“I can’t remember a specific moment when I decided to become a singer, but I do know that I have always had an emotional connection with music and sound. From a very young age I remember sounds could affect me deeply, and music in church or even an advert could make me cry or make me ecstatically happy.
“My earliest musical experiences came from the joy of dancing, I absolutely loved dancing. I come from a big family and there were always lively family gatherings where music was an integral part of the proceedings and we would dance and generally have a good time. The first time I went to Jamaica I was five years old and my grandmother would play this LP of reggae Christian music which I loved to dance around her house to. She lived in the country, in the hills, and I would hear music constantly, from the sound systems at the side of the road every night to church on Sunday.
“At home there was a lot of reggae being played, artists such as John Holt, Bob Marley and Gregory Isaacs. I’m still a big fan of reggae and it’s something I really associate with my family and with good times. I also remember I would go to my aunt’s house to spend time with her and she had a few LPs. I found the Michael Jackson LP Off the Wall and I would listen to it again and again, I would read the lyrics and learn them, and really just get entranced with the emotional journey of the album.
“Later I found an LP in my dad’s collection, Patti Austin’s The Real Me which is a jazz album. I would listen to this constantly at home. I remember I was the DJ at one of my mum’s parties, I was playing great tunes, everyone was dancing, and then I put on a track from this album. I can tell you that Patti Austin did not go down well after a bit of reggae! They did not appreciate it at all.
“When I was about seven or eight, my uncle used to send me cassettes in the post that usually had Michael Jackson on one side and Luther Vandross on the other, or some rare groove compilation. I would listen to these tapes every night to help me sleep, much to the distress of my sister who I shared a room with.
“I began singing at the age of 11 when I started writing songs. At 16 I got into the BRIT School of Performing Arts to study Musical Theatre, that was when I fell in love with jazz standards, but it wasn’t until my university days that I made the link between musicals and jazz vocal standards as many were originally from musicals. Initially my way in with jazz was with the vocalists Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, a little bit of Ella Fitzgerald and over time I have explored the instrumentalists, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis, to name a few of my favourites. It was the album Cannonball Adderley did with Nancy Wilson that got me interested in listening to instrumental jazz as it’s half vocal and half instrumental.
“Somewhere along the line I fell in love with Nina Simone. I remember I heard Wild Is The Wind in a film, and that drove me to seek out her music. The tone of her voice and the emotion she portrays is what captured me the most. Also the way she conveyed the stories in her songs is a true inspiration for me. My emotional connection to sound has always been my driving force, and will continue to be so.”
Thanks to Zara McFarlane for the latest in our series of artist blogs. Her debut album Until Tomorrow is out now on Brownswood Recordings and mentioned as a “notable debut” in Jazzwise magazine’s ‘Albums of the Year 2011′ feature in their latest issue. Catch Zara performing live at London’s Floripa in Shoreditch on 6th December 2011.