If you've been reading this blog and going through the posts, you've probably noticed I've interviewed a lot of musicians. I don't know how many, probably less than a hundred and more than fifty, but the point is that when it comes to talking to artists about what they do, I have plenty of experience.
This means that I don't have to interview artists that are new on the scene. I could interview Lady Gaga or Maroon 5 or Blink 182 and they'd probably be happy to talk to me. I'm obviously a pro, but those artists are so gigantic that when you email their press reps, they generally never email you back. Those people have plenty of press, they don't need me.
Which is cool because interviewing really awesome, massively popular artists and bands is kind of a drag. Those people fill up stadiums all around the world, and their daily struggles are more about where to bank with their millions, how hard it is to stay in a penthouse suite at the Hilton, and what it's like to never go out in public and really enjoy yourself with some measure of privacy again.
I'm not saying super duper popular artists are boring to interview, but they generally are extremely occupied with staying on top, and saying the wrong thing could ruin their career. As a result, interviewing those artists can feel like talking to an artificial intelligence computer program in that their answers are measured, non-controversial and perfectly selected to please precise middle of their demographic.
New artists, in contrast, have stories to tell. They are excited. They are going up. These artists tend to be more open to talking about the hard times as well as the good moments, without sounding like a commercial. Let's face it, people working their way up still have stories to tell. The people at top tend to have no more new stories to tell.
That's not to put down the super duper popular types, hey, Rolling Stone has to put someone on their cover, but I'm always going to prefer the fighting dogs of music who are still rocking the streets, compared to the pampered penthouse A-list types who are obviously possessed of genius talent, but end up being so famous and so successful that they can't really talk to anyone about what it's really like to be where they are.
Don't get me wrong, I'll interview anyone, especially the A-listers, but artists who are moving up are just easier to talk to, which also makes them easier to write about....
Jazz is an American tradition that conjures up swank, smoke-filled nightclubs and black-garbed, inebriated beatniks, snapping their fingers and keeping it groovy. But beyond the Beat Generation jazz was an art that began with African-American artists from the Deep South who combined traditional beats with deft instrumentals and soul-stirring, improvisational rhythms.
Nearly a hundred years after Earl Kenneth Hines refined jazz piano and helped bring about bebop, the genre is alive and flourishes in the voice of Nichole Preuss and the music she performs at the Hip Kitty in downtown Claremont.
For Preuss, music is in the blood. “My father and mother were both musicians,” she says. “My father is still a working musician in Las Vegas. He’s more into funk and R&B. My mother loved jazz, but she ended up playing a lot more rock music during the ’70s. My uncles were in the band with her but they didn’t really like jazz as much. My mother is really the one that got me into jazz, though.”
Nichole Preuss started playing professionally six years ago, and is a regular performer at swank establishments like the Hip Kitty or Steamers Jazz Club and Café in Fullerton. What’s the secret of her style? “If an artist truly loves the music, they know how to improvise and be themselves. You have to be able to let it flow,” she says.
Improvisation is a key factor, but any jazz musician will tell you that the subtle art isn’t for people who crave loud guitar solos and booming drums. “Jazz is sophisticated. You have to have a lot of skill to play it. You also have to really know your instrument. Some rock and roll artists play chords, but jazz musicians play notes,” she says.
Her premier album, Caravan, is a combination of old and new. Named after a song on the album by the same name, the LP is the kind of crooning magic you’d expect to hear playing out of a juke joint decades ago, miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line being performed right now by a woman in love with the art today.
Preuss noticed during her many performances that “Caravan” was the one track that moved people the most. “I just love it . . . that song is my favorite one to jam, too. People would always call that one out for me to play when I would perform.”
Nat King Cole is a legend amongst jazz musicians, and Preuss has performed many of his songs live. “He worked with so many artists in his day. I listened to him so much when I was a kid. There was something so mesmerizing about his voice, his timing and his style.”
The Hip Kitty is a beautiful, dark jazz joint perfectly designed for the genre, and Preuss has been playing there since the place opened years ago. Does having the right atmosphere help her performance? “The environment definitely helps,” Preuss says. “The ultimate spot is a place that doesn’t have loud talking or anything else that interferes with the performance. Even smaller, more intimate places are awesome as long as people are there to listen to the music”