Edel Meade is an award-winning singer, composer, lyricist, bandleader and educator. Her style pushes boundaries in terms of contemporary vocal performance. Her Swoo-Beh project is provocative and adventurous. And yet, you can still expect to hear classic jazz standards from the Great American Songbook performed in a straight-ahead style with consummate musicianship. Her dedication to Billie Holiday, "Tribute To Lady Day" is just that. The music on her upcoming album is forward thinking and represents "who I am right now, where I have come from, and where I'm going."
This is her Story.
I always loved singing and was very involved in music in school. I had a great piano teacher, played flute in the school orchestra, guitar in the traditional Irish group and sang in choirs and school shows. I never took singing seriously though. I loved it but it came so naturally. For example I knew that if I worked on a song for a few days, I’d be able to sing it pretty well, but in order to play three pieces for my piano exam, I’d have to spend the entire year practising! I got a guitar when I was 14 and went for some lessons and started writing my own songs. It was a way for me to express myself.
I moved to Dublin when I was 18 to study journalism with Irish at DIT Aungier St. That first year was tough. I started busking around that time, with my buddy, Róisín. We used to ‘set up shop’, at least twice a week for the best part of three years, singing harmonies and playing pop songs on our guitars! We used to make a small fortune and spend it all on gigs and nights out in Whelans!
Apart from the busking, I really missed the social aspect of music. So when I came across a poster for the Gardiner Street Gospel Choir, I contacted Kevin Kelly, musical director, straight away, practically begging him to let me join and he did. Kevin is a gifted musician, arranger and musical director. We sang songs from ‘Sister Act’, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Bob Marley and all these beautiful spiritual songs. Within a few months of joining the choir, I was singing live on The Late Late Show and as a soloist in the Olympia Theatre and in Vicar Street! It was a wonderful experience.
In 2005, I went to Chicago on a student exchange program. And just before I left Dublin, I went to see the movie biopic, ‘Ray’, starring Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, and this is the first time I can recall hearing jazz. I was 20, almost turning 21 and I was absolutely transfixed. Could barely believe it.
I went to Chicago a few weeks later and auditioned for the Vocal Jazz module, singing a couple of Eva Cassidy songs and was offered a place. I signed up for ‘Styles for the Contemporary Singer’, where I learnt about different genres and grooves. For the showcase concert, we had to perform a song in a completely different style to how it was originally written; I sang The Clash song, ’Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ with a band with a bluesy 12/8 feel. Loved the experience!
And I took the ‘Popular Contemporary Music’ class, which was basically a social history of rock n’roll. I learnt where the blues came from and learnt about songwriters like Bob Dylan and Nina Simone, where they got their influences and the political climate of the time; learnt about the Sixties, the counter-culture, Motown and the Punk Rock movement. It was amazing. This was a formative time for me. And there was no going back.
When I returned to Dublin, I still didn’t know much about jazz, but I knew it was a related to the blues and gospel and soul and I wanted in. So that’s what brought me to Newpark.
Billie was the first song stylist and she has influenced so many contemporary singers like Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Amy Winehouse. She sings with such feeling and emotion and that’s something people often comment on with regard to my own style of delivery. 2015 marks the centenary year of her birth so I thought this would be the perfect time to dive into her music. I'm so glad I did!
Edel Meade & Dick Farrelly on guitar performing Billie Holiday's 'Blue Moon'
I don’t want to be put in a box so I wanted to get away from the ‘jazz’ thing for a while. I was trying to figure out what sort of people would be interested in my own original music. Joni seemed like an obvious choice.
Edel Meade & Dick Farrelly on guitar performing Joni Mitchell's 'River'
I never have any problems writing music. When I sit at the piano, I have no shortage of musical ideas, but for me, the problem is getting to the piano! Usually other stuff gets in the way like teaching, and boring admin and promotional work.
The first song I ever wrote, ‘Love Lost’, took four days. I kept coming back to it and tweaking it and changing lyrics here and there but then it was done. My song ‘Sideways’ took a couple of hours.
If I’m writing an extended composition, i.e. a longer piece, it might take a few weeks to put all my musical ideas together, but it’s a very natural process. My subconscious is usually working through ideas so that by the time I sit down at the piano, the music flows out in an organic way.
Usually I will have a lyrical theme in mind or a vibe/mood that I want to create and then I might play a ‘wrong’ note and decide I’m gonna keep that.
Preparation, relaxation, and live performance.
I don’t really work on my voice. I rarely do warm-ups but on the day of a performance, I will take time to go for a walk to relax my mind and body and to pay attention to anywhere I am holding tension in the body. When I am feeling relaxed, I can give the best vocal performance.
Having said that, I spent years working incessantly with the metronome for example, when I was at college, learnt to sing various transcriptions and I do vocal workouts and exercises with my students in the group classes.
My voice is changing all the time. I’m getting more comfortable using it and I’m also more comfortable with lower notes these days.
I'm not interested in singing a song the same way twice so there is certainly a strong element of spontaneity in my performances. Rehearsals are necessary to work on specific arrangements or unfamiliar material, but if I’m doing a standards gig, for example, then that’s absolutely a time for improvisation!
The biggest obstacle was FEAR and lack of funds, but mostly, fear. It’s a contemporary jazz album, some of the arrangements are daring, some of the songs have been influenced by free jazz, some are from the heart. It’s not a jazz standards album and I have spent too much time worrying about what people will think.
I was drawn to jazz because of the feeling of the music, the soul and the excitement and the sense of exploring the unexplored. This is an artistic project and at this stage it’s about more than music. It’s about accepting who I am and what I have to say.
I'm back in the studio this month so I hope to have the new material released in the Spring!
I was recently in Helsinki representing Ireland at the 1st International Jazz Voice Conference. 100 jazz singers and educators from every corner of the world came together for three days of presentations, performance workshops and concerts hosted by the Sibelius Academy. It was such a privilege to be there. I loved it! Carmen Lundy, Michele Weir and Judy Niemack were special guests. It was incredible to sit next to Maria Naranjo from Ecuador, who actually understands what you mean when you say how much Mark Murphy has inspired you. And to listen to Lee-Ellen Martin, a PhD student from Ohio, present her research findings on Annie Ross, one of the most forward-thinking singers of her time… I got my boost of musical nutrients.
Working with Theo Bleckmann in Calafornia during the summer was an amazing experience. He's been nominated for a Grammy and knows everything there is to know about the voice and how it works, and he was very encouraging. He said my song ‘Love Lost’ should be a jazz standard!
It's an honour when other musicians have recorded my music. Irish jazz pianist, Scott Flanigan recorded ‘Love Lost’ on his recent release, ‘Point of Departure’. Scott is a great musician; we work together a lot. Chilean jazz guitarist, Roberto Danobeitia recorded ‘The Last Kiss’ on his album ‘La Ironia del Tiempo’. I met Roberto when I was studying in New York a few years ago. We were playing music together and he liked my tune and asked if he could record it. Acclaimed Irish singer, Honor Heffernan also sings ‘Love Lost’. She has been a wonderful mentor to me over the years.
The Last Kiss by Edel Meade as performed by Roberto Danobeitia Nonet featuring Camila Meza.
First Irish person to win a full scholarship to the Banff International Workshop.
I think the most valuable lesson I learnt at Banff was that it’s okay to play simple music, folk melodies, Joni Mitchell songs and Stevie Wonder songs and that no one style of music is superior to any other. I met some great people there who I’m still in touch with. The level of musicianship was incredibly high. Dave Douglas is a wonderful person. I loved working with him. Same with Vijay Iyer and all the faculty.
I run a series of singing classes in JJ's on Aungier Street, Dublin. Singers in Ireland want to be able to express themselves freely through music and find their own voice. Participants get to perform with a professional jazz trio in the final week of the course so that gives them a goal to work towards and helps them to focus on taking their singing to the next level. I'll be starting another Jazz Singing Workshop Series in February 2016 at JJ's.
It’s okay to be yourself, to take risks and to experiment. There is no such thing as right and wrong, only a world of infinite possibilities. And practice is essential!
Where you can catch Edel next...
On Friday November 6th, Edel will perform her highly acclaimed ‘Tribute To Lady Day’ concert at the new, state-of-the-art dlr LexIcon Studio, Dun Laoghaire with Irish jazz guitarist, Hugh Buckley, Dave Redmond (double bass) & Ciaran Wilde (saxophone / clarinet).
Book tickets here http://www.edelmeade.eventbrite.ie
On November 28th and December 19th you can catch Edel performing at Bert's Jazz Bar at The Merchant Hotel, Belfast http://www.themerchanthotel.com
On December 7th at 8pm experience the student Vocal Jazz Showcase at JJ Smyth’s. All are welcome.
And on December 9th, you can hear Edel Meade & Hugh Buckley at the Grapevine in Dalkey, Co. Dublin. Booking essential. Phone +353 1 235 3054
For booking and enquiries, email email@example.com