IMPROVIJAZZATION Nation - Issue # 96
INTERVIEW with Cara Clarke
I'm honored to have Cara respond to my request for an interview... her music was what first "won me over" for a fantastic little gem of a place called the "Blue Bottle", out in Yelm, Washington! She's pictured here with her latest musical group, "Be Hear" (one of my favorite local groups). She's led a rich and full life, and continues to do so... in fact, LIFE is what she's really all about... heavy energy for whatever she's doing, & a performer of great magnitude! If you live in this area, or even if you're just passing through, you'll want to make sure you make time to catch her gig & make her acquaintance - I know I'm glad I did!!!
Zzaj: I'm sittin' here listening back through the DEMO CD of yours I reviewed in this issue, Cara... while your music surely "tells the story", our readers would also like to hear it in YOUR WORDS... where you were born, where you went, where you are now... in other words, please give us some bio to tell us who Cara really is!
Cara: Wow! A Bio... How much time do we have? I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. I attended DePaul University majoring in Journalism because I had high hopes of reporting my take on current events to the world! That was back in the early 80's and my friends and I got into the drug scene... So one night at a party I looked around and realized that wasn't what I wanted to do with my life. So - I whispered very softly so no one would hear... Help! No kidding Dick, I just whispered help and the very next day I decided to relocate to Portland, Oregon. I had distant relatives there that had offered to let me come and stay for a bit to see if I liked it after finishing school, so I called and they were ecstatic that I wanted to come out. Talked with my parents and they too were thrilled - they knew I was on a downward spiral. So for two weeks I packed, waiting for my last day of work. I had come up with the great idea that I was going to see the country so instead of flying I was taking the greyhound bus out - Not a good idea! Two days before leaving I got a call from my cousin Jay that Mount St. Helen's had blown! There was Ash everywhere so they wanted me to postpone my trip for another two weeks, but I was ready to go... So, he suggested I check out Seattle for a week and then come to Portland... I did check out Seattle Stayed at the YWCA til' I found a place and work. I loved it so much that I never made to Portland!
I was extremely shy, I know that's hard to believe now, but finding myself in a brand new place was like being able to reinvent me, so I decided I was going to come out the closet and sing - My first love.
Now I have to tell you this one story that changed my life. How when you reinvent yourself and change your character how quickly things happen. So - I met this guy and told him I was a singer and he told me about a jam session, now mind you I didn't really know what a jam session was at that time, I'd seen all the jazz greats with my parents both jazz lovers, but I didn't know what a session was. So, this fellow tells me about a jazz jam session at the Olympic Four Seasons Hotel of all places, a professional jam session at that, and I figured how hard can it be, right? I pick a tune out that I love and decide I am going to go and sit in,.
By this time I've met a friend and she's going with me for encouragement, not knowing that I have never done this before. So I go up and put my name on the list and the tune I'm going to sing - "¯Lush Life" - yep - I don't remember the entire combo, but the drummer was Dean Hodges, a Seattle favorite; these cats were Seattle's best at the time.
I stepped up on that stage and took a look at those real players I was in awe... Wishing my parents were there to see this. The musicians were checking me out too, knowing either I was going to blow the heck out of the tune or NOT... But my bet was that they thought I was some Jazz vocalist from someplace special, I looked¯ the part. Excitement was in the air and everyone was all ears - I'm not kidding. They really didn't know what to think when they asked what key and I said, "Any Key"!¯ Yep, I did. Oh! Man, my knees buckled and the first few verses were okay, but when those changes got to coming it ALL fell apart! It was a hot mess! I realized then that singing with live musicians was nothing like singing with a record, especially jazz! I made an awful mess out of it, went back to my seat and just as I was about to sneak out of the club to hide my shame, Mr. Hodges came over to me touched my shoulder and said "¯Go home and learn the tune in that key and come back"¯, "You got something there girl!"¯ Blew me away. I never went back to that Four Seasons jam, but I worked on the tune and a few more. I actually ended up gigging with my own band at the Four Seasons a few years later and even hired Dean Hodges for a few gigs, his son played with my band "Caraplane"¯ back in the day. Later I would find a signature tune to do at Jam sessions and I've always tried to remember the keys I sing in. That tune is on the demo and I know it front and backwards and I always do it in the key of F, thanks to Dean Hodges advice. The Girl from Ipanema, nothing like some Antonio Carlos Jobim. I have NEVER tried to sing "Lush Life" since... "Hummmm" Maybe we'll have to put it on the CD.
After that it was vocalist meets guitar player...They form a band, gig all over the place, get married... "Divorce", split the band in two...Band wars...Girl relocates, works with child development and special needs children, relocates again, remarries has another daughter...Becomes despondent with the life she has without music...Pushes on to survive...Music...Motherhood...Motherhood...Single parent life...wakes up years later and opens up to her musical dreams again...We'll probably touch on some of this during the interview....smiles
Zzaj: You've mentioned to me that you spent a lot of time in the Orient... tell us a bit more about that... what took you there... how long you stayed... why you came back... & what you got from being there...
Cara: I met this guitar player. I would go to his gigs and just sit and watch the band. I'd smile at him, he'd smile at me from the stage, but I thought something was missing... So one night I fixed him a really great dinner, cuddled up real close to him and in my sweetest voice mentioned that I would just love to try a tune with his band. He said, "Sure Sweetie" I had listened to & practiced a few jazz tune/songs, paid attention to the progression of chords and the instrumentation of the musicians and was itching to try it with some "Real" players.
The first time I took to the stage there were three patrons in the club, a few seconds into my tune one of them walked out! It was the "Old Timer's Cafe" in Pioneer square and the club owner at the the time, "Juan" came up to me after the set and asked if I would join the guys at their next gig! I thought he was joking... That was the beginning of my hot little band "Caraplane"...¯ we played all over Seattle. Those few tunes turned into a few more and with lots of long solos and we made it through many a gig. The guitar player and I got married. I begin gigging with my band and also on the side with a band called "The Forty-seven Street Players",¯ mostly ski resorts with them. I was loving my life! "Caraplane" was doing sort of the Jazz circuit, clubs in Pioneer Square and Capital Hill, Jazz Alley in the "U" district and one of the coolest Jazz spots I've known, "Parnell's". I occasionally helped out as a waitress at Parnell's. It was a great place to get up close and & personal with the Jazz musicians that came through the NW on tour.
It was a fabulous time in my life. I got to meet and hang out with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Smith, Eddie "Clean-Head" Vinson, Lorez Alexandra, Lionel Hampton, Billy Higgins, Ahmad Jamal, Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, Chet Baker, Jack McDuff, Slim Gaillard & Etta James, Ester Phillips, Julian Priester to name a few - I forged quite a few friendships in those amazing times.
One night I'm there working at Parnell's and a call comes in for me... This guy from California on the line saying someone told him about me and he has a gig in Japan, would I be interested. So I think it's a joke and start playing with the caller. I go on and on about how great I am and what my repertoire is and how I would really be interested and he could come and see me at my gig that weekend at the Pioneer Square Tavern a cool little dive at that time. All the while snickering to myself.
You know Dick, I'm listening to what I'm saying and seeing we really do create our reality! My husband and I had a great laugh over this "Who the heck calls someone they never heard before about a gig in Japan", because at that time Japan seemed like some far off exotic place that I would never get to... But the truth is I had actually "thought"¯ about Japan, I just hadn't mentioned it to anyone. It was sort of like a fantasy, one of my high school friends had gone to live there for a year and really loved it! So that weekend I'm doing my gig and on my break this guy walks up to me and introduces himself from Belmont Agency, he hands me a contract to look over and tells me to get back to him in a week, if I'm interested!
Amazing right, so for the next month I scrambled to learn tunes, have charts made up and put a band together to go to Japan. Our first trip over was to Osaka, we spent 6 weeks. The pay was poor, the accommodations were lousy and I got homesick. Aside from that I had studied little of the culture. I was confused and bewildered by the unknown ways and customs of this society and had more than my share of mishaps! I returned home that first trip broken from the experience but determined to make good on my sharing my music with this Asian culture. Before returning to America, I secured another gig at nicer club with wonderful accommodations and better pay because I would be using Japanese musicians this next time. I hadn't used my entire visa time up so I was able to return within a few months...I had no idea the my next trip over was going to be one of the greatest adventures of my life! Right before I was to leave I fell ill. I went to a Doctor who assured me that all I had was a bit of stomach flu. Strange thing was he had me take an ultra sound for precautionary measures. The results were to be back in a week or so, but he assured me there would be no problem going to Japan for my 12 weeks tour. Well I went! Long story short! 11 weeks into a 12 week gig I gave birth to a very premature baby! We pretty much figured out I was I must have been about 15 weeks pregnant when I left Seattle. The club owner never believed that I didn't know I was pregnant. It was a hit with the newspapers though. My oldest daughter Mica weighed one pound two ounces at birth and was born at Yodogawa Christian Hospital in Osaka, Japan that June at 27 weeks gestation! I gigged all over Japan for the next 6 months in between visiting her at the hospital. I FINALLY got a chance to throw myself into the culture of the society. I learned a bit of the language, ate the food and made friends. The year was 1983 and that was when the aids epidemic was occurring but they had not begun testing donated blood. Mica required several blood transfusions, all from her Father because they shared the same blood type and he had flown over to be with me. I like to think that perhaps this had something to do with all that happened.
In our mail when we returned home from Japan was a letter from the Doctor that he had been sadly mistaken, I WAS pregnant. I never called him back. Mica is 26 and a collage graduate... living and working in Seattle, Washington now!
I've performed maybe 6 more times in Asia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and the Philippines! One of my favorite places on the Planet is Bali, Indonesia! Aside from the Netherlands, where I have also gigged, Washington state is the best, that's why I'm here, but if I wasn't living here, that's where I would want to be. What I learned from the Orient, while there was a lot, but my biggest lesson (and this took several trips) was that women can lead by sometimes appearing as if they are following. I learned that just because folks don't hoop and holler when you are playing that doesn't mean they aren't listening and enjoying. The Japanese are very polite people. It took a bit of time before I realized they really did like me, they clapped very gently as if not to upset the flow in the room. I am forever grateful for the expertise of those Doctors who cared for my child during her hospital stay, especially one female Doctor that gave birth to her child shortly before we returned to the States with Mica in tow.
Zzaj: There are always players we fancy ourselves to be like, whether it's a guitarist, a piano player or a vocalist... who is that for you? How/why do they most inspire you?
Cara: There are a few musicians that I have heard that seem to resonate with me on different pages of my life. Their frequency in their music is a match for mine... the deep sorrow in Chet Bakers playing and singing, the heartfelt delight in guitarist Pierre Bensusan's voice and guitar, the rich soulful story telling of Phoebe Snow and the fun time that is had by all with Bette Midler to name a few. I bet you thought I was going to say Aretha, Chaka or Ella, Carmen, Billy, Sarah, Rachelle Farrell or Dianne Reeves; those are my sisters and my roots! They are the "Healer" voices that assisted me in getting my life back on track. Doris Day! I have to say this - I loved Doris Days voice!
Zzaj: I've watched you perform on many occasions now, & it seems (to me, anyway) like you're a "natural" performer... that's not something that comes easy... what/who in your earliest days helped you to see that this is something you SHOULD be doing?
Cara: Actually Dick, it wasn't a person that inspired my love for music first, it was a the first time I heard a song. I remember it oh so well. I was sitting in front of my grandmother's house in Louisiana and heard "Sherri Won't You Come Out Tonight". This song just came through the air landed in one ear and went out the other. I mean it, I felt it and saw it! That's how I remember it as a child of three. This stuff that had words that weren't just talking but doing something else, flowed through my ear and it tickled and made me laugh and it was at that moment that I knew I wanted to be that whatever it was. I wanted to BE music!
My Father, Pierre was a classical violinist our personalities were very similar. He was really encouraging with me when it came to my love of music. Music was my Dad's "Happy" thought. If he was playing, talking or listening to music his eyes twinkled and he became very animated in his ways. My Mother Revah, an Educator, on the other hand, had very high hopes my excelling academically I'd always done well in school. She discouraged my desire to sing, that was of course unless I wanted to pursue Opera! The odd thing about that was my Mother had this incredible voice with really wonderful vibrato that she she only shared with her children. I used to love to hear her sing lullaby's and later in songs from Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and her favorite jazz albums; because it was "Natural"¯ and quite beautiful. She also loved to whistle through jazz changes! I remember listening to her sing shortly before her death and asking her why she never pursued a career in music. Would you believe she told me...After years of chastising me for not following the straight and pursuing a professional career to her likening? "¯That's what I have you for!", and then she tells me, "¯Don't you ever forget where you got it from¯." How's that for for famous last words??? That was in 2007. I guess after you live so long you realize that the day gig you work is really so you can support whatever your real passion is until it gets going. I would like to think that my Mother realized that in her prime. It's about following your bliss, but so many of us get caught up in possessions that we forget what it is we really love doing and don't realize it until it's almost all over.
Zzaj: "Spirit" in music is something I believe counts more than anything else... I don't just mean "soul", "R&B", or some particular genre... it can be any kind of music, as long as the players/performers have the right ENERGY comin' through. How do you see it? Where does your particular energy come from ('coz you surely GOT it, lady)?
Cara: Thank you, that's beautiful. I love singing and I love humanity. I particularly love the players I am working with right now, we seem to be on the same page, so there is so much joy for me when I'm on stage imagine I'm doing what I love with who I love and the feeling is mutual - The audience can't help but become effected if they are open to receiving this, and once they are than it's one great big love fest! No judgments, come as you and and leave as you wish to be. To be more specific though, this energy you speak of...When you use your mind in the way where you don't judge a situation, you allow your joy of performing the music to unfold and let the "Spirit"¯ of that music take you where it will. I find that "Omniscient Spirit"¯ present whenever I remember to have "No Doubt"¯ and allow, allow, ALLOW and have fun with it.
Zzaj: As mentioned, your DEMO CD is reviewed in this issue... can you tell us when you think the full CD may be released? You know, give our readers a little "inside scoop", 'k?
Cara: Here's the inside scoop on "Be Hear"¯, Stefan Abuan (guitar/vocals/composer), Steve Bartlett (bass/vocals) and myself had hoped to go into the studio the end of October and work diligently on tunes finishing up by the end of November. We were working on Stefan's latest original, "Your Love is Like Soul Music",¯ which is incredible, and Steve came up with the idea that we should create songs with powerful musical and lyrical content such as this song. It's so simple, but the melody and lyrics really hit home.
As a collective we've decided that we just didn't want a CD to sell, we would create a CD that would hopefully make a difference. We have four originals that we are tightening up before we go to the studio and all of us, including Steve's wife Jan, are listening to tunes that we might like to cover. We will finish around the end of January early February. It's a little bit longer but worth the wait. I think you are going to be very surprised by one of the songs we are covering if it works out as planned. My youngest daughter Asantewaa has gotten into the mix of music now that she's begun music theory and made a major suggestion that I'm quite excited about, Stefan agreed to work out the arrangement and well if all works out as planned this should be a goodie!
Zzaj: It may just be coincidence, but I'm reading a book about "New Orleans jazz" that talks a lot about some of the "black tribes" that do street music (even voodoo) down there... they allude to some quite heavy mixing with Native American folk... seems like you've told me you had some roots in that direction... tell us what you can about that, please? (in the interest of cultural diversity, of course, since that's something I think is quite important for our country).
Cara: Certainly! I have a pretty incredible ethnic background! My Mother was born in the Bayou in Louisiana, she has always had fond memories and fascinating stories of her life there. This upbringing allowed her to be precise in her senses and non-traditional in her thinking because when you live in the Bayou you have to be able to tune into sounds around you to protect yourself from predators especially snakes and alligators. You also have to become sovereign to the land. They healed themselves naturally and made their bread, wine and beer. She was an exceptional cook. I was lucky to have a free thinker for a Mother when I was younger, of course over the years she went with higher education over educating herself and losing some of that. My Mother's ethnic background was Louisiana Creole (Colonial French, Black and Native American) and Irish. My Father was Black and Choctaw Indian - his roots were in Arkansas but he grew up in Chicago, Illinois. His upbringing was totally different from my Mother's though. My Paternal Grandmother was a student in one of (I believe) the first colleges to allow Black student entry into a nursing program in Florida. The program was discontinued almost as quickly as it was opened. Only the students that had been allowed the initial entry were allowed to continue and ultimately finish. My grandmother received her RN and was able to afford violin lessons for my Father, which was pretty amazing seeing as they lived through the depression. Cultural Diversity runs deep in my family. There were no color barriers. Where there was racism I was taught early on that was just ignorance. Skin color is not a representation of who you were aside from your genetic make-up, add to that the environment and the culture you were brought up in which add more components to your personality...But your personality isn't EVEN who YOU are...You are an incredible light having an experience on this playground we call earth.
Zzaj: At one time, you played with a lot of Seattle players (& others, I'm sure); who were some of them? & tell us what you see comin' down the pike for Cara, musically, please...
Cara: Yes, Seattle had and has some magnificent players and I've gigged with some of the greatest there! I know after this interview I'm going to come up with more,..
Let's see Seattle's Blues Great Isaac Scott, Saxophonist extraordinaire Lonnie Williams, Dean Hodges (drums), Clarence Acox (drums), Merwyn Kato (drums) he's on our demo, Doug Barnett, Steve Banks (drums), Deems Tsutakawa (piano), Gerald Gipson (Saxophone Wow!) Curtis Bringle (piano), Buddy Catlett (bass), Roger Pegues (piano), Steve Nowak (guitar), Jay Thomas (sax); Jay Maudlian (drums)...Bernadette Bascom (vocals)... I was briefly married to guitarist Michael Powers, who is my daughter Mica's Dad. Michael Golden (piano), John Bishop (drums) along with Mikel Rollins (bass)... went on my first tour of Japan. Cietta Fay Tappin (piano), Dan Hammond (sax), Byard Beutow (guitar), Bea Smith (vocals), "Little" Bill (bass and vocals), Janice Lakers (vocals), Diane Schure (vocals) - Man..."Diddles" (Diane Schure) use to show up at my gig and start singing at the door of the club...Great resonance in her voice. I'd high tail it to the side of the stage to watch as she made her way to the piano and would proceed to "Blow" the entire audience away with her singing and playing. That is when I learned to take a break after a really great musician has sat in and moved the room. Let the energy of sit with the audience for a while...I know I'm forgetting some.
What's coming down the pike, well to be honest what you've got coming is a seasoned vocalist that is ready to have some real fun with some incredible musicians with our new band "Be Hear!" ¯ As I said before we are dedicated to making a difference and giving the fans what they want. It's fun for us when you're having a great time! As Steve Bartlett puts it, our drummer hasn't found us yet. "Be Hear!"¯ came together in a most magical way. Our soulful music just makes you feel good, and we want our drummer to know (just in case he's reading this) to hurry up and get here. We're leaving the light on for you.
Zzaj: Do you play an instrument? If so, what is it? For both instruments and vocals, how extensive has your musical training been? In that sense, what's more important? The music, or the training? Or, both?
Cara: I took piano lessons when I was younger, I had no desire to play then but I do now! I have had a few vocal lessons. For vocalists, breath control and enunciation techniques really help. I am from a musical family, everyone played something. I've been discussing with the fellows about me picking up the guitar!...smiles... You know that Zimbabwean quote, if you can walk you can dance if you can talk you can sing. Musical theory and training are wonderful, but I have heard some of the most accomplished musicians and vocalists perform technically great pieces without an ounce of feeling in the music. I've seen them get standing ovations for technique and that's all well and fine but when it come to music, I want it to touch my heart and soul. Ultimately I feel a balance between the two would be wonderful, but for me I just love raw talent! Guitarist Wes Montgomery comes to mind, he played complex riffs by ear!
Zzaj: There seems to be a real "surge" in musical output these days... at least, I find myself getting deluged with a LOT more music to review... being a player/singer isn't always an easy life... what are your words of wisdom for those who are thinking about pursuing music as a career? Is it worth the sacrifices?
Cara: Well Dick, it's like I said earlier. If you are not born wealthy your day gig is what you do to support your passion until it gets going and if music is your passion my suggestion is that follow your bliss as you work to keep food on the table till it takes off.
Take some time and sit with yourself to see yourself as you wish to be, don't just go haphazardly out there wishing and hoping and dreaming see it and then work towards that all the time focusing on it! Hold on to those thoughts until they appear! It will!
Don't give up on your dreams to support someone else's! Help others but remember your life is just that YOUR life!
If you find someone that discourages you from you passion...RUN!
Last but not least BE GRATEFUL for it ALL and DREAM BIG!
The music we are hearing now is for our transforming times. Our society is in an economical slump, we have earth and consciousness changes that abound. People have to express these feelings and what better way to get it out than through music?
Music is a universal language. Musicians don't have to speak the same language to play together, isn't that amazing!
The music you are receiving now is the Birthing of a New World - Like John Lennon's Imagine or Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" during the Viet Nam war era... "¯Be Here's¯ Stefan Abuan's lyrics on "Long As I Have Music"¯, speak to these times! People losing jobs/Can't pay their bills/No money to feed their little children/But as long as we've got music/It gives it hope for another day.
It's been a pleasure Dick, thanks for having me.