Esther Bennett in conversation with: Lara Eidi

Written by | Artists, News, Women in Jazz Media

Lara Eidi is a multi – disciplinary artist, singer songwriter, storyteller and jazz musician currently meandering between London and Athens.  She’s performed since a young age in her hometown of Athens having started her early training at Odeo Kodaly, both as a singer and pianist and shortly after touring with her own music across Europe and the Middle East she moved to London and obtained her MMus in Jazz Voice at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Since then, she’s performed and collaborated with a host of established musicians, often culminating in a blend of her love of the simplify and beauty of folk music, to the creative freedom jazz has to offer. Truly a world citizen, rather than draw on influences distinctly from her multi-cultural background, she draws on her life experience to create songs which seek to elevate, heal and connect with audiences and listeners alike. A passionate believer in the higher power of music, she is proud to return to London for a series of performances and workshops, debuting material from her trio’s EP: Look To The Horizon, a collection of originals out December 2021 with pianist Naadia Sheriff and bassist Dave Manington.

Esther Bennett by Piotr Syrek

As part of our short series, we invited team member and fellow jazz artist, Esther Bennett to put five questions to some of the artists performing at this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival as part of our Women in Jazz Media event at Toulouse Lautrec.

What does music and being a musical Artist mean to you?

Music is breath; Music is meaning; Music is healing. All those things make an artist, and if it’s coming from a place of complete truth and intent, it can truly be one of the most transcendental experiences.  I find that whenever I’m lost, I turn to music, or quite the opposite, whenever I need to give thanks for a magical moment, I turn to music. I find that becoming an artist is about listening to that inner voice, from above, from a deeply inspiring essence- all we have to do is listen to it and be guided by it.  Often times of course music has a way of re-shifting and re- shaping the way I feel about life in general, so as a result being an artist sometimes feels synonymous with being a human being. I’m now certain that this is the case for myself and so many. It’s our way of making sense of the world, for us and for others. I really am grateful to have music.

Photo by Albert Palen

What musical influences and experiences do you think shaped the artist you are today?

Can I say everything? Well, I remember sitting in front of the TV, transfixed by a taped videocassette of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. That initial experience of just listening to that wondrous movement moved me, at 5 years old.  5 Years later I remember being on stage for the National Youth Choir of Athens in a production of Bizet’s Carmen, and feeling like the stage was the exact replica of how I felt being immersed in music in performance. From then on, I was bouncing between two musical worlds: the classical, piano world where I truly fell in love with the likes of Chopin, Debussy, Bach and the Folk-Rock world (inspired by my parent’s CD’s) of Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills and Nash, Jethro Tull. That was at age 13. I think the lyrics and soundscapes of those artists made sense to me, to the point where I felt I was born in the wrong era. Years later, when I turned 21, I heard the first record of Jazz in its entirety, Joe Pass and Ella Fitzgerald. That’s something that inspired me to actively seek duo collaborations – there was so much power in just two musicians bearing all for the world to hear. Finally, I think what completed the mega- inspiring pack of musical experiences was Barbara Streisand’s voice. She never claimed to fit into anyone’s musical box, and to this day she continues to inspire me to do just that. A highlight for me was getting to sing ‘Evergreen’ from her as a guest with Ian Shaw, at his gig, who invited me to guest with him after a lesson whilst a student at the Guildhall School of Music. I was in musical heaven that night! Finally, the first time I travelled to Lebanon to perform (my country of origin), I was playing with my collaborator Stavros Parginos to a crowd at the ancient Roman Baths in Beirut. Before the concert I had listened to a few songs from Fairuz, and I realised that it had taken me a while to go back to my roots, so that extra layer pushed me to try and incorporate that into my music. That was defined in two experiences: composing an arabic-indie maqam inspired piece whilst in a small band ensemble with Yazz Ahmed called the ‘Sailor’. I realised the power of my roots when performing and given the reaction from the crowd, I felt compelled to hone all my musical influences. Lastly, putting together a mega production of my original music culminating 7 years in London, from everything to the music, arrangements, ticket sales, promotion and what have you. It was premiered at Christ Church in Highbury and the evening was called ‘Home’ together with my trio Dave Manington (Bass) and Naadia Sheriff (piano, accordion) with loads of wonderful rising stars of the jazz and folk world, including Charlotte Keefe. I knew in that moment I had finally found ‘home’ within the literal and musical sense, ever changing in nature but a constant in embodiment.

What non-musical influences and experiences do you think shaped the artist you are today?

A great question! A few moments stick with me, and I always turn to how I felt during that time to remind me of why making music was the right path. Losing my grandfather, Gedo and my grandmother Laila, had a profound effect on me. From my Gedo I learned about believing in dreams, and my grandmother, about resilience. I often remember them when at times (and there were many) I was unsure of my path. I remembered how my Gedo survived two wars before emigrating to Greece, and still kept a smile on his face. I remember how he encouraged me to sing and write, where we would engage in Sunday post lunch conversations of the sort. Thanks to Laila, I often look at pictures of her as a dancer and feel connected to her artistic soul in a way that empowers me to move forward and trust that voice that compels me to create. The second experience was very recent, and quite intense: during the lockdown, I relocated to Athens (where I was born and raised), and both my parents fell gravely ill one after the other. I became a kind of caregiver, and for those 6 months , as I watched them heal , I kept thinking to myself that we can really get caught in the trivialities of life- this is the real stuff, it is what makes us connected, loved and supported. I feel grateful that it inspired me to re-think my role as an artist, to being almost synonymous with the role of a person who unquestionably seeks to connect with those who need it the most. This is truly the power of music, for me at least.

What do you think is important about the existence and work of Women in Jazz Media and how do you think it will affect and benefit the jazz world?

Photo by Natalia Manoura

Gosh, I could write a whole bunch of answers to this one, but I’ll try and narrow it down! Simply put, it’s not just a platform or media network: it’s a community of women giving voice to those unheard stories, experiences and narratives. I was introduced to WIJM through my friend and colleague singer Georgia Mancio who graciously encouraged me to pursue my journalistic interest with WIJM. When I met Fiona Ross , founder of WIJM (albeit on Zoom world) it was then that I realised this was more than a platform for female writers: it supported so many artists, and embodied the ‘pay it forward’ affect by encouraging people who joined it to suggest writers, artists, etc. and to share their passion and work. All of that, by the way, is something that is incredibly hard to achieve, and it’s very clear that the team do it because they care about the music world, with a focus on jazz. With that said, I believe that WIJM has the potential to shed light on the fact that the Jazz Umbrella can host so many female artists; making everyone feel seen and heard. I have yet to see another community which does that, and I feel extremely honoured to be part of it.

What are you going to be performing at the EFG London Jazz festival night?

Together with my long-time collaborator, pianist and composer Naadia Sheriff, I am going to be performing a very varied set of both original material and arrangements of songwriters. The original work stems from as far back as my first couple of self – released EP’s – ‘ Little People’ and ‘Tell it like it is’- to the songs I wrote in London including ‘Damien ‘ and ‘Lose my Mind’ (both performed for BBC Artist Spotlight). We’ve chosen to cover artists we feel very inspired by, including Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Vince Mendoza, and Dianne Reeves. There really is something for everyone.  We’ll be sharing duties on piano, and Naadia will be adding accordion, BV’s with myself on acoustic guitar and atmospheric Nord sounds. Oh, and we really hope to get the audience involved on a couple of tunes!

To find out more about Lara Eidi: Website

For tickets to see Lara at the EFG London Jazz Festival: Ticket Link

Last modified: November 1, 2021