All That Jazz
After 20 years in the music game, Claire Martin, the media billed "Madonna of British jazz" still has her feet planted firmly on the ground and her mind focused on the music. George R Vaughan met up with the singer at her home in Sussex in an exclusive interview for Women Talking.
The club was restless with anticipation as the supporting act wound up. Finally, the woman they had all come to see was about to make her entrance.
Smooth, sophisticated and with the crowd in the palm of her hand from the outset, Claire Martin glided onto the stage at Ronnie Scott’s and proceeded to entertain for an hour and a half with the voice, energy and swagger of an artist at the very top of her game.
It was the first time I had seen Claire Martin in concert. I had heard her and been impressed by her CDs but I believe the true test for any artist is a live performance. After all, with modern technology, even the Tweenies can release a hit single.
If anything, Claire Martin was even better live, simply because she is able to improvise and this is naturally where the real jazz performer truly comes into her own.
“It’s the reason I love jazz more than any other musical genre. It really allows you to inject a little of your own personality into a song and make it your own.”
Born in Wimbledon,
“I liked all kinds of music; I especially loved Judy Garland and by the time I was a teenager I had already learnt all her songs. But it was when I heard Ella Fitzgerald’s wonderful “Song Books” that my life ambition truly changed and I was inspired to go to stage school. “A little after that, when I was around 18, I saw Betty Carter perform at Ronnie Scott’s and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I knew there and then that I wanted to be a jazz singer.”
From here, she learnt her craft by singing in the QE2 Theatre Bar for several years, honing her talent before demanding audiences.
“It wasn’t like a traditional gig where you do your piece and then disappear into the night – whether you had a good show or a bad one. Here you were stuck on a luxury cruise liner with an audience you were still likely to bump into three days later so I think there was a little more pressure to get it right.”
Her real big break came in 1991 when Scottish jazz label Linn signed her and kicked off a creative collaboration still going strong today.
By the mid-nineties she had won Rising Star and Best Vocalist at the British Jazz Awards, while in the USA, the critics were raving about her American debut where she enjoyed four sell-out shows in Washington.
Claire is, however, a very unpretentious person and has never forgotten her roots or the importance of family.
“I come from a working class background and family is more important than anything. I have a 5 year old daughter and I made a pledge that I would never go away on tour for more than a week because I know how much I would miss her.”
Did Claire feel that being a woman and a mother in the music world played against her?
“Although I have never felt any personal discrimination because of my gender, it remains a sad fact that the jazz scene is still a male dominated environment. Most of the clubs are owned by men, a high percentage of the musicians are men and it’s regrettable that there doesn’t seem to be enough women coming through.”
Was that perhaps because jazz didn’t have the same appeal to young people?
“Quite the contrary. A significant proportion of my audience these days are in their late 20s and early 30s and a great deal of that “youthful” interest has been sparked by the likes of Jamie Cullen, who has made people see the vibrant and lively face of jazz. Because of this I am still hopeful that more young women will come through the ranks in time.”
With her latest album, out last year, receiving very positive reviews and some critics suggesting it was her best recording yet, is Claire currently at a place she is happy in or does the challenge of improvement still drive her?
“As an artist you have to fight against complacency because once you settle into a comfort zone I think a part of the creative process dies. I love my work and I always feel I can improve. I’m also fortunate that I present a jazz show on Radio 3 and this keeps me in the loop with who is out there and who is up and coming. It stops me from cocooning myself in my private bubble and losing touch with my craft.”
So how does Claire unwind, especially with a young daughter to raise?
“I love yoga. I’ve done it for the past 15 years and really enjoy it. I also took up tennis last year, which I do once a week and outside of that I like to just chill out with my little girl and my partner and watch a DVD and enjoy the odd glass of wine. “In today’s media obsessed society I think a lot of people believe success and fame mean that a celebrity’s life is just 24 hour parties and head-line grabbing antics. Speaking from my own modest situation, I don’t think it could be further from the truth.”
And what about the future? Were there any more children planned? What about her next album?
“As far as children go I think one is my limit. My daughter enjoys my full and exclusive attention when we are together and she has five hamsters, a cat and a shelf full of DVDs and books to keep her occupied. The nature of my work dictates that I am away in the evenings rather than days and now she is at school that makes our time even more precious. Having another child wouldn’t really be fair on any of us. “I have several tours lined up, including a gig in Italy in the summer which I will bring my daughter along to and I am planning on a new album for spring 2009, although we do intend to release a “Best Of” compilation some time later this year.” “The Doyenne of
This was just some of the critical praise lauded upon Claire Martin. It was comforting to discover – in a world of pampered Divas and industry manufactured pop idols – an artist who hadn’t lost her own identity beneath the dressings of fame and who was still able to see beyond the media circus.
“At the end of the day you can’t afford to ever forget that this is just a job. Don’t get me wrong - I love what I do – but the truth is that what makes me happy isn’t being famous; it’s being balanced. “I know I’m lucky that I can get up every morning and still look forward to going to work. But I am equally lucky after a long day to be able to come home to a daughter who means the world to me.”
For more information on Claire and her up coming performances check out her website at http://www.clairemartinjazz.com/ and be sure to enter our upcoming exclusive members’ competition, where you can win signed copies of Claire’s latest album – He Never Mentioned Love.
George R Vaughan