Today we meet the talented singer Irene Natale to talk about her personality and her new projects.
A self-portrait about you: experiences, dreams, goals, happy moments and hard times.
I’ve always been inspired by the arts since I was a little girl: singing, painting, dancing, writing… I truly loved being creative! While I was studying to get my bachelor in Scenography - I was committed to expressing my creativity on stage - I realized I could turn my passion for singing into a real job. At that point I had to choose between two different but very creative paths. I knew it would have been hard to make out a living from either of them but at the same time I was sure they would have enriched my life. And I chose the music! I have to admit, I had been very lucky. My parents always supported my choices and trusted me (they’re my biggest fans, they never miss a con-cert!) and I also had great teachers, who gave me a lot of tools to improve my skills.
One is Maestro Paolo Tomelleri, the great clarinet player to whom I’ll be forever thankful: Paolo saw a potential in me and played a paramount role in my professional growth. It’s at his side that I had my first experiences on the stage and thanks to him I was able to really enjoy being a musician and overcome the fears that go with it. This year, with Paolo and the other musicians of the Band I recorded my first album! I’d also like to thank my piano teacher, Fabio Gianni, a great person who helped me realize my skills as a piano player. During the last few years I’ve been putting time into some “solo projects” (vocals&piano) and into exploring musical genres beyond Jazz.
I’ve been continually fascinated by women with strong personalities and individuality, singers or musicians, who are either part of my everyday life or who left a mark in history. Therefore I decided to give my voice to some of the ones I admire most. My goal - with this new project - is to thank all these women who dedicated their lives to assert their talent, leaving us with such musical beau-ty. This is especially important to me, as we live in a society where it’s still hard for women to get credit and - even more difficult - to choose to fulfill new and original ideas outside of common paths.
My big inspiration - since I was a teenager - has been Edith Piaf. I’m currently working on a project based on her work: it’s a collaboration with the drummer Anselmo Luisi, a friend I met at the Scuola Civica di Jazz in Milan. Last but not least, I also have three important Masters I’d like to thank for giving me the chance to stand up for myself and improve as a musi-cian and, most importantly, as a human being: Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda. Being a creative self-employed professional is a real and constant chal-lenge. On one side there’s your commitment, your will, and your enthusiasm in doing something new and the joy of the creative act. On the other side there’s laziness, being hard on yourself, fear to fail and fear to be judged. This internal fight is nothing but the challenge of life itself, between our fears and our courage. Thanks to daily Buddhism practice I found the strength to fight my fears, to combat laziness and self-pity and to view any difficulties as an oppor-tunity to improve myself and change my fragility, my shyness, and pri-vate nature, becoming brave and open to the world around me. My de-sire is to share my joy and zest for life with other people through my voice and my work.
Is that true that one is not born a woman, one becomes one?
I like being a woman, but I agree on the fact that it goes beyond the mere gender. Being a woman means to feel the suffering of other people, to go deep inside all the remote aspects of life, understand the way the mind works, help others and fight for justice. It means to take yourself by the hand, to believe in changes and in other people’s potential. Being a woman is something you learn to be, and one that you develop according to your background, but must of all, because you feel it inside.
Do you think there’s a sort of discrimination or mistrust towards female musicians?
Through my experience with jazz music I can say that yes, unfortunately there is. A woman - and to specifically a female singer - is often seen as a Diva, incapable and musically ignorant. For that reason, for us women it’s even harder because we have to prove our skills in everything. I think that the mistrust doesn’t come only from other people (usually the band’s musicians) but in a certain way it’s caused by the same singers who are not truly committed to the study of the music because they think their voice, their tone, is something purely natural. They only focus on the song per se’, forgetting how important its inner structure is, leaving out the interpretation of the sounds, the tones and the harmonics. However, I believe that this disrespect towards female singers comes from the desire of the musicians to be Divas themselves; the world of music, unfortunately, is full of so called first-ladies. Everybody has to face their own ego, one way or another. What’s important is to believe in your skills and your potential without let-ting other people’s judgment push you out of the path you’re on or - even worse - stand above you like a grey cloud.
You began studying Opera, was it hard to switch to Jazz?
Opera is totally different from jazz, but it wasn’t too hard for me because I had a great teacher who helped me in changing my voice setting. And that’s exactly what I’m doing with some of my students who have a classical background.
You’re not just a singer, you’re also a teacher: how would you define Jazz?
Jazz is an opportunity to get to know ourselves, discover our sounds, go beyond our limits, and break the walls we built around ourselves. It gives us the chance to play freely with the music, to make it our own, and truly express our soul. Even more, jazz is a tool to create and play with other people through a free, spontaneous and sincere dialogue.
How do you bring your students closer to Jazz music?
It’s not about bringing them closer, it’s about driving them through the meaning of improvisation and through the experience of discovering new personal sounds - exactly as we do in Jazz. As an example, I suggest that they try melodic improvisation on the songs they want to sing (mostly pop songs). Starting from the basic me-lodic line, as they get more and more confident with harmonics and try alternative sounds, they are able to perform songs out of their comfort zone.
In the history of Jazz there are big names of female singers, but there are not so many famous musicians…
That’s true! Or at least, I know more female singers than female musicians… I’ve always thought it was more a matter of heart rather than a set of mind: singing is something very primitive, it’s something that comes from us - and not from an instrument. Women have a unique sensibility and because of this they’re more used to expressing their thoughts without filters. Perhaps they’re more prone to use and develop an instrument which is already deep inside of them and which they are already familiar with.
Your repertoire has songs and remakes of female musicians and singers: do you think that there’s a female jazz?
I’d like to point out that my repertoire is not a jazz repertoire, even if the tones of my voice will always belong to that world from which I come. I don’t think there’s a female jazz… What if I asked you if there was a male jazz? What would you say?
You usually perform in a duet and in bigger ensemble: how do you find the right balance and complicity between voice and instruments?
Balance in Jazz is no different from any human relationship: love, friendship, work; the balance grows day by day, with the desire of open-ing ourselves to one another. It’s difficult to achieve and it takes time (but in rare occasions!). Today, when I perform with Paolo Tomelleri Ensemble, I’m no longer concerned with the outcome of the concert as I was during the first years when I couldn’t truly enjoy the music we were creating together. The Buddhist practice helps me to go over my ego which pushed me down in the past because of the fear of the other people’s judgment and forced me to be too strict with myself. Once I understood that what I was doing was actually giving a part of myself to other people and that the true leading actor was the audience, I was able to put aside my fears and be 100% myself. That changed everything: I started to listen to the other musicians with my heart and not with my head and I truly understood the meaning of having a dialogue with them. And of course, it goes case by case. Every concert is unique! Sometimes we understand each other more, sometimes each one of us follows his own path…but you know, it’s always like that with everything in life!
Which are the musicians (male or female) who inspired and influenced you the most?
Without any doubt Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Joni Mitchell.
Singing is like dreaming…
I’ve always lived between the reality, the “right here right now”, and an imaginary world where I get lost every time I feel the need to. That said, singing fits my personality perfectly.
In Milan you started and completed your musical curriculum, do you think this city has many opportunities to of-fer to musicians and jazz ensembles? What do you think about clubs and jazz circles around your home town?
Well, it all depends on your purpose in playing music and singing. My purpose is to sing and play for an audience who’s actually listening to me. I am lucky enough to have the chance to sing for a musician who made history of Italian Jazz and who still performs in clubs and theaters where the audience is actually paying attention and enjoying the concert; in those places music is not just a background sound. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to find those sorts of clubs and theaters in the city; you have to drive out of town and it’s not always convenient for everybody. It seems that lately things have gotten worse in Milano: a lot of jazz clubs have been closed down because the business was too slow. The only thing that we can do, as musicians, is to keep giving value and support our work.
It’s also true that Milano is growing new meeting hubs that are not strict-ly business oriented. In such places, young musicians can propose pro-jects which couldn’t be shown elsewhere.
Although sometimes illegally occupied, these places are born out of the simple and pure will and propose to enjoy music: it’s not about making money, it’s about developing culture. Few names you may know: Pianoterra, Lume, La Corte dei Miracoli.
We can say that Jazz is mainly a music-of-the-city: which are the spots in Milano more in tune with the Jazz poetic?
The Caffè Doria Jazz Club for sure. The minute you enter, you have the feeling of being in an old American club. From the bar counter, to the lounge chairs and the coffee tables, from the black and white pictures of famous jazz musicians to the wait-ers - everything blends perfectly! The main room is inside the Doria Hotel and it can host up to sixty peo-ple. Usually, the audience’s age goes from 60 to 80 years old and it’s not unusual to see someone who looks like they belong in an old-fashioned movie. I particularly love the Doria Jazz Club because you create a strong bond with the audience sitting right in front of you a couple of meters away from the band; it’s like a big binge among friends. Another one is La Buca di San Vincenzo, in which I haven’t had the chance to perform yet, I’ve only enjoyed a concert there. La Buca is one of the very rare places where, after the performance, there’s always a jam session; everybody is welcome to join the band. Others, like the Salumeria della Musica, the Bonaventura, the Cantina Scoffone or the Masada are sadly shut down or they’re going to be soon.