INTERVIEWS SUSAN KREBS
FOR THE BIRDS'JAZZ AVIARY' is the third release from jazz vocalist/actress SUSAN KREBS. This sixteen track collection of jazzed up renditions of american pop compositions is an inspired dedication to man's feathered friends; the birds. With KREBS' partners-in-crime, THE SOARING SEXTET, providing the perfect backdrop for KREBS' unmistakable voice, 'JAZZ AVIARY' is a CD that truly soars. "The major intent is to introduce people ot the wonder of birds and the universal music that we share." says KREBS. "I would like for people to awaken their ears to hear the birds because right now, the population of birds has plummetted because of loss of habitat and the climate change. We've taken them for granted and we are so out of balance. Everything is out of balance, and I hope the project and the CD will help educate people and raise consciousness about these magnificent creatures, but I would also like for it to entertain people."
BRIAN LUSH PUTS ASIDE HIS FEAR OF BIRDS
AND TALKS TO SUSAN KREBS
ABOUT HER LATEST CD 'JAZZ AVIARY':
A ROCKWIRED EXCLUSIVE
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
Embracing a project like 'JAZZ AVIARY' proved to be a challenge me, due to my paralyzing fear of birds (A brisk walk through a park in Boston quickly became a run for my life). It's a fear that is not easily explained. Maybe it's because I'm afraid that a crow is going to swoop down and peck me mercilessly with it's beak and give me a good scratching with it's talons. I've grown to pinpoint the fear to specific event during my childhood which you can read about below, but could that one event have triggered everything? Who knows? All I know is that I've never been able to watch 'ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S THE BIRDS' all the way through. However, after hearing 'JAZZ AVIARY' and speaking with SUSAN, regarding these fascinating creatures, not all birds seem carnivorous and I no longer find myself flinching as much when a pigeon flaps it's wings. I'm almost tempted to make it through an entire viewing of 'THE BIRDS'.
ROCKWIRED spoke with SUSAN KREBS over the phone, a few days after a triumphant set at the JAZZ BAKERY in Los Angeles. Here is how it went.
This is a topic that never comes up with ROCKWIRED. Before I ask you any questions, I think it's important for you to know that I am orinthophobic.
What does that mean - that you hate birds?
No. I'm afraid of them.
Oh you poor thing! Were you traumatized as a child?
Yes. A bird flew into our house once and these people who I thought were rational, calm adults started going crazy and screaming.
Were you a kid?
I was five years old.
And your parents were freaking out trying to get the bird out. It was just a sparrow, wasn't it?
A pigeon, more than likely. I just remember that one little bird caused so much chaos, but I'm getting better.
You must. You must get better. Let 'JAZZ AVIARY' heal you. Please! Now if you were dying in the middle of the desert and vultures were flying overhead, then that there is a reasonable anxiety, but by the time they start eating you, you're pretty much compost and they're just doing their job. I'm so sorry to hear about this fear that you have. Me, I have a problem with snakes and spiders, but birds - we must help you here. The whole idea of this project (JAZZ AVIARY) is to awaken people to the wonder and the mystery of these creatures.
As I said, I am getting better. Where I live, we have these hawks flying overhead and whenever I see them, I can't help but look at them. It's kind of neat.
Well that there is a good sign. Hawks aren't great singers though.
We also have egrits here as well.
Egrits! Those are magnificaent birds. Are you near water?
Not too far away. When I was taking the bus home one day, this tall blue egrit walked up to the stop as if it was waiting for the bus. Ussually, I would've runaway or something, but I just stayed there and watched it.
BRIAN, you'll be allright! It wasn't like a mountain lion was waiting at the bus stop, which in that case it would be a very good idea to quietly walk away and hope that it didn't see you. With birds, there is no danger. The problem was you were traumatized as a young person and I'm just sorry that your parents didn't take better care of you afterward and say that it was just a bird.
Thank you for your understanding! 'JAZZ AVIARY' is you third CD. Other than the bird theme, what do you fel is different this time around from your previous releases?
'JAZZ AVIARY' is more of a concept album that incorporates elements from this concert project that I have been working on for the past four years called 'JAZZ AVIARY'. It's a multimedia concert with THE SOARING SEXTET, beautiful projections, field recordings of birds singing, and spoken word and poetry threaded through for two acts or two sets rather. THe CD is 16 tracks from the music of the concert. The previous recordings were only concept albums in that they were personnal to me and had a lot to do with the questions that I was asking at that time and the experiences that I was having. As a singer, you're drawn to the tunes that allow you to express your own personal tale which you hope becomes universal when people hear it. The 'JAZZ AVIARY' album is more of an extension of the whole concert that I'm hoping to be able to do more of soon. We've had six or seven incarnations of the show for the past four years and it keeps on changing. We just finished a show at the JAZZ BAKERY which was wonderful. I totally enjoy doing it, so do the musicians and from what we are able to gather, the pieces really resonate with people and that's our intent.
You recorded 'JAZZ AVIARY' with the SOARING SEXTET. How far back do you and this band go?
RICH EAMES is the music director and he and I go back about seven or eight years. He's my first call piano player when I'm working with trios and quartets around the club scene. JERRY KALAF is the drummer and vibist. He's the co-producer of 'JAZZ AVIARY' and he's produced my two previous albums. He's a very good friend and I've known him longer than RICH. Along with being a good friend, he is a great teacher to me and a great collaboraotr and composer in his own right. I've learned a great deal from him. RICH and JERRY are my major collaborators. The other players in the SOARING SEXTET are KENNY WILD on bass. He's a great friend of mine also and a top call jazz bassist. BOB LOCKHART is the horn player who's just released a CD of his own compositions. He's just a stunning musician. RINER SCIVALLY is the guitar player and a very sensitive musician. The project had two percussionists which we alternated. One was M.B. GORDY, who I've know for years because we are both actors. Occassionaly, he shows up in these avant theater pieces alongside being this professional musician. The other percussionist was SCOTT BREADMAN, who is another great musician. I hope I didn't leave anybody out?
In all of the years that I've been doing ROCKWIRED, I think you're the first person I've interviewed that was from my home state of Maryland. In a way you're kind of a homegirl.
Well thank you BROTHER MARYLAND. As a matter of fact I'm going there in a couple of weeks to visit my ninety year old mother and my eighty eight year old aunt. About this time of year, the dogweed are in bloom. You remember the dogwood?
A little bit. Growing up in Baltimore you were surrounded by music.
I was. My dad loved clasical music and GILBERT SULLIVAN. He would take us to New York City once or twice a year and introduced me to Broadway musicals. At one time I thought that I would replace CHITA RIVERA at some point but it didn't happen. Then, the folk thing started and my older brother who played guitar was playing a lot of BOB DYLAN, JOAN BAEZ, JODY COLLINS, and CROSBY, STILLS, AND NASH. While all of that was going on, I would be looking out into the bay window and sing along with all of these Broadway musical recordings and I could do every part pretty damn well. When I was 16 years old, I had a job in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware. It was a retail job in a clothes store and the owner was a huge jazz freak and as I was working, he would tell me to keep 'changing the records'. In his collection was alot of ELLA FITZGERALD and SARAH VAUGHAN. This changed my life. When I came back to Baltimore, I bought alot of BESSIE SMITH and BILLIE HOLIDAY. I was on it! Growing up, no one was a musician in my family. We all just had simple enjoyment of music.
Before getting into music, you were an actor. Immediately after college, you joined an improvisational theater group called THE WAR BABIES.
Right. They were an improvisational company that I joined in New York and then the company moved out to L.A. in the mid- seventies to do a TV show. After a while, the company stayed in L.A. because there was more work. Me, I struggled with the LA thing at first but once I started hiking and going to the desert, I was fine. As much as I love New York and would love to work there, I needed to be in a place where I could go out into the environment and have a garden. I was with the WAR BABIES for ten years. After that I was in another improv group called THE WIMS, which was seven, bright women who wanted to see if they could work without men for awhile, and we did. In all my years as an actor, I always kept singing. Improvisng as an actor is the same as improvising as a jazz singer.
In your acting career, you've done a quite a bit of television and film.
I had a good ride as a character actor but now, it's kind of slimmed down a little . Once you get to be a certain age, the roles aren't there. What can you do? It's a very adolescent culture. I was the wacky next door neighbor on MATLOCK twice, and I was even a corpse once. AAAAGGGHHH!!! I've done a lot of sitcom work and made a lovely living doing radio and TV commerical work. My passion is the music and singing and you can do that till you're dead. Acting, not so much. Especially now.
The year 1995 was an important year for you. It seems like from then on, music became more of a consolidated interest.
You ever hear about the 'midlife crisis'? That was what it was. I was at the end of a very bad romance, there was an earthquake, and the frustrations with show business had me very confused. I had a friend who moved to Jackson, Wyoming and had opened a restaurant with some wealthy partners. He was feeling alike a fish out of water and he invited me up there to stay with him. I packed my bags and he gave me sanctuary for four months. I hiked everyday and I hosted at his restaurant. I got to be surrounded by this unbelievable beauty, which ended up healing me. I was reading this book, 'THE ARTIST'S WAY' and had started to do alot fo journaling. Towards the end of my stay I had realized what I needed to do and what I wanted to do. It all became clear. I went back to LA and truly began throwing myself into the discipline of being a jazz singer. Out of that experience, I made my first album 'JAZZ GARDENER'. I'm three albums into my recording career and I feel fortunate to have found something that I'm passionate about.
What would you like someone to come away with after hearing JAZZ AVIARY?
That's an interesting question. My intention with the record isn't quite the same as the whole concert experience. So, I guess the major intent is to introduce people ot the wonder of birds and the universal music that we share. I would like for people to awaken their ears to hear the birds because right now, the population of birds has plummetted because of loss of habiat and the climate change. We've taken them for granted and we are so out of balance. Everything is out of balance, and I hope the project and the CD will help educate people and raise consciousness about these magnificent creatures, but I would also like for it to entertain people. Birds and humans have been sharing ythe planet foro ver thousands and thousands of years. Why we sing and why we wish to fly is all because of the birds.