Interview with Juliet Kelly – Family Jazz All-Stars

March 23, 2016

Family Jazz All-Stars

On Sunday 3 April, vocalist Juliet Kelly brings her Family Jazz All-Stars concert to Saffron Hall, a fun-filled tribute to great jazz singers past and present. Juliet has performed with top UK jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine for BBC4’s ‘Jazz Britannia’ season at the Barbican, opened for the Grammy-award winning vocal group Take 6 at the the London Jazz Festival, released several albums and toured throughout Germany, Greece and Russia.

Ahead of the show, we caught up with Juliet to find out a little bit more about the show and discover some fun facts about her All-Stars band.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you first came to be a jazz singer?

“As a child, I never listened to jazz at all. I grew up in a religious household where all non-religious music was banned. But I still listened secretly
to music in the pop charts. The first jazz song I remember hearing was Nina Simone’s ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ that was used in a TV commercial in the 1980s. It wasn’t until I attended a jazz singing workshop while I was studying at university that I discovered what jazz actually was.”

How did the Family Jazz All-Stars first come about?

“The show was idea from Serious, the organisers of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Other singers had previously been involved but they asked me to devise my own version for the 2014 Festival. Our debut performance was a sold-out concert at the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre.”

What can people expect?

“Family Jazz All-Stars is a fun way to discover some of the classic songs that were performed by the jazz divas who brought these beautiful songs to life. On stage is a five piece band playing a variety of songs from swinging standards to toe-tapping bossa novas, along with the stories behind the songs. I like the idea that the people who come to see me don’t just passively sit there. I tell stories about the music, I ask questions, I allow them to feel part of the experience.

“And yes, it has been known for there to be some musical audience participation!”

What do you think it is about jazz music that makes it so appealing to all ages?

“The thing about jazz is that it is such a wide genre. From traditional Dixieland all the way to free improvised electronic jazz, there really is something for everyone. What usually appeals to the types of audiences that come to the family shows is music with strong melodies and toe-tapping rhythms, and that’s what I aim to give them. Many people adore Nina Simone songs, so we’ll be doing one of her most well-known songs ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’ during the performance.”

Tell us a little bit more about your Jazz All-Stars band?

“I’m very lucky to be working with some amazing musicians: saxophonist Tony Kofi, pianist Kate Williams, double bassist Dave Whitford, and drummer Cosimo Keita.

“Tony Kofi is an award-winning saxophonist who played on my debut album ‘Aphrodite’s Child’ back in 2003. He’s known for his beautiful, lyrical and energetic solos. He leads his own band and I’ll never forget witnessing their Thelonious Monk marathon at the London Jazz Festival where they played all 70 of Monk’s compositions. It took them six hours!

“I met pianist Kate Williams when we both taught at a music college in Richmond. I loved her playing and asked her to guest on my second album, ‘Delicious Chemistry’, in 2005. We’ve toured as a duo to village halls all over the country with my ‘Celebrating the Divas of Jazz’ project which I then used as a basis to create the Family Jazz All-Stars show.

“Dave Whitford is kindly stepping in to cover for my regular bass player Oli Hayhurst. We first worked together years ago when I asked him to be part of the band for my ‘Tribute to Nina Simone’ show. We did a short UK tour including Cleo Laine’s venue, The Stables, in Milton Keynes.

“Cosimo Keita and I met a couple of years ago when we were both booked to play in the same band at the Greenwich Festival. He does a lot of work in music with young people and I just knew he would be ideal for this project. A fun fact about Cosimo is that he played drums as a double for Thierry Henry on the famous Va-Va-Voom Renault advert.”

What do you hope the audience, young and old, will get out of the concert?

“I get a lot of pleasure out of presenting jazz to people that may be hearing it for the first time. And I hope that’s what they get out of it too – a fun and exciting introduction to the music that I love.”

Family Jazz All-Stars
Sunday 3 April, 3pm
Tickets £12/£6 under 18s
More info