I recently had the honour of interviewing Guida de Palma for Jazz FM. Guida is the force behind the band Jazzinho and has collaborated with prestigious artists from all over the world, most recently with the legendary Leon Ware. Let me introduce you to the wonderful Guida and Jazzinho…
I understand you were born in Portugal, classically trained and were only 16 when Jaco Pastorius joined you on stage during one of your very first gigs in Paris. That sounds very exciting – what did that feel like?
I was born in Setubal in Portugal and moved to Paris to study but started to gravitate towards the music world. I found myself being offered a few gigs at a Jazz Club called The Sunset, and there is where Jaco Pastorius came for three nights in a row when I was playing, and it was just an amazing experience; he was an incredible man. I sang with him on stage for the three nights and afterwards we chatted at the bar.
I have this image in my mind; I was playing and then I see Jaco Pastorius coming towards me and grabbing the bass from my bass player… everyone was gob smacked! I still have a tape somewhere as we were recording that night, and a friend of mine was there taking photographs. You can hear me on the mic saying ‘Ladies and Gentleman, Jacob Pastorius is coming towards me, oh he is going towards my bassist, he is grabbing his bass, he is PLAYING it!’. It was incredible.
What first brought you to the UK? What were your first impressions and where did you live?
When I was in France I was already singing professionally. There was a band called Heaven 17, who were recording music for a film. I went there to demonstrate to the classically trained singer how to sing a classical piece a little more soulfully. Martin Ware then invited me to sing on the British Electric Foundation [BEF] compilation in London. That was my reason to move to England really. I was based in London and always have been. My first flat was in Queens Park and I stayed there throughout really. A lovely part of London.
In 1991 you featured on BEF’s Music of Quality and Distinction Volume 2, alongside Terence Trent D’Arby, Lalah Hathaway and Mavis Staples to name a few. What was this experience like?
It felt incredible because at that time Terence Trent D’Arby was really going very strong and Tina Turner too. To be on the same compilation at the same time as them was incredible. Unfortunately we were not at the studio at the same time but just knowing I was part of that compilation was a great honour, and I will be forever thankful to Martin Ware for having thought of me to be part of it. It was a great album and a wonderful experience.
I love Terence Trent D’Arby, one of my favourite songs is Holding On To You.
You are described as the force behind your band Jazzinho. How did the concept come together and where was the album made?
I am the only one of the band not based in the UK! The rest of the band are British; it is like an all-star dream team. You have Ian Thomas on Drums, Laurence Cottle on Bass, John Parricelli on Guitar, Thomas Dyani on Percussion, and Gareth Lockrane on Flutes. Martyn Shaw on flugel horn and also Femi Temowo who came to do a solo and play on one song. They are all amazing! Graham Harvey produced the album.
At my gig at Rich Mix on Friday 28 February, on stage we will have Richard Bailey from Incognito on Drums, Julian Crampton on Bass, and on Guitar the incredible Jim Mullen – aren’t I lucky! Graham Harvey will be with me on stage too. The part that we did in Portugal, and the only part that is based outside the UK, is the strings. It was the Philharmonic Strings section of the Lisbon International Symphony Orchestra, from the National Opera, and we recorded it here under a master conductor called Pedro Amaral. That was also an amazing experience and it brought tears to my eyes.
The musicians you play with come from a variety of backgrounds and have played extensively with other artists such as Clapton, Winehouse, Incognito and the Brand New Heavies. I can only imagine the stories and anecdotes they have to tell!
Yes! Anecdotes come up as these are people who have a lot of humour and such a long experience of life, mixed with the playing, and there are a lot of amazing stories to tell. So, I am sure if we had the occasion of getting all together it would make an interesting programme!
It would make a great documentary!
That is a great idea actually!
What is the best venue that you and Jazzinho have played at, and why?
I love the Jazz Cafe in London and I am really looking forward to playing at Rich Mix too. In Lisbon we also did Rock in Rio so that was quite a good venue! We have played New York, Chicago, and The Montreal International Jazz Festival in Canada. I am looking forward to going to Japan which we have not played yet.
Your third studio album, VELUDO is currently No 5 in the UK Soul Chart – congratulations! Have you toasted your success?
Yes! With champagne – it is not very original but that is enough for me! I am so surprised because of all of the other names in the chart; at some point I was just under Lalah Hathaway who I love, and I thought, this is the best position to be in! Being in the Top 5 from the Top 30 UK Soul Chart is a great honour and I am really over the moon with that.
Can you tell me more about the background to making the album and what your inspiration was?
What kickstarted the album was the duet with Leon Ware – A Seed in You. Singing that song with that amazing African-American singer / songwriter / musician extraordinaire since at least six decades, well it is amazing. That definitely motivated me to write more and to want to more.
After the duet, we thought about the songs we had already done with a friend of mine here in Portugal and we contacted Graham Harvey because we love what he does and love his sound. He also had a few songs he wanted to co-write with me, so we had all of that in common. We wanted to have a song-based album – each song with a beginning, a middle and an end and all arranged, and to make it sound souly, jazzy and with a symphonic sound with strings.
We did the rhythm sections at Clowns Pocket Recording Studio with Derek Nash, an amazing recording sound engineer. We started off with four tunes, then afterwards we did crowd funding and we thought we could have eight tunes instead of four. After that we managed to get financing to finish off another four rhythm sections and then we thought, ‘why not do it big’, and go the full shebang and use a real string orchestra! All of a sudden we had another thirty people to pay so we were really broke, but we are really happy and really proud of this amazing album! Because there was no sampling involved, it was all a labour of love from everybody – from the producers to the musicians to the mixing (Richard Bull) and to the persons who did the graphics and the cover.
The cover was designed by Todd Marrone, a street artist from Philadelphia. Unfortunately he passed away this Christmas and is survived by his lovely and courageous wife and their two young children. He was a very young man, a brilliant man and gave talks on TED. There is a silent auction taking place at the end of March with his art work to help his family.
The album uses each person’s artistry at its best to suit my music, and so I am very proud of this album.
Your Manager and Executive Producer Stephan Chalangeas Lauwereis (Stef) described the album as ‘a labour of love’.
Absolutely. Stef is my partner in crime and in life! Another labour of love was the digital mastering. It was mastered by Pauler Acoustics, the last company in the world doing Direct Metal Mastering. They were doing it the same way as they do it for the philharmonic orchestras so it is very precise and very minuscule. It is all very specific and you have to be very good at it, as you only get one try! It was really was an amazing experience.
You appealed to fans through a crowd funding internet campaign to get the album made. Was this the first time you’d chosen to make an album in this way and do you see this as the future of production?
Yes, I do think that because basically artists are poor but they still have ideas. Even if you have the equipment to record music, at home or in a basic studio, you always need financing. Very few record companies exist and if they do, they do not have the same means as before. Many artists decide to put their music out there, directly to the people and with YouTube and the Internet they do have the technical means to do it. You obviously still need money to do the financing and the promoting and you need help!
Yes. It is about appealing to real music lovers, people who genuinely love music and want to hear good music being made.
Absolutely. It is a specialist thing, but even Spike Lee is doing it now!
Yes, when I used to live in London I listened a lot! I started working with them because Chris Philips heard the duet with Leon Ware (A Seed In You) and began pushing the album. He chose it as Record of the Week and tweeted about it – that was amazing for us! He is such an idol of mine; a wonderful music DJ. These people have a passion for their music, they are pushing it and educating the masses – and I love that. They have no constraints; they play the music they want to play and people love them for it.
Yes, it is a tireless passion. Chris Philips was a legend when I was younger and he still is for me now!
Yes, they are still on top of their game and still miles ahead.
Last summer I went to the inaugural Love Supreme Festival and have my 2014 tickets. Do you play at festivals, and is this something you enjoy doing yourself?
Yes, I love playing at festivals. I think the format is amazing, because people come for one day or for three days. With Jazz FM organising a festival you know it is going to be all incredible. So yes, I will be purchasing my tickets to go there too.
Brilliant… will see you at the bar! You have a rich and extensive discography, featuring your own material and collaborations with other artists. Do you have a favourite song in your own discography that you really like to perform?
It is always my new baby; my new album but obviously I love of all of them. It is a really difficult question for me as all the songs I do are a labour of love. I spend a lot of time doing the music, doing the lyrics, and so it is very difficult for me to pick up truly a winner!
I am looking forward to hearing Jazzinho live at Rich Mix. What does playing live in London mean to you?
It means a lot because it means that what is the heart of music, at least for Europe if not the world, wants me there and wants me as part of their scene. This is the town where everybody from the entire world wants to play and now they want me there too. I will be playing for the kind of audience which is educated, vibrant and exciting. You guys are curious. I am very honoured and very flattered, and really excited.
You shared the band line up earlier and also hinted on your blog we can expect a few surprises on the night. Can you give us a clue?
I am hoping that we will have a big surprise and it will be somebody that will come to sing with me on stage. That would be really big and really exciting, but obviously I cannot reveal too much!
Is there anything else you wanted to say about working with Graham Harvey, Richard Bailey, Julian Crampton and Jim Mullen?
Jim Mullen already played on my previous album, Atlas, produced by Ed Motta, and so we got him one morning to do a couple of songs. He listened to them just once and produced his magic. I was in such awe of him that when we thought we could get him for this new album and with us on stage, we jumped at the chance. We couldn’t be more pleased; he is such an amazing musician and a great guy.
Graham Harvey had played on the previous album too. He was a musician and I loved his playing. He stayed on our minds – mine and Stef’s. When we were looking for somebody to produce our new album, we thought of him. He has done great music studies and he knows not only how to write but to arrange. He is a genius and a lovely man too so when he accepted and was really excited, we thought that was great. Great musicians were saying yes to this project so that was really encouraging.
On Twitter, you describe yourself as ‘ a mother, a singer, a teacher and a sinner – you play your music in the sun’.
Yes, that is what I do. I sing a little bit, then I do the cooking, then I sing a bit more, then I take the dog out!
How do you balance all of these important roles, that can take you across the globe, and how do you relax?
They can be very long days but then on the other hand, health wise I am quite reasonable. I suppose that I am like a cat – I have lived some of my lives, but I guess that I still have some more to live!
You’ve also been described as a free spirit. What does this mean to you?
I have always been independent, I do not know what it is like to work for a company from 9-5. I have been very lucky in my life as I have been able to do what I have wanted to do. That is something I would advise everyone – if you really like something go for it! The most important thing is to be happy in your life – doing what you love doing.
You quoted that your musical inspirations have included Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan and Ed Motta. Is there anyone else you would like to meet or collaborate with?
There are loads of people who I would love to meet. I would love to meet Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan. There are so many wonderful musicians in the world! I would also love to work with Dianne Reeves, Lalah Hathaway and Gregory Porter and to try and make music with them. Between musicians, that is our language and how we communicate with each other.
What other styles of genres or music do you take inspiration from?
I am inspired by Brazilian music so I listen to a lot of that. I am also inspired by Jazz and by classical. I love to listen to Maria Callas, and I also like Parveen Sultana, an Indian singer. I like really different styles but all of these things enrich and colour my musical world.
Is there a modern artist out there at the moment who has really caught your attention?
Yes, there is an English guy, a very young man, called Jacob Collier who is amazing. He is a multi-instrumentalist. He sings also and does all of his own arrangements. I discovered him as a friend posted something about him doing a cover on YouTube of Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing. If you look him up, he is out of this world. He really deserves to be up there with the greatest.
How are you planning to spend your time in London. How are you planning to relax around your gig?
Basically from the time we arrive to the time we leave, I am going to rehearse, then do the gig. The following day we are doing an album signing at Soul Brother Records in Putney – on the 1 March 2014 at 1.00 pm so please come and join us! After the show, we are planning to go to a jazz club, maybe to 606 Club.
Sounds like a perfect London day and night! Thank you Guida, it has been an absolute pleasure to speak with you. I wish you all the very best and look forward to seeing you on the 28th February at Rich Mix.
It was a pleasure talking to you Nicola, you are lovely. All the best. The pleasure was mine.