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Interview: Artist-in-residence Laura Mvula set for stardom

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: May 06, 2014

By Jonathan Whiley

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Laura Mvula performs at Cheltenham Jazz Fest

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IT’S a memory which reveals where it all began for BRIT-nominated jazz singer Laura Mvula.

This year’s artist-in-residence at Cheltenham Jazz Festival recalls a conversation with her dad at a young age which sparked an interest in the genre.

“My dad listened to a lot of jazz when I was growing up,” she says.

“He used to take me to piano lessons on a Thursday and the conversations in the car were really important.

“There was one time he had some Miles Davis playing and I got a bit cocky and said ‘did he play a wrong note?’ and my dad stopped the car.

“He said ‘who is the child I’ve brought up who doesn’t know anything about music? This is the greatest music you’ll ever hear.’

“And because I wanted to figure out what the music was about I started listening to a lot of Miles Davis and that was really my first entry into jazz.”

She also cites king of pop, Michael Jackson, as a big influence in the music of her youth.

“I liked a lot of different music growing up,” she says.

“I was a big Michael Jackson fan, he was the main artist I listened to with my brother and sister.

“I liked a lot of soul music too and motown and a lot of James Brown.”

Dressed in a smart black outfit with a stylish black bob, Laura was making a surprise appearance at Pittville School in Cheltenham where she entertained pupils with a rendition of ballad Father Father from her album, Sing To The Moon.

As artist-in-residence for this year’s event she admits she’s feeling the pressure.

“I definitely feel pressure; more so now I’m here,” she says, laughing nervously.

“The last time I really understood the term artist-in-residence was a couple of years ago; I was trying to get some piano bar work and I saw you could become a pianist-in-residence at hotels.

“To have that now is crazy and it was really Jamie [Cullum] that was responsible for bringing me in. He’s done a lot for me and I have a lot to be thankful for.”

It has been a quick route to the top for Laura whose debut album led to hit singles such as Green Garden.

Now she’s a staple at music award ceremonies, chat shows and festivals with a notable recent duet with rapper Tinie Tempah at this year’s BAFTAs awards on song, Heroes.

So is the jazz industry, with her influence, reaching a new, wider audience?

“I would like to think that jazz is always progressing,” she says.

“It’s the nature of that music that it’s always moving forward.

“It needs pioneers and innovators to take it forward and we owe a lot to Jamie and what he’s done over the past decade. It’s exciting.

“You can be sitting in a room full of kids today and you don’t know who is out there with talent that is ready to be nurtured.”

But take note youngsters – she has less than savoury words about talent contests such as The X Factor.

“My major problem with these shows and shows like The Voice is that they narrow children’s perspective of what is possible and what music means,” she says.

“I have a four-year-old goddaughter and I like the conversations I have with her about music and I like to think it’s broad because there is so much scope and even then in our little island we haven’t really touched the surface.

“The idea that we can take one art or one part of an art form and blast that into kids’ faces to me is like just giving them fast food.”

Despite an established name in the jazz world, Laura admits that even now she gets a little starstruck.

Incredibly, she turned down the chance to meet Gregory Porter.

“I was just far too shy,” she says.

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