LJ: Despite your classical background, you also have deep jazz roots and a British/Bengali heritage. How do these styles blend together to create your individual soundscape?
Zoe: Like many musicians, I’m a bit of a magpie – I write music that’s influenced by all the music I love listening to but I shape it into my own style that says something about me as a human being. I was born and brought up in Chichester, just down the road from Southampton – my Mum’s English, her Mum came from an Irish background, and my Dad was Bengali so I have a connection to different musical heritages. Although I played classical music growing up and I love many types of music, jazz is my passion. I love the rhythm, freedom to improvise, the blues elements, the vibrancy of live gigs so I try to explore those elements in my music. I love piano composers like Duke Ellington and Joanne Brackeen who use the piano like an orchestra.
LJ: What can our audiences expect from your upcoming album, Colour of Sound? What/who was your inspiration for writing this album?
Zoe: I’m bringing a jazz octet, which is really exciting for me – to be able to arrange for such great musicians is a joy. All the musicians on the gig are phenomenal instrumentalists in their own right and I wrote the music with some of these musicians in mind, as well as for my friends and family members. My regular trio is Gene Calderazzo on drums and Alec Dankworth on bass. Between them, they’ve played with some incredible artists like Pharoah Sanders, Abdullah Ibrahim, Ginger Baker – they always bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to my music, as do the horn section – they’re all really exciting players and there’ll be space in my arrangements for all of them to shine individually. This is the first gig of our UK album tour so I can’t wait to see how the project comes to life on stage.
LJ: Do you have a favourite track on your new album – if so, why is it your favourite?
Zoe: All the tracks have a unique flavour – I feature a different soloist on every track to vary the sound and texture. I don’t really have a favourite track, there are things about every track that I like!! One of the tracks, ‘Sweet Jasmine’, was written for my daughter and has trumpeter Byron Wallen featured on the album. In the words of Julian Joseph (who wrote the album liner notes), “Zoe’s music has an energy that makes you want to dance, like on ‘Sweet Jasmine’, with its joyful and gloriously irresistible South African funk rhythm and vibration.” The opening track, ‘Dance of Time’ features a fiery flute solo by Rowland Sutherland and it’s a composition that was inspired by one of my favourite jazz composer/pianists, McCoy Tyner.
LJ: You’ve previously performed at Turner Sims with jazz artist, Courtney Pine. What were your favourite moments from that duet, and how does it feel coming back with your own octet?
Zoe: I absolutely love playing at Turner Sims and have enjoyed every gig I’ve played there – the piano and acoustics are a fantastic for me. The audience is always very warm – I’m really looking forward to sharing my new music with them and bringing such a great line-up of jazz musicians.
LJ: As well as creating your own compositions, you also teach others in a variety of contexts. How do you inspire audiences of all ages and abilities, and how do you aim to inspire our audience at Turner Sims?
Zoe: Music is such a wonderful artform and jazz in particular allows people to share the creative experience in a very immediate way, whether they’re playing or listening. Hearing and watching musicians improvise in the moment is a very direct and joyful experience. My music taps into peoples emotions – it allows us all to escape from the realities of life for a while. I think we all need a bit of that right now!
Book your ticket to see Zoe Rahman on Friday 16 June here