When I first spun the diabolically seductive tones of "Blue" from Ms. Honert’s debut release from Mill Station Records, Breath of the Soul, thoughts of a majestic romance came to mind. Ms. Honert seems to possess assured ingenuity along with an unclouded foresight; exposing ones past emotions with her vocal allure. Crisp in delivery, precise in harmonic changes, and innovative enough to keep the audience memorized, this is the make-up of the free, yet disciplined, Honert spirit.
If my statements warrant justification, allow yourself to spin "Life is What You Make It" which has a unique duet slice with Patti Cathcart, of Tuck and Patti, along with Ms. Honert. This is a sound that ascends many levels a splendid jazz encounter! This is the quality and acuity of the self-developed and focused Honert world. For as diverse in sound and mood, she is also steadfast in her goals and vision. The more you spin a Honert creation, the more you comprehend her tapestry of moods with all it’s multidimensional threads. This is a stunning craftsman!
As we filter through the psyche of Ms. Honert, we grasp the philosophies of her drive to perform top-level material. No excuses, procrastinations, or shortcuts, for her vision is as clear and direct as she will point out later. Take the classic "If It’s Magic." Even with the expert arrangements of the well established producer Frank Martin, several takes took the stage before she had the "feel" and the attitude she sought. It’s all in the effort. Even for this diehard "Fab Four Fanatic," the execution of "Got to Get You into My Life" was a special 4-plus minutes of my life. Liberties were taken with this cut, but with respect allowing a distinctive individuality to flourish in this classic sounding recording, from the tones of Ms Honert’s sensitivity to the execution of her collaborative ideas. As one close to Ms. Honert pointed out to me recently, "Her (Ms. Honert's) music is created with mature harmonies; its success is not based on a blanket or first listen." I concur! The music is far too deep and intense to just spin once; Breath of the Soul necessitates your full attention.
As a vocalist, songwriter and pianist, Ms Honert has all the variables to trigger belief; belief in a talent with extraordinary opportunities for a classic career. As unaffected as a performer can be, she offers no plastic attitudes or aspirations along a "Teflonesque" industry. Ms. Honert will hit center stage, as her talent and gifts will guide her there a refreshing thought, don’t you think? So between sets, we will sense and welcome this alto songster’s moment with us, who through white-knuckle exertion mixed with desire, is capturing an untapped audience with every spin the ever-seductive Ms Ellen Honert.
JazzReview: As we enter the inner sanctum of Ellen Honert, start by describing the craft, talent and progress during your journey so far?
Ellen Honert: I think progress is always slow from one’s own perspective and talent only blossoms when you work hard at your craft. The challenge for me has been to enjoy, and keep enjoying, all the work and experiences during that journey, step by step.
JazzReview: I have a most curious question. You stated at one point in your life you lost your voice. Why did you feel that way? Talk to the feelings you dealt with at the time.
Ellen Honert: Every artist (and person!) goes through phases in life where it isn’t quite clear if things are moving in the right direction. I was studying at the conservatory of music in Holland at the time, and discovered I had a hard time finding my voice there. So for me, it was a good decision to leave the conservatory and continue on my own musical path.
JazzReview: Jazz artists, Tuck and Patti were an influence during that time in your life. What did they say and do that turned that time around for you?
Ellen Honert: They have always strengthened my belief that it is possible to pursue a career in music. If you believe in something and put your mind and heart to it, then it can happen.
JazzReview: Describe your time in Jazz Camp West, and what you left with that you could pass on to students today?
Ellen Honert: I can recommend Jazz Camp West to every aspiring (jazz) musician or vocalist. Every year in the month of June, around 300 people gather under the majestic redwood trees in California to perform and learn about music. It is a very supportive and fun environment with some of the best teachers around. I did the "vocal intensive" program with fabulous jazz vocalist Rebecca Parris the year I was there, and I still draw from that experience.
JazzReview: Gospel has a great tie to jazz and in fact, you do as well. Can you elaborate on your turn in the Gospel world? What memories and lessons did you take out of that time?
Ellen Honert: I was part of the Glide Ensemble at Glide Church in San Francisco. The church is a famous institution in the city where people from all walks of life and faith are welcome for Sunday services. But the church doesn’t just stop there, it has over 80 programs that help thousands of people a year--from recovery, housing, and employment to child and health care. They truly "walk the talk," and to be part of a community like that didn’t just teach me about singing, but more so about life itself.
JazzReview: After a short stint with V Soul in the Netherlands, you came back to producer Frank Martin along with Tuck and Patti. What brought you to this point? What affect did Frank have on your career?
Ellen Honert: With V Soul, a wonderful group of 8 musicians and singers, I toured the Netherlands, so this was a group project. I still had my individual career going as well, so upon my return I continued my dream of making a CD. All the people you mention have played a major role in making this dream a reality. Frank produced and arranged the CD, and also played piano on it. Tuck and Patti wrote and performed the second track on the CD "Life Is What You Make It" with me.
JazzReview: The common denominator between critics is the strength of your range within that alto resonance. Talk about the ease in which your vocals range, adjust and control the mood of a performance. Natural gift or dedicated diligence?
Ellen Honert: A combination of both for sure. All gifts need to be developed to become visible and this goes for the voice, as well. I have learned a lot from the singing technique called "speech level singing," where singing is treated in a very similar way to speaking.
JazzReview: Breath of the Soul has opened to rave accolades from jazz aficionados. Discuss the birth of this project and the barriers that were unexpected once the process began.
Ellen Honert: The birth of this project happened a few months after I met producer Frank Martin. We had started writing songs together and realized that some of the songs would be great to record. It was my first recording project so there were things that I might have done differently in hindsight, but being surrounded by such experienced and talented people, the project overall moved very smoothly.
JazzReview: I am curious why, out of the gate, you chose to offer half of the disc selections as originals. A daring, but delicious move as most debuts seem to cover "covers." Talk about the selection process and the decision to be as bold as I think you are.
Ellen Honert: I think it is an honor to sing cover songs; the songs that great singers like Ella Fitzgerald have sung so many times before us... But, it is also very special to perform songs from your own hand, because they are so close to your heart. Also, collaborating on songwriting is a creative process that I very much enjoy.
JazzReview: Talk to me about the intro cut "Blue," an intriguing spin. The flute of Pedro Eustache adds an angelic emotion throughout the piece. His talent really bonded with your tone and precision on this cut. How did you envision this piece when you first set out to record it?
Ellen Honert: "Blue" was one of my favorite original songs from the start, and Frank’s arrangement really made it come to life. Then, with Pedro’s exceptional tone and sound, it was clear it would become the opening song on the record. I envisioned the song as a piece that can turn something sad (blue) into something happy (also blue!). I hope it makes people smile when they listen to it.
JazzReview: Many of your pieces on this disk embrace the concept of relationships. Your songwriting shows this in a remarkable way on "Two Lonely People," as you script a romance in the past tense of their lives. What was it like writing this piece and is there a mood or situation that best releases your creative juices when writing lyrics?
Ellen Honert: The idea for this song originally came to me during a songwriting class I did. The teacher of the class sent us into the street with the assignment to come back with a song idea an hour later. When I walked past a restaurant in that hour, I saw two people in the window who were eating their meal in silence, and that image became "Two Lonely People." I think song ideas and lyrics can surface in any kind of situation, as long as you are curious enough to really open your eyes and look around. Then sitting with the idea and imagination will do the rest.
JazzReview: Stevie Wonder’s "If It’s Magic" took a whole different personality in your hands. Your vocals on this piece redefined its sound and emotion without loosing the enchanting foundation of the piece, a fine job! Talk about the process as you developed this arrangement.
Ellen Honert: Stevie Wonder’s "If It’s Magic," is a tune that speaks to my heart. This, together with Frank Martin’s beautiful arrangement, made it easy for me to put a lot of emotion into the song. It did take several takes before I understood exactly what the song needed.
JazzReview: There is four minutes and twenty nine seconds of pure eloquence as you exit with "Inspiratie." Tell us where this came from and why. Joseph Hebert’s cello weeps many times, but at the end, it cry’s out for acceptance and it gets it, a marvelous epilogue to the debut.
Ellen Honert: I felt it was important to put at least one song in my native language on the record, and the epilogue seemed the right spot for it. The song talks about inspiration and comes to the conclusion that inspiration is the "Breath of the Soul!" Joseph Hebert, of course, doesn’t speak my native language, but he is such an intuitive musician, that he understood immediately what musical language the song needed.
JazzReview: Talk about those who spent time on this disk. What was the studio atmosphere like during recordings?
Ellen Honert: All the incredible musicians on this CD have been very supportive and encouraging. So regardless of the ups and downs that are part of any recording process, it has been a pleasant and positive atmosphere. Also, a good sense of humor was part of the process!
JazzReview: What does your crystal ball show for the future?
Ellen Honert: Hopefully, traveling with my music and touching the hearts of people that I meet along the way.
JazzReview: Let’s dig a bit into your private world outside of music. What do you do in your spare time that may have had, or has an impact in your musical life?
Ellen Honert: I think being outside in nature has a huge impact. Walking in nature or spending time at the ocean is always an inspiration for new thoughts and songs.
JazzReview: Now to get to know someone, one you need to have fun, so let’s do! Answer, if you will, these probing questions and be blatantly honest
1. What is your favorite stress release? A good walk.
2. Favorite romantic spot? The old canals of Amsterdam.
3. What makes you laugh? People that laugh at their own jokes.
4. Your favorite non-jazz artist? Chagall, the painter.
5. If you needed to get away where would you go? To an island.
6. Favorite junk food? Well-made French Fries