Immer wenn ich unterwegs zu Sony Music bin, zeigt sich Berlin von seiner scheußlichsten Seite. Diesmal ist es ein grauer Dezembertag, der sich nicht zwischen Regen und Schnee entscheiden kann, sondern stattdessen eine undefinierbare Schneematschmischung vom Himmel schickt, nasse Füße inklusive. Um so schöner die Ankunft beim Label, wo ich bei Licht, heißem Tee und Mozarella-Tomaten-Brötchen auf meine Interviewpartnerin warte.
Satt, warm und trocken begegne ich dann der schwedisch-dänischen Jazz-Diva Caroline Henderson, mit der ich erst einmal über den Fall der Mauer und die damit einhergehende Gentrifizierung der zentral gelegenen Oststadtteile Berlins wie Prenzlauer Berg, Mitte, Friedrichshain oder Weißensee plaudere. Ist ja alles so posh geworden, und leider auch gesichtslos – es könnte genau so gut London oder Kopenhagen sein. Nichts mehr zu spüren von der erregenden Aufbruchsstimmung Anfang der Neunziger, wo in über abenteuerliche Treppenhäuser zu erreichenden Hinterhofstudios am Hackeschen Markt Musik gemacht wurde, die perfekt in die Zeit passte, aufregend anders, laut und ehrlich.
Aufregend ist Caroline Henderson aber auch heute noch. Wie sie da so vor mir sitzt, mag ich kaum glauben, dass die sexy Sängerin dreifache Mutter ist mit ihrem gewagten Dekolleté – wohl eher ein marketingtechnisches Zugeständnis an meine männlichen Kollegen, denn – natürlich – bin ich unter ihren Interviewpartnern auch heute wieder das einzige Mädchen. Henderson ist froh darum, denn auch sie kann nicht umhin, den eklatanten Mangel an weiblichen Musikkritikern zu bemerken. (Pop-)Musik ist immer noch eine Spielwiese für (große) Jungs, und (Pop-)Musikkritiker leben oftmals so sehr den Popstar-Lifestyle wie diejenigen, über die sie schreiben. Erst jüngst stieß ich auf eine interesante These: In dem schönen Artikel Female Music Critics Transcend Fan Culture von Georgia Kral heißt es, Mädchen würden in Bezug auf (Pop-)Musik eher als Fans denn als Kritiker erzogen – man denke hier nur an die kreischenden, der Ohnmacht nahen weiblichen Teenies im Publikum der Boygroups dieser Welt oder auch an das Groupie-Phänomen – beides gesellschaftlich akzeptiert, wenn nicht gar gewollt. Kral selbst beruft sich auf den Vortrag YOU BETTER THINK: Why Feminist Cultural Criticism Still Matters in a „Post-Feminist,“ Peer-to-Peer World von Ann Powers, eine Reflektion über den Stand des (weiblichen) Musikkritikers angesichts des Zerfalls der klassichen Medien und dem gleichzeitigen Überhandnehmen von Social Media – nicht unähnlich dem in Der Algorithmus hat dem Musikjournalismus längst den Rang abgelaufen verhandelten Gedankengut, in dem es primär um die Selbst- bzw. Neupositionierung (und vielleicht ein stückweit auch Selbstvergewisserung) des Kritikers geht -, kurzgefasst und lesenswert. Sie werden alte Bekannte wie Britney Spears, Rihanna und Lady GaGa treffen, aber auch Zähne zeigen– und On Beauty-Autorin Zadie Smith. Klicken Sie doch mal rein!
Aber zurück zum Interviewtermin, denn wir sind auch schon mittendrin in den schönsten „Mädchenthemen“: Wir schnacken über Kaffee versus Tee (beide bevorzugen wir Letzteren), dänisches Design, den klügsten (ihrer) und den schönsten (meiner) Hund der Welt – ach ja, und ein bisschen auch über Hendersons im Januar in Deutschland erscheinendes Album Keeper of the Flame.
Jazz-Singer Caroline Henderson on the essence of lust, the Scandinavian „Nu“ Jazz Movement and her love to a very special dog named Billie
VSz: Your upcoming album is called „Keeper of the Flame“. On your homepage the title of the album is described as a statement …
CH: Well, I think it kind of wraps everything very beautifully up: Keeper of the Flame – because that title for me is … perfect. Not in terms of only my album, but just as a statement in life in general, you know, because I think it drives on so many levels, spiritually, about love, about what you wanna achieve in life and that you have to keep a flame, for yourself and everybody else alive! That’s sort of what makes live worthwhile on so many levels, so I think it’s a wonderful title! And it kind of sums up for these songs all the titles of the songs. All sort of … I wouldn’t say political, but they have some kind of statement, some sort of saying. And „Keeper of the Flame“ wraps that up in a nice way.
Would you say you regard yourself as a kind of a keeper? As a person whose aim is to keep the old songs alive?
Yeah! Yeah, exactly! On that level it drives, too. For instance, we are here at Sony’s Classical Department – and a lot of classical compositions live because people today, contemporary choose to record them again and again, and it’s the same with the old song that I choose or with just songs in general … I guess I’m sort of a flame keeper.
Well, I understand this approach towards the “old classics” like the songs of Nina Simone, Billie Holiday or Nat King Cole you recently recorded – because I think it is important not only to keep their memory alive but to find a fresh new approach for each new generation … but what made you add rather new songs by contemporary artists like the one by PJ Harvey to what I would like to call the “classical classics”?
True. You know, when the recordings on my previous album called “No. 8” stopped, I felt I had so many more songs on that note. I felt like we could have done a double album. I felt like we had so much more to tell on that specific point. So “Keeper of the flame” is maybe sort of an album that will continue on page two. But there is a slight difference. “No. 8” was mainly about love and life in general, whereas “Keeper of the flame” is slightly more political, because the first song I recorded for “Keeper of the flame” was “Ring them bells” which for me is one of the greatest lyrics that’s ever been written (editor’s note: by Bob Dylan). If I could to choose one song that I would have written lyrically, it would be “Ring them bells” because I agree to everything in that lyric, I think it’s really really beautiful … So I love that lyric and from that point where we recorded that song and decided that it will make it on the record, I think everything had to reflect to that lyric. So “Evolution” is back to back on that one. If “Ring them bells” is more the spiritual side, “Evolution” will be sort of more screaming in your face, but it has the same content. So I think it’s built from there. And when it comes to PJ Harvey, I think that’s like the essence of lust in a sense. I love that song, I always loved that song, and my bass player and my drummer had this wonderful beat, dum-da-da-dum, and I just started to sing “this is love this is love that I’m feelin’”, and it felt sort of natural to record that song, because when you do make an album I feel like you want it to be round. And having a statement about life in general and love – there has to be some lust in it.
I think it’s quite outstanding on the album, also musically speaking: To me, “This is love” sounds almost like a duet of voice and rhythm section … the other tracks do have a much richer instrumentation. Which guides me to my next question. You just illustrated the textual differences between “No. 8” and “Keeper of the flame”. Now let’s get musical. “Keeper of the Flame” is not your first album giving classics a new dimension. What has changed musically from “Don’t Explain” and “No. 8” to “Keeper of the Flame”?
Musically? Well, when I recorded “Don’t Explain” I tried to make so much less noise about me releasing an album. That was a point in my life where I had actually done nine solo albums and before that I did three albums as a member of a pop group and many sorts of soundtrack stuff – just explaining that I had done a lot! So when I did the “Don’t explain” album that was actually an album I thought was an album for myself, more or less. I just had my third son – a baby boy – and I figured I was really fed up, fed up with the music business in general because in the past five or six years or so I’ve been in board meetings, in meetings with marketing people, in meetings with record companies all over the world and also in different TV shows and situations … and I thought I lost the music somewhere along on that path. And my last album before that was in 2002, and it was more across pop music but I’ve always had some Jazz somewhere in between there. But anyhow, when I did the “Don’t Explain” album in 2003, I went to a little label, a very small Jazz label, and I told them that I wanted to do an album for my heart, something that I grew up with, the type of music I listened to when I was a child – my dad was a Jazz musician – so I thought I really wanted to get back to my roots. And I told them specifically that it was not my intention to play live or do any interviews or do photo sessions and stuff like that. I just wanted to do this album. And then he looked at me and said “well okay, let’s do it then” – to my big surprise! And then we made this album and my love for music actually came back with it. For the first time in many years I felt like “Oh my God, now I found my voice” and I could actually talk about music and not my personal life and my ups and downs … I’m a famous person in Denmark so I felt very detached from the whole music thing – it was always more about me as a person, so I figured, maybe this is it, maybe I need to do something completely different. So when I did that album everything collided in a wonderful way and came together very nicely. And it just continued from there, I guess. So, “Don’t Explain” is an album from my heart, something from my childhood, something that I feel content with. Actually I called the album “Homecoming” and not “Don’t Explain” – that was the working title. But then I felt “Don’t Explain” was the better title, not only because of the Billie Holiday song but because how I felt about this genre change. But the working title was “Homecoming”. So I think that I developed so much since then and naturally the whole scene that I work on has … has kind of … really grown. I’ve been able to do some kind of weird crossover from the Jazz music to kind of Pop-ish … whatever it is I do … and grasp a very big audience on that one. And I think “Keeper of the Flame” is part of those five albums where I really defined myself as a singer and as a performer and also somebody who interprets other people’s material – and also my own, obviously.
Talking about the just addressed cross-over approach, about breaking down the barriers between different kinds of music, about uniting different genres … If you think of playing in front of a German jazz audience – would you describe it as open-minded?
Yes! It is so open-minded! Because you Germans are very open-minded in general, I find. I think because you have a lot of music here. You see a lot of stuff, like theatres and movies … I mean, there is a lot of culture in Germany. So it’s not like a shocker if you mix some genres. It’s like people are … can I say “challenged”? So it’s wonderful for any musician, I think, to play in Germany actually. Because you are able to grasp a lot of stuff because you are used to a lot of stuff!
Well, thank you. Listening to your new album, I experience the songs as artistically autonomous and independent-minded. Though the songs are interpretations, they sound to me like newly written compositions. Would you agree that an artist – especially a singer – has to train his or her style on self-composed songs first before to venture on interpretations?
Oh, that’s an interesting way of saying it, because most people would think it would be easier to sing other people’s song and train on that one before … But actually I completely agree on that note because I think it’s much more difficult actually to sing other people’s music, much more! Because you get really intimidated by the material that’s amazing, because you’re not as critical as you would be with your own material, obviously, and then you don’t wanna do anything wrong, basically. I mean, I choose the songs that I really think are beautiful or that I have always listened to or … somehow I like … and then you don’t wanna lose them, right? You want them to be something nice! But for me I think … I mean it’s nothing that I … you know, I grew up with Jazz music. And when I was younger I said, I never wanna do Jazz music, because that’s my father’s music, that’s my mother’s music – I wanna do something completely different! But … you know … now I feel that I’ve been through a lot of genres – basically with the roots all being Jazz, but I’ve done a lot of different things and now I feel sort of mature and I found my voice so it’s not so intimidating for me to interpret other people’s songs. Because I don’t see them as a Billie Holiday song or a Tom Waits song or whatever. I try to see them just as a song and when I sing them, it just becomes my song.
I see a lot of people with a classical education turning towards the Jazz scene. Did you have any classical training?
Just a little bit actually of training to be a classical singer in my teens, but the other side of me was so strong … how much training, you can’t smoke, you can’t party, you can’t get a cold, you can’t fly …. I didn’t have that endurance at all! But I still love classical music, I just saw “Madame Butterfly” the other night at the opera house … So I listen to it. But I don’t sing it.
Well, let’s take a look back on the last year – I think December is a good time for retrospection. Somehow I feel that in 2010 I was confronted with a growing number of cover song albums. For example, Dee Dee Bridgewater recorded her tribute to Billie Holiday. What do you think, why seems now to be the time that makes artists as well as listeners feel a kind of need for the “good old tunes”?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s the political climate in the world, I don’t know! People tend to go back to something like the “good old days” or something that’s familiar, something that feels secure and defined, I don’t know – maybe! But you see, it’s the same for fashion. The fashion industry reflects all the time to fashion what is going on in the world, with the collapse of the economy and stuff like that, so it could be something like that. But apart from that I think good songs are good songs are good songs. I mean that’s just the way it is. And I think it’s so interesting to be able to take some of the old songs like … I had some Cole Porter tunes that I love, especially I love “I Concentrate On You” and some of the other songs that I have on my repertoire … because they’re just like so good songs and every time I sing them it’s just like: “Wow, these songs are really well composed!” It’s such a pleasure to sing a song like that. So I think it’s a quite natural need as a musician, as a singer: you will tend to go there where the good music is.
So it’s a matter of timelessness?
I think so, yeah.
Alright. In addition to the increasing number of new recordings of the old songs I also notice an astonishingly high percentage of musicians, especially Jazz musicians, from countries like Norway, Sweden or Denmark. Two questions regarding this: How would you explain the sudden success of the popular music and jazz scene in these countries?
I think towards the Jazz and the Scandinavian scene in my speech it’s the blue flavour in the music … a sort of “depressedness” that goes very good with the Nordic mentality. Like my father always used to say that Jazz music is like the people’s music, it’s like kind of a folk music that could tell a story and has a blue tone in it, which goes very well to the Scandinavian history and mood. So I think that might be why. And there is also – I don’t know why – but there is a lot of good musicians in Scandinavia. I mean, our population – together – is not even half of your guys’ population. Theoretically, I don’t know why, because it’s not a very inspiring place to be: it’s quite dark and cold – we have wonderful summers and the nature is beautiful – but there are a lot of things from which I think you have to be brought up in that environment to be able to appreciate them. I don’t know, there’s a lot of music, both from Denmark and Sweden – and Norway. A lot of music – and very, very, very good musicians! Very good musicians! So when I travel with my musicians and then people tell me in the States or wherever I’ve been, “Oh this guy is fantastic”, I think, “I know at least two drummers who are just as good as he is” … I don’t know. I feel very lucky to live there where I’m grounded. I had an interview with a very famous Jazz musician from the States, and he said they talk about that in the States once in a while: “What is that with Denmark, what is that?!”, and he said: “It’s something in the water”! … But seriously, it’s difficult to say … Maybe it’s the same thing like, you know, Denmark is also famous for its design, so maybe it’s related to that kind of thing.
Would you describe yourself as a part of the so-called Northern Jazz Movement?
No, I don’t think I would actually, because … first of all, I think my music sounds different. I think a part of it … I travelled with my music, like in Scandinavia, but also in Asia, France, Spain … I’ve been to a lot of places with my music … Africa … what I really love when you perform the music is that people tend to like the music as if it was from their country! So I don’t think it’s specifically sort of “Nordic”. When I go to Spain, people say, “Well, this could be Spanish”, or in Germany, “This could be German”, and I go to Japan … okay, maybe not to Japan … it could not be Japanese …well … But I mean, you know, so I think it can actually cross borders, this type of music. And I do believe this is because I’m a mixture myself, because I am Scandinavian, but I’m also American, and we lived in different places in Europe, so I’ve done different types of music, I mixed it into my roots, my Jazz roots – and something appears that is … like … international.
I see. Unfortunately, I have to come to my last question because we’re running out of time: The talisman of my blog is a dog called “headphone dog” – my dog …
Oh, you have a dog!
… and on this account I wanted to ask you: Do you have any connection or anecdotes or other memorable encounters with dogs?
Oh yes, I have! My first dog was a Cocker Spaniel and I had to leave her behind in the States when we moved from Philadelphia to Paris and that was very dramatic, I tell you! So, I haven’t had a dog since. And I just got my dog one and a half years ago and her name is Billie, as in “Billie Holiday”: Billie Henderson. And it’s a “She”, cause I have three sons, so she’s my baby girl, and I swear to God I’m in love with this dog! I had a childhood trauma – I had to leave my dog and couldn’t bring her to Europe – but I love animals, and I’m so happy, I cannot tell you how happy I am to have this dog! It’s ridiculous how much you can actually like an animal!
I know exactly what you mean …
Well, you know, she’s got blue eyes; she’s a mixture between Australian Shepherd, Golden Retriever, a Toller and a … little something. But she’s really beautiful and she’s very bright, of course, really intelligent, of course …
The cleverest dog all over the world …
The cleverest dog, yeah, sure! Now, so what can I say? I’m happy! I’m happy! I’m a happy dog owner. I thought I’d never be the type of person that would like to talk about her dog, but if I would have known that I would meet you I would have brought my photo album … We can mail each other dog photos! That would be great! And your dog is thirteen?
Yeah, my dog is thirteen. I just picked her up from the animal shelter two years ago – she’s been there for four years, nobody wanted to have her … I didn’t want to have her, either ..
… but she looked at you …
Yeah, the keeper pitied her because no one has ever been asking for her. So she introduced me to her, she came to me, gave me a dog kiss … yeah, and that’s that. I was like, okay, I don’t need to see any other dog, I take her!
Oh my God! But how is she, is she fine? Thirteen is quite old, isn’t it?
Yeah, extremely fine.
An American Stafford cross. And – look at this! – I carry her dog hair with me all the time. Like I always say, you’re not completely dressed without some dog hair.
I know exactly what you mean, same rule for me.
Once it’s in the washing machine, you’re lost!
Yeah, that’s it. Does she stay at home?
She has a dog sitter who picks her up in the morning and then I will pick her up again after work.
But you know what? I do that with my dog, too. Because I say that my dog should never be alone. I mean, she could be at home before I got her. But today and yesterday I’m in Germany and the rest of the week I’m on tour. My husband is home and my sons are home, but they … they can’t handle her. So actually I have a dog sitter, too. And this lady with her two Golden Retriever dogs is wonderful, and she has a wonderful garden, and really loves her dogs … So my dog will be there Monday to Friday and I pick her up Friday evening. She’s looking so sad at me when leaving her at home alone, I can’t stand that!
Like: “Don’t go to work today, mommy, pleeeaaaaaaase!” …
Yeah, like: “Don’t leave me!” – I know exactly what you mean.
Well, unfortunately we have to stop here. Thank you very much!
Well, thank you! Hope to see you maybe when I come and play here.
Do you plan to play here in Berlin or in Germany at all?
In Germany, yes, but not in Berlin. We’re going on tour in February but for some reason we don’t have a gig in Berlin. Maybe next time, I hope so.
Das Album Keeper of the Flame erscheint am 21. Januar 2011 in Deutschland. Live ist Caroline Henderson an folgenden Terminen zu hören:
18.02.2011 Osnabrück – Lagerhalle
19.02.2011 Köln – Altes Pfandhaus
23.02.2011 Regensburg – Jazzclub
24.02.2011 Heidelberg – Karlstorbahnhof
26.02.2011 Hannover – Pavillion