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Born in Durham and raised on a heady musical diet of Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin, Jo Harrop cut her teeth as a session singer, working with a host of iconic artists including Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart and Gloria Gaynor.
After moving to London, she quickly established herself as one of the most unmistakable voices in British jazz. Having signed to London-based jazz label, Lateralize Records, she recently received a raft of rapturous reviews for Weathering The Storm, her debut with guitarist Jamie McCredie. The Guardian dubbed it ‘a little gem of an album: simple, modest and perfect,’ whilst BBC 6 Music’s Iggy Pop fell in love with her voice, calling her “a very fine jazz singer.”
Beyond the mellifluous perfection of her chocolate and cream voice, there is always a beautifully bruised intimacy at the very heart of Jo Harrop’s music. It’s almost as if she’s staring directly into your soul when she sings. This may only be her second LP, yet she sounds as if she’s already lived a thousand lifetimes.
‘A rare mix of delicacy and boldness. Sheer perfection.’ – The Guardian
‘Remarkable.’ – Jazzwise
‘A very fine jazz singer.’ Iggy Pop – BBC 6 Music
‘Extraordinary.’ Jo Whiley – BBC Radio 2
Paul Edis is one of the leading creative musicians in the UK today. As a performer, composer and educator, he has built a reputation for consistently delivering new and original ideas, seeking to innovate within his work whilst always paying respect to both the Jazz and Classical music traditions. In whatever genre or musical context he inhabits, Paul is passionate about melody and expression.
He has released several critically acclaimed recordings of new music in recent years, regularly receives commissions from a wide variety of organisations, and is known for his communication skills and breadth of knowledge, working as an educator for organisations including Sage Gateshead, National Youth Jazz Orchestra and National Youth Jazz Collective.
“A major voice in British Jazz…Edis is an incredibly fertile composer and improviser’’ — JAZZ JOURNAL
We caught up with Jo Harrop to talk about her general work in music, achievements, and her recently released album, ‘When Winter Turns to Spring’, co-produced with acclaimed pianist Paul Edis.
Hi Jo, so lovely catching up with you and learning more about all the amazing things you do! Many congratulations on your new album ‘When Winter Turns to Spring’! It would be amazing to dive deep into the creative process of this project and get to know more about what led you to start working on the album
Thank you so much, its lovey to catch up with you – its been so great to work with Paul again on this concept album, we have really got into our song writing collaborations since 2020 and its very exciting to release another album of brand new material.
Do tell us more about the songs in the album and how they relate to one another.
The idea stemmed from making a straight ahead Christmas album, after we were commissioned by DJ Jo Whiley to play a live lounge session for Christmas 2021 live at Maida Vale studios with a string quartet. We bagan writing Christmas songs, but the the idea took a few turns and morphed more into a concept of a winter album. We both really love the song ‘You Must Believe In Spring’ by Michel Legrand and Marilyn and Alan Bergman. This kind of led to us developing the idea of taking the listener on a journey from Winter time through to Spring. As a jazz singer, I noticed more and more just how many lyrics relate to the seasons and weather, drawing comparisons between emotions and feelings with temperature and scenes from every time of the year.
You mentioned that ‘…the circle of nature and the cycle of life [is] reminding us that all is not lost’. How do you feel ‘the circle of nature’ can represent human’s lives and how this can be connected to music?
Yes, definitely nature is connected to music.
The circle of nature, coming and going, being born and ageing, and dying, we are just part of natures cycle. Just as music evokes all kinds of emotions and triggers memories and feelings, nature does the same. We tend to get warm cosy feelings during the winter time, stepping inside from a chilly wintery day to sit beside a log fire, or walking through the rain running for cover. Spring usually brings a sense of hope and new beginnings with it. The little flutter in your heart when you see colours appear on blossom trees or bluebells pushing up and flooding colour into the dark woodland.
The joy of summer at shedding layers of clothes and be able to lie in the grass and spend long balmy evenings outside. That romance of Autumn, the turning leaves and golden hues, often inspiring those feelings of melancholy. So many songs have been written about how nature can make us feel.
It’s interesting to see how each season can be seen as connected with distinct sensations and emotions, such as summer with romance, winter with loneliness, etc. Is there a particular season that inspires you in your creative work, and if so, why?
Yes. Autumn often evokes melancholy, bittersweet, aching and longing – nostalgic songs, such as Autumn In New York and Short Story. Spring will usually be a song giving hope to better times – new beginnings, like You Must Believe In Spring and Spring Put The Swing In My Step. Summer time is seductive and often romantic, more lighthearted – Summertime being the obvious jazz standard, or Once Upon A Summertime.
Winter time, rain, ice etc is so often related to feelings of loss and pain, being cold & lonely. Our song, Winter Love Affair is a heartbreak song. But then in complete contrast, snow songs and christmas songs are also really jolly and joyous, because they evoke memories of childhood and family times.
Let’s talk about sound – in the album you combine two different genres: chamber pop and sophisticated jazz. Tell us more about these seemingly distinctive fields of music and how you managed to combine them so effectively.
Well, we love all genres of music, so there are so many influences when we write – a good song is a good song to me, so we don’t get too caught up in sticking to one strict genre, but also we make sure that everything still ties together and makes sense in the journey through the album and doesn’t go too off piste.
When there is a story to be told, its quite lovely to have different sounds for the emotions that we are trying to portray … sometimes that is swinging or bluesy – but sometimes you just need to hear bit of soul or pop to get the right emotion across. Also, perhaps my voice ties the sound together too somehow so it is a jigsaw puzzle that hopefully eventually fits together.
You mentioned that this wistful album aims to defy any classification; what does music categorisation mean to you, and why was it important to defy it?
I think that Jonathan Wingate wrote this for the press release. However, I feel that for me, personally, it’s important to make timeless albums that tell a bit of a story, and have a sound, and be played over again through time. I like my albums to have a feel, rather than a category – its more important that people can relate to them, rather than think ‘oh I am listening to a jazz album’ – many people tell me, ‘I dont like jazz usually but I like your music’. So I like to take them on a journey, where they might feel joy and also feel connected & relate the lyrics to their own experiences, because sometimes a song can just save you when you need to hear it the most. So I suppose it doesn’t matter what category the music is as long as people can feel it & enjoy it.
Categories just give people a general idea of the style, but so many albums these days have so many influences threaded throughout them, that they are really interesting and stimulating – so I think its fine to be a bit out of the box.
With ConnectsMusic collaborations are really important to us, as can be a key aspect when composing music as fresh insights can be connected and gained. It’s inspiring to see how effortlessly you do it with your colleague Paul Edis, who is an outstanding pianist, and we’d love to know more about your relationship in the recording studio. Plus what have you learnt from all your musical collaborations when creating?
I pretty much always collaborate as I am a singer/lyricist and I didn’t train in music nor play an instrument, so I do everything by ear, and need an accompanist to work alongside. I feel so very blessed to be able to work with someone as talented as Paul as he really listens and understands what the music needs. He knows my voice so well, and is very supportive of what I do. He is always right there – listening, he seems to know where I am going next when I sing and we are really comfortable now playing and writing and recording together. I have learned that it’s so important for me to have that kind of trust. I have to work with people who are really into the music and want to be there – genuinely care.
You have to have the confidence to pour out your heart, and know that you have that trust, that both of you can make the decisions and fight for what you want but also back down and listen if something doesn’t work. It’s team work, and being able to bounce ideas off each other, and try out things that might or might not work – but just to respect each other and to listen, is always much more productive in the end. People underestimate listening!!
Paul and I are both from Chester-Le-Street, a market town in County Durham, but we never met until years later. Id walk past his house most days to go to school, but he went to a different school, so it wasn’t until we met via a mutual musician friend that we started to work together – so we have been on a bit of a growth journey & began writing together during the 2020 as Paul moved to London 2 weeks before lockdown!
How we work together mostly, is that I write the lyrics and send them to Paul, who imagines how they should feel and sound musically and he always hits the nail on the head. Sometimes I might direct him and ask for a waltz or a bluesy feel, or ballad etc, but he is a pretty great interpreter when he composes songs from my lyrics.
Then we get to a place that we can record the demos and imagine how we will produce and arrange the song. Paul is a great composer and arranger and has done all of the string and horn arrangements for the album which are just stunning in my opinion.
I think that he knows how the songs will work alongside one another and we spend a lot of time putting the songs in the right order so that there is a nice journey for the listener. (I’m sure Spotify doesn’t always respect this but on the album there is a thoughtful order)
Your solo debut ‘The Heart Wants’ was a great success – how do you feel your musical journey has evolved since your first music release, your musical journey now, and how this work will influence your future projects?
I couldn’t believe that my debut album was received so well worldwide. It’s been a dream since I was a child and I still cant believe it!!
I recorded it during lockdown and I wasn’t vocally match fit and hadn’t gigged the songs so had no idea if people would like them or not and I really wish I could back and re record them now I know those songs so much better now – I would sing them differently I think now they have been toured!
I think that its just my confidence as an artist and a songwriter really that has evolved. The confidence that I lacked for all of my life, in my own ability to write my own songs, record and perform them.
Peoples reactions to some of my music have been so touching, and it makes me realise how important it is to me to keep writing original music alongside the jazz.
Lastly, what are your future plans, tours, or projects for 2023, what can we all expect to be happening for the year ahead? And where can people next come and hear you and Paul Edis perform?
I’m constantly writing new material, collaborating with my team and also with new songwriters and producers.
I just want to keep writing and recording music, and playing it live, touring and just enjoying the journey so much. There is no end goal… I have realised it is all about enjoying the creative process and enjoying the moments as they come.
Come and see us play live at The Boulevard Theatre in Soho March 16th (we have a string quartet) Pizza Express Soho April 19th and Bishops Court Farm In Oxfordshire on March 19th too. Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly May 27th 7p.m.
Please check out www.joharrop.com for the listings and also you can follow @joharropmusic on the socials!
Thank you so much!! – Jo