Ayelet Gottlieb on Jay Clayton, Pneuma, and Bobby McFerrin
1. How did you get into music?
a. I think I was born into music. Since I was a child I just was a musician. My son is like that now. He embodies music in every way, in every interaction he has with the world.
I can’t imagine myself existing without music and I see that in him, too.
2. You are a composer, what are your greatest joys and challenges?
a. One of my greatest joys as composer is collaboration. Aiming my writing towards the people I choose to work with on a specific project. I write for them, to emphasize their strength and what I love about their playing!
For example, in Pneuma - a quartet of three clarinets and voice, which recently released our first album as a band. We’re about to go on tour in a few days. This quartet is made up of musicians with very different musical backgrounds. Michael’s focus is Klezmer, François is deep in the world of contemporary classical music and electro-acoustics, while James is a cutting edge jazz musician. In the pieces I brought in for the group to play, I wanted each individual’s sound to shine. So every time I wrote parts for us, I thought about each player and shaped the compositions around their sounds and cultural backgrounds. That inclusivity is a feminist concept and a humanist concept – and it is central to the way I approach writing.
I’m also a founding member of Mycale, John Zorn’s a-cappella quartet. With this quartet I've been singing for about 13 years. We arranged and perform compositions of Zorn's from the “Book of Angels” series, (Masada, Book II.)
Zorn has given us a lot of freedom in arranging his music, and we tied our musical structures into many genres of music and languages. Text is a big part of my work. Here, too, is a quartet with four distinct individuals from four different parts of the world, and with seven languages between us. We all have a foundation in Jazz, but arranging for this quartet, allowed me to bring in rhythms, harmonies and textures that are derived from each individual in the group.
I love multicultural bands. I find that this inclusion beyond my comfort zone, feeds my art. Rather than limiting it with only whats familiar to me, it grows and expands, and I discover new parts of myself as I engage with someone who has an entirely different life experience than me.
3. Tell me about working with Jay Clayton.
a. Jay and I met fifteen years ago at a music convention in NYC. I’ve known of her work long before then. She has been a major influence on my music since my teen years. So it was a wonderful surprise when she also became familiar with my work and was greatly supportive of it. A few years back I started writing a new song cycle called “12 Lunar Meditations: Summoning the Witches.” Towards the second rendition of it, it became clear that I needed Jay’s voice to be part of that piece. One of the aspects I love about her is her work is how she works with spoken word. So that is an aspect that is very present in this piece, which we recorded and will release on Halloween 2020, under the full moon!
Just last week, Jay and I co-taught a Jazz and Blues intensive for singers. It’s such an honour to share the stage and the teaching-floor with one of the great living masters of this genre. I feel she is someone that the jazz community should really elevate and celebrate.
4. Are you familiar with Sienna Dahlen? Have you two ever worked together (or thought about working together?)
[if !supportLists]a. Yes we have, we have! I’ve been hearing about Sienna ever since my family started planning our move to Montreal, about a year and a half ago. Over this past summer we did a bunch of jazz gigs together, along with another great vocalist, Andrea Superstein and with Mike Rud on guitar.
6. Erotic Biblical texts – tell me more.
a. In 2006 I released a song cycle called “Mayim Rabim” on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records. The songs are all based on the biblical Song of Songs, which is attributed to King Solomon but many believe that it was actually written by Queen Sheba. The text spans the whole range of emotions to do with intimacy. Some parts of it are violent, and other parts are erotic. We had background vocalists who embodied the “daughters of Jerusalem", my brother, Michael Gottlieb sang the male parts, he’s a songwriter and composer in Jerusalem, and I sang the lead female parts. I also incorporated into the composition some of the traditional “tropes” - the music language of reading from the Torah, specifically, sung in the Persian tradition by Galeet Dardashti.
7. Is that Hebrew on your website?
a. Yes it is! I still work a lot in Israel and my family is all still there. I have a substantial audience over there, so I want to have a direct communication in the language of the place.
8. You’ve worked with Bobby Mcferrin – how was that?
a. It was great – it was an improvised opera with about 20 musicians, improvising vocalists, some were also dancers, all from different countries, backgrounds, musical traditions. We performed a two-hour long improvised opera at Carnegie hall, which we had constructed with Mr. McFerrin over a week. Improvisation is at once spontaneous, but the interactions build on the accumulated experiences gained through all you’ve done before that particular moment. So it’s free, yet informed. You’re working with that language that you develop for yourself over many years. Jazz is a search for freedom.
9. How do you grow your audience?
a. That’s a good question, do you have a great answer for me? I’d love to hear it! I try not to concern myself with that while I’m creating. Just keep making, and putting your work and your thoughts and your heart out there. Whoever needs to hear it will hopefully eventually find it! So don’t get discouraged. If you have something to say, just keep saying it.
Our little music world is a micro economy all on its own. Within that we should support each other. Stay in tune with people bringing their sounds into the world, buy albums and support publications that cover our art-form. Support young artists, and don’t forget to support the greats who are still among us, like Sheila Jordan, like Jay Clayton, and so many others. Make sure to notice these people and keep hiring them. Hire women, hire parents, hire LGBTQ people, hire people whose sound challenges and intrigues you. Push your own limits and perceptions and by doing that, your own outreach will grow, because you yourself are growing your circles. make room for others, and your room will grow as well. Or so I believe.
10. Your Upcoming Vancouver Gig?
a. November 8th at Western Front! We’re also playing all around the area, including Seattle, Vancouver Island and North Vancouver, between Nov 3 - 10. Check my website for details: www.ayeletrose.com