Patty Cronheim: An Interview

Jazz vocals as they should be....

Steve Caputo

SC - Patty congrats on the new recording. Please tell us a little background on the project.- the compositions, the musicians etc..

PC -‘Days Like These’ is my first album. With the help of my producer Tony Branker and my wonderful musicians, Aaron Weiman (piano), Corey Rawls (drums), Brian Glassman (bass), Clifford Adams (trombone), Greg Wall (tenor and soprano sax), and Audrey Welber (alto sax), the album became everything I hoped it would be. I’m thrilled that it has an honest, live feel that reflects the numerous gigs we played together before going into the studio. There’s a lot of joy in the playing that I think comes through the recording. Most of the songs on ‘Day’s Like These’ are my own compositions. The songs range from ballads to blues to Latin. In covers, there’s a very funky “Summertime’ and a very jazzy ‘Superstition’. I like balance of that. I think it’s a very listenable able… it’s even easy to dance to. I give it a 95. (just kidding - but listen and feel free to dance if you like.)

SC - As a composer Patty is there any one thing that inspires you most to compose?

PC - The simple answer is life. But, it’s really much more expansive that that. Songs like ‘Made For Love’ were originally inspired by how it felt to sing a single line in it – “When the world is so cold..”. A song has to feel good in my voice for me to get behind it. Sometimes it’s concepts or emotions that inspire me. I tend to be most suseptable in the morning when I’m still more transparent to feeling, and melody, and poetry. Sometimes I wake up and am open to the most beautiful (or troubling) experience. Of course, as a writer, instead of staying in the enjoyment (or worrying) about it, I jump out of bed and run down to the piano, or grab my pencil and pad on my nightstand and start scribbling. Those are the good writing moments. That usually gets me only so far though. After that, it’s persistence. I try to sit at my piano every day and get out of my own way enough to create something real that will move someone, somewhere. While I may come back to it later and see that’s it’s absolutely dreadful, it’s that doing, that practice, that makes me better at writing when my muse does bubble up. I have pages of poetry and pages of music that are separate and have no mate. In my fantasies, they all fly up in the air and meet each other in a beautiful, birdlike dance. In the meantime… back to the piano

SC - How do you maintain the patience and persistence that is required in today’s crowded jazz recording world?

PC - Truthfully, patience has never been my strong suit. Maybe that’s why I’m in this business… to work on that. I try to stay focused on what I’m creating – both musically and relationally. It’s very tempting to get caught in the mindset that times are hard or there’s only so much work to go around rather than be excited by the infinite possibilities in the world. It’s much more exciting to be open to being surprised by what may come your way. It also helps you to see fellow players and recording artists as peers, not competitors. If you truly value what you do, you are not threatened by the success of others. You are inspired by it. Negativity just creates more negativity… no fun.

SC - A question I have been asking all jazz artists in this profile column…. Right now there are two schools of thought when it comes to the question “What is the current state of Jazz” Some believe is very healthy and some believe its worse than ever.. What is your take on this question and what are some of your current views of Jazz music today.

PC - I don’t think it’s quite so black and white. I like the way jazz is leaking into and being utilized by other genres, it’s being taught more in schools, and its overall appreciation is growing. I don’t like the way musicians are valued economically. But, this is nothing new. I recently read that in 1955 Thelonious Monk’s Blue Note recording contract was bought out for $108.27. Long gone are the early days of jazz being the primary money generating musical art form. But that hardship can also create more freedom. Most of us are truly indie artists. I see many more grassroots jazz performance opportunities ranging from new community music spaces dedicated to jazz to a local Chinese restaurant with a band stand. My hope is that as a society we free up more spending for the support of the arts across the board. I’m not worried about jazz holding its own and getting its share. It’s too alive an art form to go quietly.

SC - As far as influences vocally who would you say influenced you the most?

PC - Janis Joplin. Among many others. I spent a lot of my childhood listening to and imitating every singer I could. As a child, I got to see Sarah Vaughn (another Jersey girl) singing Gershwin in concert and that inspired me greatly. I love, love, love Ella’s spirit and presence at the microphone. But, note for note Janis most influenced my soul, spoke to my heart, set the bar for speaking my truth when I take the stage. The thing I try to do most when I sing is get out of the way and let the music take me. I think Janice did that. Of course - ask me tomorrow and I might say Billie or…

SC - What do you have planned for the future on the writing and recording side?

PC - On ‘Days Like These’ I had fun playing with traditional vocal jazz genres. Like a lot of contemporary jazz, my new music is evolving and expanding the boundaries of jazz a bit.
We all live in a world with so many wonderful musical flavors that influence us. As a composer, you just never know what comes out to play. I have a single I’m working on to support a local charity that has pop/gospel influences and my next album is shaping up to have a lot of soul. I’m already thinking two albums out as my most recent writing is taking yet another turn. I just wish there was nothing but time and money to do it all!

SC - Patty if you had one artist you could record with - who would it be?

PC - Stevie Wonder. ‘Nuff said.

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Steve Caputo