Jazz Improv Magazine
Volume 4, Number 4
Interview with Veronica Nunn
Taken by: Jazz Improv
JI: Tell us about your upbringing in Arkansas, and the kind of feelings,
sights and sounds you experienced at home.
VN: First of all let me say
that Arkansas is a physically beautiful state, with its mountains, rivers
and lakes, but sometimes amidst beauty and
light, there can be an ugly and dark part. I grew up in Arkansas in the
50's. During that time there was a lot of racism. I remember separate
everything as a small child. It was a dangerous time. The kind of feelings
that I felt at home however, were warm and supportive. We grew up at
that time in a middle class existence. I went to private schools. My
father was a trumpet player, but gave it up to worked as a chef to support
his family. I remember times when my father would cook up huge meals
and relatives and people in the neighborhood would come by. There was
always music around my house. My mom was the most eclectic in music choices.
She exposed me to all types of art, not just music.
JI: Who or what inspired
you to begin serious study and career pursuit as a musician - vocalist?
VN: When I was around four years old, maybe a little younger, I saw this
movie called the Wizard of Oz and this singer Judy Garland sang this
song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", which became the first
song in my repertoire. I sang that song all the time. My mom use to let
me stay up late at night and watch all the movie musicals or variety
shows. I knew then that I wanted to sing, the serious study part began
around nine years old. Although I started taking piano lessons around
six years old, it really wasn't until I started taking voice lessons
around nine years old that I began to dream of being a singer.
vocalist or instrumentalists have been most influential, and specifically
identify how and why?
VN: I've been singing for over 40 years and it wasn't
until the last past ten years that I started really listening closely
to vocalist. I've
always wanted to have my own sound and not sound like someone else, so
I figured that if I only listen to and study the instrumentalist, my
approach to songs would be more like an instrumentalist and I would copy
those sounds tones and qualities as oppose to the sound tones of other
singers. I listened to horn players for ballads (phrasing), drummers
for time and color, bass and piano for pitch and simplicity.
your association with Michael Franks.
VN: I've been singing with Michael
Franks for ten years now. I am the only back up singer he uses and I
perform the duets that he's recorded
over the years with other artists. This year, he is releasing a Christmas
album that contains all original Christmas tunes. One of the tunes, a
duet that I perform with him, is called "Island Christmas".
It's an incredible album with amazing tunes with arrangements that are
wonderful. I consider Michael Franks one of the few great songwriters
around today. He is an incredibly spiritual human being, with this great
sense of humor and a he's a remarkable story teller. I feel very blessed
to have had this opportunity to work with him over the years and to learn
so much from him.
JI: Tell us about Travis Shook and how you met.
VN: What can I say about
Travis? Genius. Innovator. He is truly an original. We met at a Jam session
at the Iridium. He ended up being the keyboard
player to play for me when they called me up to sing. We played the tune, "You
Don't Know What Love Is". It was if we had been playing music together
for years. The synchronicity was mystical. I can't begin to say all the
things about him that fully represents just how incredible I think he
is as an artist. That would require more space than is allotted for me
JI: What is your source of inspiration, or ideas for lyrics in general,
and for specific tunes?
VN: Most of the time I have to have some type
of obsession going on before I can write a tune. And the lyrics, most
of them all deal with love,
desire, longing. Specific tunes on the other hand, usually, I look for
strong melody and words that I can relate to. The content for me can
be just about anything as long as it represents something in my life
that is real to me. What I do as a singer rests strongly on intention.
So, if I don't know what I'm trying to say, neither will anyone else
listening to me. Personally, I don't write enough and the stuff that
I do write, I don't feel that it's very good. It's difficult for me to
write when I sing songs written by Abbey Lincoln, Michael Franks, Steve
Wonder, Stephen Sondheim, not to mention all the "Songbook" material
that everyone's recorded that were written by Ellington, Porter, Gershwin
... but, they say practice makes perfect, so I just keep doing it.
JI: What kind of practice do you do when you are not publicly performing,
and what purposes or goals do you have in mind when you practice?
VN: I don't really practice singing at home like as I should. My practice
is my working specifically on tunes, arranging. I'll run some scales.
I just started learning how to play the double bass and I practice that
and use that now for my singing, for pitch and music education. I really
do the true practicing when I'm actually performing, because no matter
what I work on at home, when I do it live, it will change due to the
eternal environment or my own internal environment, such as how I'm feeling,
if I had a good day or bad day.
JI: How do you deal with the dilemma we all run into from time to time
of dealing with musicians or people in general who claim to be quite
sensitive, but unbeknownst to themselves are insufferably self-absorbed?
VN: The word here is "unbeknownst"; everyone has their own
reality, their perception that assists them through this life. What might
be red for someone else could appear burgundy to me. We don't know how
not to be absorbed with ourselves, since everything is in relation to
us as each individual. The best way for me is to keep myself open to
new experiences and more than anything, new ideas. To always feel that
there is something for me to learn from someone or something.
authors, artists, philosophers or others have significantly influenced
VN: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh has been an incredible influence on my life.
His objective view on all types of spiritual and philosophical concepts
eventually led me to
practicing Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism. Being an avid reader, I have read quite
a lot of books on so many different topics, ranging from theology, to physics,
to classics, to horror and science fiction, to biographies. I guess what I'm
saying is, I have read and will read just about anything. I also am a little
bit of a film buff. And I have quite a few friends who are painters, sculptures.
In other words, I'm extremely experimental in my view of the world.
JI: If there
is a profound quote or idea (or more than one) that has significantly
influenced you? How?
VN: "Never, Never, Never Quit" Winston
JI: Guy Finley said that "Nothing we are afraid to live
without can be the
source of our success." Are musicians afraid to live without music? Are
you? If so, can the music and art be the source of your success or not?
for me is part of living; it is one of the processes by which I communicate
my feelings and ideas to others. The idea of living without it would
it was something separate from life, something outside of me. Success can be
view in two ways, one it being something outside of you or it being a thing
that you can possess. My 'success' is a personal thing, a sense of well
being in balance with my desires and my actions.
JI: What are elements do you
think we each need to feel successful? What do you need? What if anything
VN: Health is the first thing on the list, since my body is
my instrument, it's important that I take care of it, so I workout, eat
well and stay away
many poisons as I can. Next is the spiritual element. This is my code for my
life, my rule book, so to speak. From these two I begin to allow my dreams
to dictate to me the possibilities for my life, for example, what type of relationships
I want to have with others, what kind of lifestyle I want to live, how much
do I want to make, what actions do I take to support my environment, my community,
what kind of artist do I want to be. Nothing is missing, we contain all.
JI: How do you stay balanced - as an artist, as an individual - and nurture
deeper meaningful ideas and feelings in this contemporary society in the face
incessant stress and sensory overload the surrounds us?
VN: I practice Nichiren
JI: "Good people are good because they've come
to wisdom through failure," stated
William Saroyan. How have you experienced that in your music? In your life?
JI: In a couple of sentences, how do you want your music
to influence people - what do you want it to say or do?
VN: I want my
music to inspire and empower people to reach for the highest and most
sincere place in their hearts and to act on that for
JI: What if any is the connection between music and spirituality?
VN: A couple of definitions: 1. Of relating to, consisting of, or having
the nature of spirit; not tangible, not material. 2. Of concerned with,