Featured Musician - August 2005
Name: Annette Lowman
Early Years: Born and raised in Denver, Colorado to college-educated parents who didn't particularly embrace music. I have a sister and growing up my Mom gave us a taste of everything -- ballet lessons, tap, swimming, knitting, braiding, etc.
During my entire childhood nobody would really listen to me except when I sang. Whenever I opened my mouth to sing everybody would listen, I think that's what prompted me to become a professional singer. I went to Kentucky State College.
Moved to Paris in 1983 and didn't have a clue what it was going to be like in another culture. A group of students from the plane I flew in on volunteered to help me find a place to stay. We got on a train to go into town and there was this street musician in the subway tunnel playing "Summertime" in A minor.
I closed my eyes and started to sing. When I opened my eyes there were so many people standing around me I knew why I had come to Paris. That was the first time I sang in Paris. Eventually I got a gig working two nights a week at a place called Memphis Melody.
It was owned by Memphis Slim and a wonderful woman named Sara. They hired me to sing with Memphis. I sang there for over two years.
Being in Europe I suddenly didn't have to fight for space; people actually listened to me and valued what I had to say. I was there for fifteen years, mostly in France. I did spend over three years in the Netherlands.
During my time in Europe I met a German record producer named Stefan Minor who really liked how I sang. The bulk of my recording career has been on the Minor Music label intended for a German audience.
I was doing a gig in Istanbul, Turkey with Turkish musicians in the early 90's when I met pianist Gordon Lee. I was so happy to meet him; he was the only American I had met there and he was cool. We did the tourist thing together. Gordon is a good friend of drummer John Betsch whom I worked with in Europe. I'm thrilled to be working with him here in Portland.
Portland: At one point in my career I found myself working in Sarasota, Florida with musicians I found stifling. I felt they were unable to evolve beyond a certain point musically.
So I called up a Unitarian minister that I knew for advice, called Reverend Don. Don basically told me to get out of Florida and go to Portland, Oregon. He said it's a diverse community where many amazing musicians reside.
He said if you can't find what you're looking for there, you'll find it in Seattle which is nearby. So I came up here for a four-day weekend. I went up to one of Ron Steen's jam sessions. They called me up to sing and I brought the house down. The response from the crowd was like I hadn't experienced since I'd been back in the United States. That was in December of 2003.
Musical Influences: At the very top for me is Nina Simone. She's a musical storyteller. In everything she sings she understands the message. I also love Betty Carter. Of the younger singers I like Patti (Tuck and Patti), she makes me feel something. I don't want to hear someone going through the motions of what someone did 30 or 40 years ago, I hear too much of that.
Most Satisfying Experience: The night I sang with Archie Shepp. It was in Paris at the club, New Morning. There he was surrounded by his entourage of very hip, very smart women and he sees me and says, you're the singer. He'd heard about me. On his next set he motioned for me to sit-in. He turned to his piano player, Dave Burrell, and asked him to take a break and the other cats, too. He put down his horn and sat down at the piano.
We played "Misty." I can't tell you what chords he played behind me but they weren't sevenths. It was a test and I was so thrilled I passed. Archie makes you earn his respect. He taught me so many things about life, about being honest with yourself. He is one of my musical fathers.
Favorite Recordings: I love the music of John Coltrane; Bill Evan's "Peace Peace;" Nina Simone's "Four Women;" also Sweet Honey and the Rock's "There Are No Mirrors in My Nana's House;" and Aretha Franklin. And then there's the big three--Ella, Sara and Billie. And of course, Carmen McRae; I really like Laura Nero's music and the Bulgarian State Choir. Their sound is unbelievable; they sing in quarter tones.
Discography: I met a German producer, Stefan Minor, who just loved the way I sang. At one point they flew me to New York City from Holland and gave me a rhythm section of superlative New York studio musicians and then came walking in guitarist Rodney Jones, Stanley Turrentine, Maceo Parker, and Dick Oats. We had
one rehearsal and made the recording.
This was my "Annette Lowman," 1996 on Minor Music. The other recordings I did include: "Loverman" w/ Archie Shepp, Timeless, 1989, Monster, Holland; "Jazz Brunch," CBS Records, 1988, Paris, France; "Missa ad Dominum Jesum Christum," Artijus, 1991, Budapest, Hungary (commissioned by the Hungarian government for the Pope); "Secret Love," Minor Music, 1996, Koln, Germany (w/German trumpeter, Till Bronner); "Stick To It," Minor Music, 1996, New York, N. Y. w/drummer Bruce Cox; "Message From Santa Claus," Minor Music, 1996, w/drummer Claus Weiss; "Back
to Basics," Minor Music, 1997, Koln, Germany, (a compilation); "Live in Paris," Johnnie Walker, 1992, Paris, France, (compilation w/Mark Thompson, piano); "Brown Baby," Minor Music, 1997, New York, N.Y. (a tribute to Oscar Brown, Jr.) and my favorite "Movies Memories" Le chant du Monde, 1993, Paris, France (w/John Betsch on drums).
Where Playing Currently: Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz, Saturday, August 6 with my
quartet featuring Gordon Lee on piano, Dave Captein on bass and Ron Steen on drums. We're going to do an hour set. It takes about 15 minutes to warm up but then you give it all you've got.
I'll also be at Newport on July 29 playing with Matt Schiff as part of a summer
series which is part of the Jazz Festival in Newport, Oregon.
Future: I'd like to do more gigs and recordings, I'm hopeful and I'm keeping my eyes open. On the downside, I'm too radical in a conservative country that's becoming more conservative.
Other: The irony is when I was doing all those recordings I was far from being at the top of my game; I'm at the top of my game right now.
Interviewer's Note: Annette is spontaneous and edgy -- a treat for adventurous ears!
-- Interviewed by Rita Rega