For all its downsides (vitriolic political flame-wars, pseudoscience masquerading as fact, and getting tagged in embarrassing photos from high school, to name a few), Facebook can be a pretty cool place. I’d never have funded my album without social media, and Facebook makes it easier than ever to keep in touch with people, whether they live right here in New York City or halfway across the world.
Katy Bourne, a Seattle-based vocalist and writer, is one such cyber-friend. We have a number of mutual friends in Seattle’s jazz scene, but we got to know each other in the virtual realm of Facebook. After corresponding online, Katy and I finally met in person last summer when I did a mini-tour in the Pacific NW.
There really is no substitute for actual face time (not FaceTime), but since Katy’s in Seattle and we’re all scattered hither and yon, we’ll convene here on this blog for a little conversation. Thank you, Katy!
Who or what inspired you to pursue a life in music?
I grew up playing alto saxophone, but beyond the school marching band, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for a fledgling young sax player in my hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma. And nobody was spinning jazz for me, at least not when I was a kid. As a teenager, I spent a fair amount of time with older kids—friends of my big sister’s. They turned me on to many artists from a wide range of genres. We listened to everything and went to a ton of shows (Some of my fondest memories are of sneaking into Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, OK with a fake I.D.). It was during this time that I got hip to Pat Metheny, Tom Scott, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius and other contemporary jazzers. I didn’t discover many of the early greats, such as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald, until college.
Vocationally-speaking, my focus has predominately been on writing over the years. Although music was always a big part of my life, I had no inkling that I would end up singing jazz. I got into singing a little by accident when I was asked to join a blues band here in Seattle. I ended up singing with that group and a few others around town. After one of those bands died a particularly nasty death, I decided to lick my musical wounds by studying jazz with the great vocalist Greta Matassa. I was hooked instantly. It’s been a long road and, God knows, Greta deserves some kind of sainthood status for her patience with me. I like to say that going from blues to jazz, for me, was like going from playing hockey to figure skating. Finesse and refinement do not come naturally for a goober like me. I’ve had to work hard. I will always have to work hard.
In the course of your musical development, what has come most naturally to you? What has been the most challenging?
I think I assimilate rhythm pretty well and enjoy horsing around with different grooves and odd meters. Being a writer helps my rhythmic sensibility. Writing is rhythm.
The most challenging thing for me…and the thing I love the most…is scat singing. Improvisation is a big, crazy adventure. So many layers to navigate. You not only have to have intelligent ideas but also the chops to execute. I am a lifelong student.
If you were to choose another profession, what would it be, and why?
Dance and choreography. I love to dance, both within the structure of a class or out on the dance floor. For me, nothing is more blissful or liberating than the almighty get down. I am happiest when I’m moving. It’s visceral for me. And it’s the ultimate tool for assimilating rhythm. When I’m in my car, I listen to music and make up choreography in my head. (And frequently try out the choreography later, often in the kitchen.) I’m completely infatuated with Les Twins. To move like those guys….well, that would be the ultimate.
Another very desirable profession for me would be sports journalism. I’m insane for football and I love to write. Seems like a damn perfect marriage to me. I actually haven’t ruled this out as potential pursuit in the future. Stay tuned.
Imagine that you can hire any musicians (from the past or present) for the gig of a lifetime. Who is in your “dream band?”
OK, that’s an impossible question, and the answer would be different on any given day. I can tell you this much: I’d love to sing tricked-out standards in a duo gig with Hiromi in a cocktail lounge in outer space; I’d love to mainline the wild spirit of Gene Krupa and unleash across the cosmos on the two and four; I’d love to float in the Zen-like elegance of Eddie Gomez, perhaps channeling Bill Evans along the way. Closer to home, if I ever had the chance to work with Randy Porter, I would die a happy woman.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, on or off the bandstand?
To always turn back to the music. No matter what is going on during a gig—weirdness with the room or the crowd, sound problems, conflict with someone on the bandstand, whatever—ALWAYS turn back to the music. In essence, get yourself (and your ears) back to the present moment. That’s where everything is happening. Listen.
What are your current musical obsessions? Who/what is in steady rotation when you listen to music lately?
Industrial Revelation has been dominating the iPod this summer. Those guys are on another level. I’ve also been revisiting many of the artists that I grew up with such as The Who (as well as Pete Townshend’s solo recordings), Hall & Oates, and Todd Rundgren. I just saw Todd at the Crocodile in June, and the cat still completely has it.
I have a tattoo of a guy shoving a fork into a toaster.
You can read some of Katy’s writing on her blog, and if you’re in the Pacific NW, she’ll be appearing at North City Bistro on August 6 with pianist Darin Clendenin. Her album, As the Fates Decide, is available on PonyBoy Records.