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Getting to know Natasha D’Agostino

May 15, 2017

I remember performing my first ever jazz festival gig in Vancouver several years ago now. Such excitement in preparing arrangements, making sets and feeling “validation” somehow to given a jazz festival gig. Ah yes! Ever since that first time I have loved our Vancouver Jazz festival whether I am performing or attending a concert or workshop. It’s Christmas for this jazz fan what with all those musical offerings available.

I’m not sure what Vancouver vocalist/composer Natasha D’Agostino is feeling about her first official appearance at this year’s Jazz Festival but I imagine there is some level of excitement. I’ve done a short series of interview questions with Natasha which appear below these first preview paragraphs.

In the past, several months I have had many occasions to share the stage with the ever so talented Ms. D’Agostino.  These have been wonderful happenstances for me since, it seems that our two voices have quite a natural blend and I adore the timbre of her voice.  Certainly, it appears that Natasha could blend with almost anyone’s voice because she possesses such keen sensibilities when it comes to music. Her “in the moment” choices of phrasing and colour are simply spot on with respect to the melody, lyric and harmonic structure. Is this because she has come through the Capilano University Music program? Perhaps some of her superb skills have been shaped in that very challenging and complete immersion in jazz studies.

Natasha Karin DUO

Is it possible she already had (and has) the true instinct of a jazz musician; the listening and responding, waiting and communicating with fellow musicians so that “it” is no longer just about the individual. At times, of course it is that too! Natasha has a distinctive vocal sound and she’s been on the scene singing all sorts of gigs and truly gaining the valuable experience of making music with many different players.

There’s something about Natasha’s approach to singing that captures a listener almost immediately and it’s the reason I like sharing songs with her.  It’s not just because she has a beautiful voice. It appears to be more about her candid and honest connection with the song and with the people she’s making music with.  Don’t miss Natasha and her group performing at this year’s Jazz Festival July 2nd 12:00 noon on Granville Island Market Stage. I know this will be great!

Here is the Q & A I recently did with Natasha.

What are some important things you will take with you following your years of study at Capilano University?

Capilano University’s Jazz Studies program was overall a really great experience, and I feel really equipped to pursue a future in music because of the high level of education that the faculty has provided the students with. I remember some of us would get a chart for Nitecap, one of the vocal ensembles at Capilano, and we would look at each other, thinking, “We are never going to be able to do this!” Through the mentorship of the instructors, and the strong community between the students, we always surprised ourselves with what we could accomplish. It is a very growth-minded and encouraging environment. One of my favorite things about studying there, was seeing how passionate our instructors are about music. So many of them are involved in musical projects of their own, and so we students were fortunate to be exposed to so many different things, and there was never any shortage of inspiration to pursue our own creative endeavors with.

When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?

I’ve always loved creating, performing, and singing, but it wasn’t really until the last year/year and a half or so that I started to become really inspired to write and explore some of the musical ideas that I had, and in that process, I found that I love writing music, connecting with people, and having all of the amazing experiences that come with playing music and collaborating. This realization made me really excited and inspired to pursue music and really immerse myself in the journey.

Describe your childhood experiences related to studying music?

I was a busy kid who always wanted to do everything, and so music was thrown into the mix with all kinds of sports and activities. I remember starting piano lessons when I was about 9, and though I only pursued them for a couple of years, I had a really amazing teacher who to this day is one of my closest friends, and so she was always around to answer my questions as I became more curious about it. I became involved in the drama and choir program in high school, and I really loved being a part of the musicals, and singing in the different choirs.

Who are a few of your favourite musicians and what is it about their music making that appeals to you?

I love listening to a wide range of music and artists, but I always find myself coming back to musicians like Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Carmen McRae, Fred Hersch, and Wayne Shorter. The list can go on, and I know I’ve missed many, but these musicians have always inspired me with their endless creativity, and deep exploration of the music.

You are appearing at the 2017 Vancouver Jazz Festival headlining your own group. Could you describe a little bit about what a listener might hear coming to your Jazz Fest show?

I am so excited to be playing at the Jazz Festival this year, and I am even more excited to be sharing the day playing with some of my closest friends. A lot of us have gone through school together and watched each other grow, so it is really special to share this with them. Most of the music that we will play will be my original material, which is heavily influenced by some of the people I mentioned earlier. Wayne Shorter, Kenny Wheeler, and Norma Winstone have notably influenced me, and so a lot of the music is introspective, open for collaborative improvisation, and inspired by a lot of the material released on the ECM record label.

Natasha-FRANKIES

 I know that you are a composer. Do you have a regime whereby you try to create something each day, week, etc?

I’ve definitely had a lot of fun writing and exploring ideas over the last year or so. Truthfully, I’m not very good at being disciplined in this area, and I often work in spurts of inspiration. However, I think when I started writing, I would feel the pressure of having to complete an idea or write something that I deemed “finished,” in one sitting, so that would often leave me too overwhelmed to start. Lately, I’ve been enjoying journaling a lot, and so sometimes I’ll spend just a short time writing down a few ideas I have, and then coming back to them in later sessions. This has allowed for a much more freeing creative process, and it has encouraged me to sit down more often at the piano and dive into the things I hear. Nowadays, I’ll probably sit down at least once a day to do this sort of thing, even if only for a short while!

When you are composing music, do you begin with a melody, a harmonic or rhythmic idea or with a lyric that you’ve written?

Often times when I am writing, I hear the harmony first. I’ll usually sit at the piano and play through a harmonic progression I’m hearing and go from there. Sometimes this is inspired by some kind of rhythmic idea that will influence the phrasing of the melody. I usually find it hard to write lyrics until all the other pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place, and sometimes I’ll feel that everything I want to say has been said without adding any lyrics, so I’ll just leave it wordless. If I am writing lyrics, I often find that hearing all of the other elements together will inspire some kind of image or storyline I want to explore further with text. Lately, I have been trying to come up with more melodies first, and harmonize them later at the piano, to see if that will move my ideas into a new direction.

Are there particular instruments you are drawn to and which you like to include in your ensembles?

To be honest, I’ve never really written specifically for any instrument, and I have been really fortunate to have friends and other musicians who are willing to play through my material with me. I find it really exciting to play the same music with different musicians, and different instrumentations, and then see what that does to the music. Anytime I’ve played with various ensembles, I always leave hearing something I hadn’t heard before, or having an idea that has come to life in the moment, so I love collaborating with a lot of different people, in order to keep the ideas flowing!

 Do you have a practice regime that you apply yourself to on a daily basis?

Lately this part of my life has changed a lot, and especially with recently being out of school, I have been thinking a lot about how to come up with a practice routine to stick to daily. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but as of late, I will usually start by doing some ear training. I started using an app called Harmony Cloud to help, and then I’ll warm up by doing some scales and patterns, and move on to playing a few tunes I know. After that I’ll usually have some specific pieces of music I need to learn or work on, and so I will spend the rest of the time doing that. I’ve been really into transcribing different solos lately, and I’m having a lot of fun reading through the Miles Davis Omnibook!

Are there genres other than jazz based music that you are interested in?

I grew up listening to a lot of music from the Motown label, and I have always loved listening to soul and R&B. Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” is one of my favourite records of all time. I also really love listening to Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Carole King. The list could go on! I’ve also really enjoyed getting familiar with Classical music over the past few years, especially some of the 20th century material like Debussy, Ravel, and Schoenberg.

Do you have plans on making a recording? 

Yes! I’m actually really excited about this. I’m working on getting my original material together, and fleshing out some of my ideas, and my plan is to go into the studio sometime at the end of this year.

Are there any gigs you’d like people to know about coming up for you this spring/summer?

There are some fun gigs coming up that I am really looking forward to. One of them is a Jazz Duet Show, with you and an amazing band on May 28th, and I’m also looking forward to being a part of Pascal Saunier’s “Le Destin du Jazz-Club” next month on June 14th. I spent a year living in France in my early twenties, and so I am really excited to work on singing in French, and I’m also very excited for the Jazz Festival show on July 2nd!

Natasha-RED-ONE

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