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Rebekkah Sparrow, Jazz Singer

Interview with Rebekkah Sparrow

Rebekkah is a local jazz vocalist and band leader. She performs with local musicians, some from the hills, in 2 groups: Ruby's Electric Mayhem, which is a 5 piece jazz group, and Sweets n Sassafrass, a 3 piece jazz group.  

 

Kathryn Featherstone (KF): Firstly - can you tell me what it's been like for you and your partner, moving to Lobey?

Rebekkah (RS): I'd love to! Moving up here has given Steve and I so much space and fresh air - and quietness! We absolutely love it. We have ½ an acre to play with, and will be planting more fruit trees very soon. This time of year [April. Ed.] is my hands-down favourite. I feel I am surrounded by beauty. I often stop the car and pull up on the side of the road to take photos of rolling hills, animals, and the autumn colour is an artists' paradise. We both have to commute quite a distance to work but, the trade-offs have been worth it.

KF:  Can you tell me a little about how you came to music?

RS: Well, growing up in a musical home, it seemed normal. My father was (and still is) a working musician. He filled the house with rock, rhythm and blues while we were growing up. He played in the 60s with a local Adelaide band, The Vibrants. They even had some chart success! Mostly though, in the 70s and 80s we were exposed to hard rock and blues, with another Adelaide band, The Others. Band practice was often at our house, but this was ‘for the grown ups'. They were a pretty motley crew too! What I really loved, growing up, was dad's record collection. When I was allowed to look at his records, I loved to pick out the covers and just admire them. Sometimes, dad would put on family favourites and turn them up so loud that we could see the windows bowing to the bass beat. For our "let's annoy the neighbours and play very, very loud" sessions, we loved Queen, The Eagles, The Shadows, and the Jeff Lynne soundtrack to War of The Worlds. I recall, going back to at least age 4, listening avidly to the radio and to dad's old collection of 45s and singing along, as loud as my little lungs would let me. As I grew up, into my teens, I joined choirs, drama clubs, performed when ever an opportunity arose (church camps come to mind) and finally took some vocal lessons.

KF: So voice has been your main instrument?

RS: Yes, I have been lucky to have had training in voice in different styles. I have done training in contemporary music and The Estill Vocal Method at TAFE. I have also done jazz training at the Adelaide Conservatory's jazz course - and believe it or not - I have also had some training in the traditional classical voice technique - Bel Canto. I had so much fun learning classical voice from my teacher at that time. He extended me and encouraged me to reach new heights. He was a trained tenor from Albania, and often had me laughing so hard I couldn't sing.

As for other instruments, I have dabbled in different ones, the guitar, the keyboard, the djembe, and I'm soon to learn the doumbek (Egyptian Tabla). I also have a keen desire to learn the harmonium, so, it seems perhaps that there are not enough lives for me to fit all this in!

KF: Tell me about your inspirations.

RS: I am always very inspired by musicians who give their heart to their craft. I can often be moved to tears by music that contains, let's say, spiritual substance. I adore Kurt Elling, his poet-filled, creative style of jazz is very inspiring to me. His voice has a certain colour to it that warms my soul. I also love the wonderful, and sadly late, Eva Cassidy - the lady had soul - and tremendously open voice. She, also, was a wonderful story teller. Also, I should mention the amazing Katie Noonan. She is hard to box - such a talented song writer too.

KF: Why jazz?

RS: Well, jazz is - wonderfully - both stimulating to the intellect and the soul. I didn't really understand jazz until I went to college and studied the theory and did lots and lots of listening to other musicians. I think that was the main gift that studying jazz at Adelaide uni gave me, a new and enormously expanded love for the creative medium of jazz.

Once the basic rules are learned in jazz, you can, if you wish, spend the rest of your life pushing the boundaries. I have heard it said, ‘learn the rules to break the rules'. This really applies to jazz.

And, you know what? I love the schmoozey old jazz standards, the torch tunes, the stories told and the cabaret of jazz.

Those old tunes are so well crafted, and you can tell a story and give it some panache, some cheek and some sass. I love to dress up for my gigs, and lend a little of that 1940s-50s flavour. Often the standards are from that era: the golden age of Cole Porter, and Lerner and Loewe, Johnny Mercer etc. These are some of the kinds of tunes we do in the band.

KF: How did you come to be in Ruby's Electric Mayhem?

RS: Well, a few years ago I had not worked as a singer for some time and was looking for an opportunity. My dear dad, who had a band running at the time, had an unexpected opening for a singer and I jumped at it although I had two weeks to learn 40 songs and be prepared to do two gigs a week at the Stamford Grand hotel. That was pretty intense!

Since that time, I have continued to work with the same fellas, who are an absolute blast to work with. They are all very experienced, which makes it wonderful for me, because I learn so much. I have taken on the duties as band leader/organiser, which means I do all the extra stuff, on top of performing. This means getting the gigs, promotional work, emailing and phone calling etc. Running a side-line business really. At the end of the day though - it's definitely for the love of making music with friends.

KF: So, tell us about the Mt Barker Jazz Festival will it enlighten me?.

RS: It's been going for some years now and turns Mt Barker on its ear with live music in the streets, in pubs and cafes, with the main stage at Auchendarroch House. Varieties of jazz take part, modern, trad, fusion, vocalist lead, and instrumental. 2010 was our second year at the festival. 

For further information, feel free to contact Rebekkah Sparrow on

0404 896 106, or snsjazz@yahoo.com.au

Websites for music samples and videos:

www.myspace.com/sweetsnsassafrass

www.myspace.com/rubyandtheelectricmayhem

www.youtube.com/user/rebekkahsparrowmusic