An Interview with Jess Abrams

Munich 1 B&W.jpgHello Jess, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I’m from New York City with Woodstock, Santa Fe, and occasionally a red van, in the mix (the perils of hippie parents!). Now I live in lovely Edinburgh.

When did you first realise you were musical?
I started performing as a child, so I don’t think I ever ‘realised’ as such, it’s just been a part of life as far back as I can remember. I would perform for family and the myriad of colourful characters hanging around our loft.

When did you first realise you could sing?
Again, no realisation as such. But the biggest influences were certainly the music I heard growing up. At my grandparents house I heard all the great big bands and musicals (West Side Story is a family favourite) and singers like Judy Garland, Ella etc. And with my mother it was Joni, Miles, Coltrane, Cat… I used to sing along to everything. I then started performing in musicals – loved it all!

What for you makes a good song?
First and foremost it’s the composition itself both melodically and harmonically. After that, and as importantly, it’s about well-written lyrics. For example, in the song ‘If I Should Lose You’ by Ralph Rainger there is a beautiful, poetic line: ‘With you beside me, a rose would bloom in the snow’. What a great line to get to sing (and mean-see below!).

What does Jess Abrams like to do when she’s not being musical?
Luckily, everything I do has something to do with music. I am a Music Practitioner running music workshops with young people who are at risk. I also teach part-time in the music and sound production Dept at Edinburgh College. Love it all! But when not working (I’m always ‘working’ but if I love it, why not?!), I’m with friends anf family (head back to Ny as often as possible).

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Can you tell us about your Edinburgh performances : where & when & what?
My show is called ‘A Love Letter to New York’ and it is truly a labour of love; especially in the current political climate the States are facing. It’s a love letter to a city that embraces diversity in all it’s glitz, glamour and grunge! I get to sing such a diverse set of tunes – from the 1920’s al the to the 70’s. Imagine getting to sing West Side Story tunes and Walk on the Wild Side in the same show?!

We play two more gigs in Edinburgh
14 & 28 August 7pm
AT The Jazz Bar, Chambers Street (venue 57)
(tickets at the Fringe box office

Who is your in band & what do the play?
Huw Rees on Piano
Tom Lyne on Double Bass
Doug Hough on Drums
and for the first time, I am working with strings!
Kate Miguda on Violin
Pete Harvey on Cello

You have an extremely eclectic range of materials. How did this come about?
That’s easy – an eclectic upbringing! And I’m open to taking from all genre’s (see the storytelling question). Teenhood was spent hanging out on the lower east side in NYC in the Hardcore scene (CBGB’s was a second home!) so from the grandparents and hippie parents to friends and scenes there is wonderful (and meaningful) music to be found – check out ‘Hungry Wolf’ my version of a tune by ‘X’.

What are the keystones to good storytelling?
For me it’s about authenticity. To really mean what I’m singing. With that in mind, I only choose material that has meaning to me. When I sing ‘with you beside me, a rose would bloom in the snow’ I think of my niece Phoebe and I standing in the snow seeing a pink (her favourite colour!)rose in full bloom. Every song must be relatable and something I’m willing to share from a very honest place on stage. Sharing an honest musical journey with an audience is such a rich and fulfilling thing to get to do!

While the festival is in town, are there any musicians in particular that you would like to catch?
There is SO much to see, I’m always overwhelmed by it!
-Heading to Bitches brew on 20th August
– The ever wonderful Barbara Morrison – one of my true musical hero’s – a truly authentic and joyful performer!
– Darling Monologues by the wonderful Angela Jackson (not musical, but words ARE music right?!)

What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Jess Abrams?
Besides various musical projects, teaching and working with young people making music, I’m heading to Japan in October – my first time and I’m extremely excited. AND… of course I’m planning to tour the Love Letter show!

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