Fiona Ross Interviews....Wendy Kirkland

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Described as ‘one of the great unsung heroines of British Jazz’ I have great pleasure in presenting my interview with Wendy Kirkland. With a degree in Mechanical engineering, Wendy combined working in both music and engineering consultancy before the pull of music was too strong. She has been performing as a jazz pianist singer for over 15 years and has performed all over the UK. She released her debut album ‘Piano Divas’ in March 2017 explaining that she ‘wanted to create something that would celebrate the fabulous women of jazz throughout the decades and those who both sang and played piano, and this is my attempt to emulate and capture their performance and arranging skills’. The album has received rave reviews from many, including The Observer and The Sunday Times, and was featured here, on, The Jazz UK, as our album of the week.  

 

 

FR: Can you talk us through your background and what brought you to the place you are at now?

 

WK: I was obsessed by the piano as a toddler, there are many pictures of me sitting atop the piano stool pressing the keys, trying to be like my Dad who used to play piano and organ on the then thriving club circuit. I used to want to be on the stage and eventually got my wish singing ‘Feed The Birds’ from Mary Poppins at age 6 at The Red Lion, Stanedge, now The Peak Edge Hotel, where my Dad’s trio was resident. Mum paid for our piano lessons – my sister Laura and I used to take them together- and we worked through our grades. When I was 10, I had an audition for and won a scholarship from Derbyshire Music Services that paid for my lessons, so we moved to a highly respected teacher Mrs D I Hill. Around this time, Dad brought some transcriptions of Dave Brubeck’s albums Time Out and Time Further Out, which I sat and sight read. It blew my mind – while I had listened to Dad’s jazz piano albums by Nat King Cole and Roger Webb, I had never thought I could play that way. But, I thought, Dave Brubeck wasn’t reading the notes, he was improvising! I went to my teacher who couldn’t help me – she was classical through and through – but she did get me some Ravel to try.

The mystery was still unsolved – I had to decide between a degree in Music and one in Engineering. Being of North Midland stock, I was urged to get a ‘proper job’ and keep music as a hobby. I enjoyed my degree in Mechanical Engineering and my career as a Design Engineer, but the whole time I was still playing in bands, rehearsing, gigging and writing music for my own pleasure. Push came to shove and I decided that I couldn’t do both – music was too important. I began to work freelance in both music and engineering consultancy. Pretty soon the music took over. I began to attend Sheffield Jazz Workshops for adults wishing to hone their jazz skills, started my jazz trio and moved on from there. Workshops they have a finite life for those wanting to get on and gig, although there are folks who attend purely for the love of it, I saw it as a stepping stone, a means to an end. I met my husband Pat on a gig in Derby – he was depping for my usual guitarist who had suggested I book him. I never booked the usual guy again! Pat is supreme. He’s also a great bass player and we work together most of the time, although both of us get the odd separate job.

 

FR: Living and working as a musician, can be hard. What drives you to do what you do?

WK: The love of the music. It has to be, doesn’t it? If we didn’t love the music, we wouldn’t bother. It’s so badly paid for most people, work is dwindling; getting gigs these days, even with an excellent record, reviews, airplay etc. is akin to pulling teeth.

 

FR: It is well known that the Jazz Industry is male dominated although things do seem to be changing. What has your experience been?

 

WK: My experience is, I’m afraid, that it is male dominated. I’ve been told I have ‘a nice pianistic touch – for a lady’ and been pigeonholed as a singer or bandleader, but I’m not a singer, I’m a pianist singer. Who’s playing the keys then? At the same time as singing?? Can you do that??? I would have liked to say that things have changed throughout my career, but the comment I mention earlier was made only months ago.

I think there is a lot of support for women through funding in the arts, but this doesn’t change the attitude of some – basically, tradition that is to blame –an all-male band fronted by a female singer ‘looks’ right because of what we are all used to seeing, and an all-female band is seen as a gimmick. Personally, I feel a male/female mixture of musicians is more of a statement for equality. Luckily, the only men I work with relish being in a band with able female musicians – funnily enough, these are the top guys, it’s the mediocre guys who have the problem.

 

FR: Your twitter name is Jazz Kitten – how did you come up with that?

 

WK: It’s a daft nickname assigned to me by my husband – which is probably reflected by the fact that I love cats so much – we both do. At some point, there may be a comic strip – The Amazing Adventures of The Fabulous Jazz Kitten – or maybe not

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