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Jacqui Dankworth looks forward to Woolpit Festival

PUBLISHED: 10:33 10 June 2014 | UPDATED: 10:33 10 June 2014

acqui Dankworth

acqui Dankworth

John Kentish 2013

Jazz singer Jacqui Dankworth has long-standing love affair with Suffolk having lived in the county for nearly ten years in the 1990s, She tells Andrew Clarke that she always enjoys returning to this part of the world

It’s been more than ten years since Jacqui Dankworth lived in Suffolk, tucked away in a little cottage in Wingfield, but she’s rarely away from the county for more than a couple of months at a time.

This month she’s back headlining the Woolpit Festival, just six weeks since a gig at the Colchester Mercury.

“It’s a lovely part of the world,” she says. “Fortunately I’m never away for very long.”

Although Jacqui, daughter of Cleo Laine and band-leader Johnny Dankworth, is best known as a jazz singer, she’s a woman of many parts.

She started life as an actress, has appeared as Cinderella in the West End version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods and in the recent film version of Les Miserables. Last year she even took part in a contemporary opera.

She admits that during rehearsals for American Lulu by Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth she wondered whether she had bitten off more than she could chew.

She said: “When I saw my part I really gasped. It took me a week just to learn the first two or three pages. The problem for me is that there’s no relationship between my line and the surrounding harmony – they’re deliberately made to go against each other. As a jazz musician that relationship is what you rely on. You navigate between the chord changes.

Happily, it all came good in the end but it is this desire to keep things fresh that keeps Jacqui on her toes.

“I am referred to as a jazz singer and I do love jazz. I sing a lot of jazz but I also bring in folk, soul and blues influences.”

At Woolpit she will perform selections from her recent album Live to Love. It’s an eclectic collection which has a distinctly pop and gospel flavour and the backing is augmented by The Brodsky Quartet, themselves regular visitors to Suffolk.

“I am hard to pin down,” Jacqui admits when I ask about her need to reinvent herself. “I suppose that means I’m versatile and I don’t know whether that’s a pro or a con. I don’t think I could just do one thing.

“I went to New Orleans not so long ago and there were all these art shops and each artist had their speciality and there was one guy just painted cows and and another guy did sunsets. So there is an element of branding there which I find a bit sad and very restricting. I would want to do cows and sunsets.”

While she doesn’t deliberately set out to reinvent herself, she does find herself attracted to new ideas and loves to turn her hand to something she’s never done before – hence the American Lulu opera last year.

In what seems like a bizarre piece of contradictory thinking, Jacqui says that she has never become bored when performing in a long run on stage or by singing the same song night after night.

“Part of an actor’s job is to keep things fresh and you do that by continually exploring the character and how they are thinking. You keep finding new elements of their personality you can bring out and the same applies to singing.

“I suppose I bring an actor’s sensibility to my singing. Also as a jazz singer you never perform the song the same way two nights running. You are interacting with the band and you are performing the song. You are living through the song, investing character in the song and so, it is much like being in a long-running show. You are applying the same skills – at least that’s true for me.

“Also it means more opportunities to improve your performance and get every nuance absolutely right.”

Jacqui admits that having more than one string to her bow does help pay the bills.

She says that earning a living in the music business has never been easy but with the rise of television shows like The X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent she does believe that sustaining a career has becoming harder in recent years.

“I think there is a greater demand for novelty than in the past. No-one hangs around for very long any more because you are replaced in six months by another new arrival. That’s how these shows work.

“I think I am lucky in that I appeal to a different market but it does worry me that these youngsters think it is the end of the world if they don’t win The Voice or get chucked off X Factor.

“My view is that if you want to sing, then sing. Most of us have been plugging away at our careers for 25-30 years and sometimes something happens but for the most part nothing does. You go from gig to gig and hopefully you earn enough to pay your bills. If that’s what you enjoy doing then do it. Don’t do it to be famous – do it for the love of music. You’ll be much happier that way.

Jacqui says that she plans to keep putting her own stamp on the music she makes and tries to give each album a distinct personality. Her previous album It Happens Quietly was dedicated to her father and filled with some of his favourite songs. This latest CD finds her composing her work again and choosing a few of her own favourite songs to cover. “I’m thrilled that I managed to get the Brodsky String Quartet on my album because I’ve known them for about ten years and they have become friends. Also they help to give the album a definite sound.”

Jacqui Dankworth will be appearing at The Woolpit Festival on June 21.

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