Rachel Gould is an American jazz singer, now resident in the UK and the Netherlands having spent many years living in Holland. She formed her first quartet and toured in Europe in 1976, notably appearing with Chet Baker on ‘All Blues’ in 1978.
Since 1984, she has worked in Germany, Switzerland and The Hague as an esteemed lecturer in jazz voice, and has many albums to her name, the most recent being ‘A Tribute to Hoagy Carmichael’ with the Luigi Tessarolo Trio. Rachel is also an accomplished songwriter – both music and lyrics.
Read the interview with Rachel Gould (RG) by Paola Vera (PV).
PV – Hello Rachel, thank you for kindly taking the time to speak to us. We’d love to hear more about your current musical projects, what have you currently got in the pipeline?
RG – Several nice things. I’m playing some concerts in Holland with a new drumless quartet (voc, p, b and flugelhorn). There is also a big band project in Holland concentrating on music from the Mel Tormé –Marty Paiche collaboration. After several decades, I hope to return to Germany at the end of the year with a great tenor player and band. I’ll be returning to Italy as a guest soloist and teacher, and recording a new CD there. We’re planning some performances in Paris in early summer. Also I have a few dates at Ronnie Scott’s Upstairs: March 19th and May 14th.
PV – What inspires you? What are you currently really into at the moment?
RG – I’m feeling a bit like a sponge lately. I’m inspired by things large and small – especially sights and sounds of nature (there is a peahen who visits our garden regularly and whose calls are answered by the other birds), the grandeur of the sky and undiluted life of a seed, the music of speech and inflection of storytelling. What I’m into: I guess it’s directed listening, outside, inside.
PV – How does living in the UK suit you? What do you think about the state of the jazz scene in the UK at the moment? How does it compare to what you’ve experienced elsewhere?
RG – I’m afraid I’m not yet integrated into the UK scene. Apart from my long-time friend Renato D’Aiello, whom I know from way-back-when in Italy, I don’t really have contacts here. I live in a small village in Kent, making it difficult to hang in the City (I wouldn’t be able to get home!) I haven’t figured out yet how to meet this challenge.
PV – As a retired jazz lecturer who has devoted much of her life to teaching others, education must undoubtedly be of some significance to you – we would be fascinated to hear your insights into the relationship between being an educator and a performer… do you feel it has helped or hindered your creative life?
RG – Teaching, for me, takes up a lot of time and energy. There’s no sense in not doing it right. I’m very aware of what a student needs and do all I can to make them find it. (Simply giving it to them would be a sad and selfish choice for me.) Of course, this uses up, in a literal way, time and energy that could otherwise contribute to creative work (and play). However, time with students is also incredibly stimulating and rewarding. Creative problem-solving when teaching keeps creative juices flowing. I probably do my best creative work when there is no time for it!
For the first part of your question, comparing teaching and performing: – teaching calls for much more thinking and logic.
There is some creativity in teaching too, of course. Discovering solutions to difficulties, finding new ways to convey an idea or sound, movement etc. to a student, where previous ideas don’t work, and simply figuring out and explaining “why.”
I prefer to do as little “thinking” as possible when performing. The work has already been done in the practice room. On stage emotion drives the choices. The better prepared one is, the less thinking is necessary. But, of course, a bit of thinking is still needed – remembering a new arrangement or a new change of text, or even to calm one’s reaction to something unexpected (like an electrical malfunction, a musical mistake, the sky falling down).
PV – As a seasoned jazz vocalist, you have seen the landscape of the music evolve considerably in the last 40 years – do you have any advice to offer the new generation of singers trying to break through? Essential tips?
PV – I’m sure you get asked this all the time, what was it like working with Chet Baker? Can you tell us a bit about how that all came about? How do you feel about having worked with such a jazz legend?
RG – I was very lucky to have recorded with Chet Baker. I was young and not very experienced. I had met the producer at a Clark Terry Big Band concert and it was his idea to record us together. He was into numerology and determined we (him, Chet and me) were a good match! I was living in Germany at the time and drove with him to London for the session. It was all very exciting! Chet’s wife, Ruth, was there and she was a calming influence. I had brought the music and everything went very smoothly. Now it seems that I am the last singer alive to have recorded with Chet. Longevity’s advantage!
PV – Who has had the most influence on you musically? Who are your idols?
RG – I “discovered” jazz late, at age 21. For the first years I listened to Billie H, Sarah V. Betty C, Carmen M, Ella F non-stop. Later I discovered Mark M, Dakota Staton, Della Reese, Nancy Wilson, Dina W, Mel T and more. I also started listening to the great instrumentalists. I guess my favourite singers are Carmen M. and Shirley H. Their emphasis on harmony and text are wonderful. But there are so many great singers.
PV – There has been a lot of talk recently about women in jazz and the struggle to be heard as equals – do you have any opinions on this issue? How has your experience been?
RG – I think it is a bit different for female singers and female instrumentalists. Female singers are a tradition. Of course, often the singer in a band was “the dot on the i”, not very respectful! But each singer, female or male, has her or his own battle to be taken seriously by other musicians. When I was younger I sometimes made myself unattractive (lumberjack shirts and boots, raw onions etc.) so that band members would listen to the music and not approach me sexually. (It mostly worked!). I’m much older now, so the problem has disappeared. I can say #metoo. When I see women instrumentalists looking and acting tough, I get it. It takes time to find a healthy balance between sexuality and musical competence. And the more decently those male colleagues behave, the more relieved we are. The situation must still evolve (the fight isn’t over!)
PV – Do you have any performances coming up that we can tell our readers about?
RG – In the UK I have 2 dates coming up at Ronnie Scott’s Upstairs on March 19th and May 14th with tenor saxophonist Renato D’Aiello. For your readers in the rest of Europe – various gigs in France, Italy, Germany and Holland are planned but no final dates fixed as yet. I can only suggest that if interested they look at my (new) website RachelGould.net
Photo credits: Rachel Gould - and (c) info: all rights go to original recording artist/owner/photographer(s)
Interview by Paola Vera
YT Video: SoulonYourSide