M.H.: Rhythm, melody, and attitude!!!

C.O.: YOU TOLD US DURING THE WORKSHOP THAT ONE OF THE THINGS YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH AS AN EDUCATOR IS TO CHANGE THE ‘BAD REPUTATION' THAT SINGERS OFTEN HAVE. WHY DO YOU THINK SINGERS HAVE THIS REPUTATION AND WHAT SHOULD THEY DO TO CHANGE IT?
M.H.: A lot of times singers just don't think that they need to have any kind of knowledge of what's going on in order to get up on stage and improvise and that's just not correct. It's disrespectful, I think and that's why the musicians are resentful about it…. It's disrespectful to think ‘oh, I can do that!'… well, no, actually you can't!! I think it's very, very important that singers have an understanding of what they are doing and that doesn't mean learn theory and learn all the chords and be able to play the piano, etc…. It just means you should have a knowledge of, literally, what you are doing. You are just improvising over a set of chord changes. You should know what those chord changes are and that doesn't mean you have to know the names of the chords are. You don't have to know it's Db and Am, but you should be able to SING them! You should be able to sing all the chord changes and walk a bass line to a song.

C.O.: WHAT ARE YOUR MAIN GOALS WHEN TEACHING A WORKSHOP ON IMPROVISATION?
M.H.: To get people over the hurdle of looking at learning the chords as something that is super complicated and only musicians can do. That is so untrue. I started learning the chords to songs way before I could read music! I couldn't sit down and play the chords, but I could sing them! so, we can learn to sing the chords even if we have no theory. You don't have to know theory to sing the chords.

C.O.: YES, YOU ARE A BIG BELIEVER IN MEMORIZATION.
M.H.: I'm big on using your ears! The ears are as important as the vocal cords. It is essential to use your ears and so many times singers don't! They have no idea what is going on behind them while they are out there singing their melodies or making their ‘squwaks' when they are trying to improvise. They have absolutely no idea what is going on! It is absolutely astonishing how many times, when I tell someone to get up and walk a bass line they don't even do quarter notes. They aren't even aware that the bass is playing quarter notes and they've heard it for how many years? Ten years, twenty years??? They've heard it for as long as they've been listening to jazz. The bass is playing quarter notes! Hello!!!! So, that is my goal.

C.O.: WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE NEAR FUTURE? WILL YOUR DAD BE COMING TO EUROPE TO SING WITH YOU SOON?
M.H.: I don't know if he is coming. I hope so! He is talking about coming over next summer!

C.O.: AND YOUR PLANS?
M.H.: I would like to complete this album of originals. I have about 20 tunes now, so I'd like to record at least a dozen of them. So, that's my next project. I work with a quartet…piano, bass, drums, and sax. For example, Trivia Madness is a piece that I usually do with the sax. I sing one of the harmonies and the sax plays the other… so I do a lot of things like that. I have a lot of arrangements for voice and sax.

C.O.: JUST A FINAL QUESTION…. WHERE DO YOU BUY YOUR CLOTHES? THEY'RE BEAUTIFUL!
M.H.: My clothes?????

C.O.: YES, THEY'RE GORGEOUS! YOU ARE SO ELEGANT! CASUAL, BUT ELEGANT.
M.H.: Oh! That's nice to hear! I buy them here and there… little boutiques…

C.O.: WHEN YOU'RE NOT SCATTING OR DOING 24 HOUR SUICIDE WATCH, WHAT DO YOU DO?
M.H.: Cook! I love to cook! I'm an amateur cook and I read cookbooks like novels! I'll spend hours preparing a meal. I just love it! I love dinner parties and the whole deal!

C.O.: MICHELE, THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR LIFE, YOUR IDEAS, AND YOUR METHOD OF APPROACH TO IMPROVISATION WITH JAZZ ITALIA! I HOPE TO SEE YOU IN ITALY AGAIN SOON!
M.H.: I hope so!!! I love to come to Italy! I love to eat in Italy!!!

C.O.: I'M QUOTING YOU ON THAT! I LOVE TO EAT IN ITALY TOO!! THANK YOU FOR ALL THAT YOU'VE GIVEN TO US, THE STUDENTS, THIS WEEK…. NOT JUST FROM THE TEACHING ASPECT, BUT GIVING SO MUCH OF YOURSELF. EVERYONE HAS REALLY APPRECIATED IT AND GAINED FROM IT!
M.H.: Thank you!







Related articles:
16/09/2006

Spoleto Vocal Jazz Workshop with Michele Hendricks: "Michelle really likes singers to work with using their memory and their ears rather than looking at a lead sheet with the chords! She feels that if you look at a lead sheet, you never memorize a piece..." (Chrissie Carpenter Oppedisano)





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COMMENTS
Inserited on 9/2/2009 at 6.46.23 by "soulmambo"
Comment:
Michelle is a wonderful singer. I have had the pleasure of singing with on some occasions and it was a real treat. I am considering living in europe to do the same thing many american musicians and singers do, make a decent living and find an appreciative audience,BRAVA!! MICHELLE!! hope to see you perform again soon- carlos
 
Inserited on 29/9/2010 at 2.39.10 by "guillermok"
Comment:
Excelent Interview!!!!!!! plus ultra musical information BY MICHELLE ........I WILL HIGHLY RECCOMEND TO ANY JAZZ LOVER TO GO /ATTEND ANY LIVE CONCERT BY/WITH THE HENDRICKS FAMILY .....EITHER AS SOLOISTS OR IN FAMILY .......BEST REGARDS MICHELLE ....I SAW/ DIALOGUED WITH BRUCE SCOTT ABOUT A YEAR AGO .........TIME FLIES DONT IT ? 1979, 80S......HOPE ARIA AND PAPA ARE FINE ......ME STILL IN LOS ANGELES CAL.......PD ANY ATTENDEE TO A MICHELLES CONCERT , REQUEST HER RENDITION OF ( ANGEL EYES ) AND FOR A STUDY SESSION ABOUT SCAT ANY STANDARD SONG SHE WILL TURN INTO A POLHYPHONIC ENDEAVOR .......GUILLERMO (")
 


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Publishing Date: 16/09/2006

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