The following is my second 3 page spread in the September issue of B’Jazz magazine – South Africa’s Quintessential Jazz Mag. Enjoy!
Singer, composer and lyricist Melanie Scholtz is one of South Africa’s most prolific young jazz artists, having been the recipient of many awards, including the Old Mutual Jazz Encounters award for best jazz vocalist (2002) and the Standard Bank Young Artist Award (2010). More recently, she won all three prizes at the 2012 Jazz a Juan Festival’s Jazz Revelations competition in Nice, France. As testament to her talent as a high level jazz technician, she also recently shared once in a lifetime impromptu performances with legendary jazz vocalists Bobby McFerrin and Kurt Elling.
In addition, she has worked with a large number of South Africa’s top jazz performers including Sibongile Khumalo, Jimmy Dludlu, Marcus Wyatt, Kesivan Naidoo, Mark Fransman, Ayanda Sikade, Bokani Dyer, Shane Cooper and Goldfish.
Her style is characterised as a mix of old and new, which embraces the nostalgia and tradition of straight ahead jazz with modern forms like soul, hip hop and funk.
Scholtz has released three albums to date – Zillion Miles (2006), Connected (2010) and Living Standards (2010) and she will launch two new albums this year:
‘Freedom’s Child – Melanie Scholtz sings James Matthews’ – will be released at Artscape in Cape Town on 18 September as part of the heritage month celebrations, and her new solo effort ‘Our Time’ will be released at the end of October.
B’Jazz talked to Scholtz about her life, music and what it means to be a woman in the jazz industry.
1. Who are your musical influences?
My musical influences of late come from the wonderful musicians I work, tour and record with. Artists like Bokani Dyer, Mark Fransman, Jo Skaansar, Shane Cooper, Kissingwa Mbouta, Martin Sjostedt and Ayanda Sikade. I’m also working with artists outside of my genre like Jitsvinger, Zanne Stapelberg and literary icon James Matthews. I am also really lucky to work with many of South Africa’s rising stars Benjamin Jephta, Marlon Witbooi, Siya Charles, James McClure and Justin Bellairs. Of course, being a jazz musician, I cannot escape the influence of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, Abby Lincoln, John Coltrane, Kurt Elling, Bobby McFerrin, Stanley Turrentine, Miriam Makeba, Sibongile Khumalo, Jimmy Dludlu, Richard Schilder and many other amazing artists outside of the jazz genre that continue to influence and permeate my music on a daily basis.
I learnt so much from doing an Opera Diploma in terms of being a holistic performer and there is a definite theatre animal part of my persona. Opera gave me control, technique, consciousness of vocal health and work ethic and a sense of theatre. Jazz however, came to be by accident. My Dad introduced me to jazz through many amazing albums and copious cups of coffee as a 14 year old. So through listening I became more familiar with the style and I was so drawn to the individuality as well as this amazing sense of freedom that comes with jazz. The possibilities exist to follow your innate, intuitive creative compass.
3. In your career, you’ve garnered so many accolades, what keeps you rooted/humbled?
My family, my friends and the fact that my gift comes directly from a power higher than myself.
4. You are skilled as a singer, composer and lyricist – of the three, which one comes most naturally to you and why?
I think what comes naturally to me is to sing, to intone and make sound. It feels as natural as breathing to me to sing especially jazz – almost as though I was born in a different time.
5. What was it like to perform alongside legends Kurt Elling and Bobby McFerrin, would you say that these were career highlights?
These were definitely career highlights for sure and just incredibly humbling experiences. These are Jazz Idols to us as jazz musicians and just to be in their presence was inspiring. You also realise that they are just human too, who have worked hard and respected their gift and that leaves you very inspired and in awe.
6. What was your collaborative effort with poet James Matthews like and how is this different from your previous albums?
My collaboration with poet James Matthews came out so special and beautiful. The energy on the album is so unique and I am so excited to launch the album and for everyone to hear it. It’s very different from my previous albums as I was only the composer and not the lyricist. To set music to someone else’s poems, especially someone as unique and iconic as James Matthews, felt like a huge mantle to wear sometimes. I am definitely a stronger musician and a better person because of this collaboration.
7. Coming from a South African background, in your experience – how does the international jazz scene differ from the South African one?
International jazz differs a little bit in that you have in some countries a more modern version or expression of the jazz idiom like in Norway, Holland and Germany – whereas in France and Sweden, you have much more of a straight ahead standard jazz/traditional jazz scene. In South Africa of course we have a standard jazz culture as well as a mixture of (South) African music and jazz which makes us very unique as a jazz culture in the world.
8. When did you know you wanted to be an artist? Was your career choice met with any resistance?
I think I was 5 years old when I said I wanted to be a singer. My Mom was a bit apprehensive because she thought that industry was very tough and dangerous. So she was a bit concerned yet supportive. She’s my biggest fan!
9. Do you find that being a woman in the jazz industry comes with more challenges?
Sometimes, but only when you expect to be treated differently. When you make sure that you work hard and remain focused and when you are good at what you do, this doesn’t even come into play.
10. Great women inspire great women. Who inspired (s) you?
My Mom, my aunts, some of the female artists I work with and my manager Mandisa.
Work hard, music should be a big part of your life so a practice regime is essential. The voice is portable – that’s what Bobby McFerrin told the audience when asked about how he keeps in shape. Listen to music as much as possible. Jazz is an aural art form. Look after yourself. Your body is your instrument. Sleep and a good diet is essential. Respect yourself, other musicians and the music. Leave your ego at the door.
To find out more about Melanie Scholtz, visit www.melaniescholtz.com or keep up with her on Facebook, Twitter and Reverbnation.