What IS the origin of adjustable things? -
The initial flash of inspiration behind this title occurred two summers ago when I was bobbing about behind a speed boat in Kootenay Lake, Canada, untangling a waterski rope and bracing myself for another ride when, looking at the knots and tangles I thought aloud— “I wonder what the first adjustable thing was...the origin of adjustable things?”
And so it was born; an album-less album title. I guess it was time I made that record I’d been talking about for so long!
“But, what does it mean?”
It’s a good question, and one I’ve been asked by many. If I’m honest, I quickly lost interest in the literalness of what was the first adjustable thing? I mean, it was probably a rope with knots in it! What matters is what does this string of words mean to me?
The etymology of the word adjustable is surprisingly lovely: 14c. ajusten “to correct, remedy”; c. 1600 “arrange, settle, compose”; ajouter (Old French) meaning “to join”; and my favorite, Latin, adjuxtare “to bring near”.
To be adjustable is also to be changeable, malleable, versatile. One could even go as far as to remark that it implies an empathy, an adaptability, with its surroundings. This rings true when I think about what it’s like to make music with somebody else - one has to be all of the above in order for the raw connection to occur and beauty to emerge.
On a completely personal level those words take me back to a very special time and place. The title track on the album was originally entitled “T.P.” (no - NOT toilet paper!)—but the initials of somebody very important in my life who was heavy on my mind when writing that song. She also happened to be there when the origin of adjustable things lightbulb went off, and so it made sense to me to combine these elements in this way. In doing so I both ‘brought near’ this person and gave the meaning of that song and the album a malleability and versatility in its interpretation—for she is the subject of neither, yet is a part of both. Much like each character and place in my songs—all once were real, and then they became a story, one truth of which I know so well; the truth of which is down to the listener to interpret.
I will admit though, that despite my personal conviction for this title, it almost didn’t make the final cut. I toyed with ‘Anonymous Journeys’ as an alternative, or even an eponymous title—short and sweet. I was feeling a little self-conscious about its inherent quirkiness and questionable memorability - it was even called “improbable” on the radio! But, then again, why not have an improbable album title? After all I had got plenty of positive, intrigued reactions—something about the whimsical abstractness of the title that seemed to delight. Sure, the other options were safer, shorter, nicer. But, who wants safe, short and nice—in any walk of life?
- February 2015 -
What is it like to work with Dan Tepfer?
Dan and I met initially on a gig that I guested on back in 2011 —I was in NYC for a month to make my first album “Wild Swan”. We met again in the summer, two years later, (2013) on the subway - a typical way to run into someone in New York - and arranged a session.
We both happen to have very similar familial backgrounds, growing up in Europe in eclectic and less than conventional environments—Dan in Paris, surrounded by music and science: his grandfather was a jazz pianist, his mother an opera singer in the Paris Opera chorus, his father and uncles scientists; I was born in London to a family of professional classical musicians. My older brother was always playing jazz, so I started singing standards from a very early age. My mother came from a family of scientists. And, from what I’ve witnessed, conversations over the dinner tables were equally colorful, uninhibited and raucously jewish in there nature.
When Dan and I started playing music together we quickly discovered a musical kinship, an understanding, and soon we started performing together.
At first I hired Dan to play in my band. That same summer I had my first show at Le Poisson Rouge with a fantastic trio, including Dan, Colin Stranahan and Rick Rosato.
Throughout this period I was busy writing songs and planning to make an album (also the same summer I went water skiing in canada!). Dan was always a good ear to bend about ideas and musical concepts. He could, at times, give me some pretty strong criticism about my compositions and even my singing, but, doing my best to take it in the spirit it was meant I found that I’ve actually learnt a great deal by working with Dan. His criticism would inspire me to work harder, to take a deeper look at the work I was creating and evaluate its strength in the world. Like any good friend should be, Dan is always honest.
In March 2014 we had our first duo concert in Paris. It was a huge success - the audience was so enthusiastic and warm, Dan and I thought we might be on to something.
We started talking about making a duo record together a month or so later whilst playing catch at dusk in Prospect Park—I find playing hand-eye coordination games is always a good way to get creative juices flowing.
It so happens that Dan is a Yamaha Artist and also a tech-nerd! How do these things marry? Well, he has all his own recording equipment and engineering know how (which he invested in in order to make his Goldberg Variations / Variations record), and so we were able to record the bulk of the album in the Yamaha space in Manhattan - Dan masterfully engineering the piano and vocals, whilst the brilliant Matt Pierson watched over and produced the sessions.
All this said, Dan and I have come up against some interesting and subtle challenges through working together. Because I am veering more towards being a ‘singer-songwriter’ than a jazz singer I tend to perform my songs in a very similar way each time. Dan is a born improviser, and we are both born leaders! Finding the balance with these ingredients has been a great quest. At times it can feel like a rowing boat dancing on stormy waves when singing with him - I, the boat, he the water. Or, another image I thought of to describe our musical interaction is that of a great old oak tree waving in the wind—I the trunk of a tree, steady and rooted, and Dan the branches and the leaves, stretching and reaching for new light. And yet, the best thing about this ‘tango’ we do is that we will then trade places - I become the water, and he the boat, me the branches and he the roots.
It can be rare that musicians get to play together as much as we have, and develop a deeper level of musical intimacy. It makes for very a special and often telepathic musical interaction, and I feel lucky to have found such a great collaborator in him.
- February, 2015 -