Phyllis Blandford: A Traditional Jazz Singer in a Modern World
Upon first hearing Phyllis Blanford’s new album Edgewalker, the love of jazz was firmly planted within my musical portfolio. It’s an album that blends traditional musical collaborations with the storytelling attributes of a modern woman. I’m not versed in the world of jazz, but the way that Blanford unfolds her songs, it didn’t matter, for she became my guide through the music.
This genre of music was now inspirational to me, and I had to find out more. I was granted the delightful opportunity to chat with Blanford about her new album and how she was able to take a musical form rich in history and somehow make it her own.
Jazz is a complicated musical genre in which all the instruments blend together while keeping their own beat. It’s as if they are vignettes joined together to form one desire, and if you were lucky you had a soulful singer to hold your hand as you took a journey with the music. Edgewalker has all of these elements, but what was most impressive to me was that Blanford was able to embrace this traditional world yet find a way to also sing towards the women, empowering them as individuals.
“Empowering women is very important to me. Quite a few traditional jazz standards are about longing and unrequited love, but Carmen Lundy (Blue Woman) and Abbey Lincoln (Throw It Away) have written songs that empower everyone,” Blanford adds. “So I've consciously chosen to sing their songs and they have unconsciously inspired me to write about empowerment.”
The way she was able to take these important songs and fuse them seamlessly with a band made each one of her songs surge with electricity. There was a camaraderie that burst through the speakers that made the listener feel comfortable, as if they were listening to a group of old friends organically creating music as the inspiration struck. In a day and age when music can be over produced, this album was a nice change.
“Believe it or not I'd never worked with any of these musicians prior to the creation of Edgewalker but I was familiar with all of their work. The camaraderie you hear on the CD was created through love and respect,” Blanford explains.
This piece of information was exciting. It truly shows that if you have the pleasure of finding like-minded creative souls, the amount of time spent together doesn’t have to effect the outcome. The shared energy between this group created a grounded sense of calm, and they became the friends you retreat to after a long day. If such a work of art can be made with limited time together, one can only hope they continue to work together, for future albums would be magnificent.
The aspect of the limited time that Blanford and her band spent together quickly turned into an inquiry about the writing process. As a writer, I know that inspiration comes in many forms and from many different directions. It becomes intriguing, then, to think that the art project in and over itself that is a collection of instruments, that the writing process must have been a journey like no other.
“I’m not a musicians musician so I write the lyrics first and then I find the right arranger to help me bring the story to dramatic and musical life,” Blanford says.
The easy between the songstress and the musicians is another example of how an instant attraction with soulful equals can produce magic. The lyrics and music compliment each other so well it’s hard to imagine that the songs were created in phases. They blend so well together, that the album becomes a story that you didn’t realize needed to be told.
The listener can easily lose themselves within the music, the chaotic beauty that is jazz. Whether the music is the centerpiece of the day, or the soundtrack to a moment, Edgewalker flows together. This arrangement, like the music itself, was influenced and guided by other like-minded collaborators.
“My vocal coach and producer Kate Baker had a great deal to do with the choice of songs. Her motto is don't record anything you haven't sung a hundred times live,” Blanford explains.
A motto of comfort and love, but one which also lives throughout the album. It signifies that even through chaos and strength in self, that respect can be found and produced through collaboration. Like jazz, life is full of random moments that come together to form something important. Life is where people from different backgrounds and circumstance can meld into something beautiful.
“Jazz is born out of the ‘work song’ which led to the ‘spirit song’ which led us to blues, and jazz is born,” Blanford adds. “I’m still training and will be for the rest of my life. That's the journey of jazz and it's BEAUTIFUL!”
Edgewater is now available where CD are sold. For more information on Phyllis Blanford, please go to her website.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Chic Exes