"I wonder in 100 years' time if there will be anybody listening
to traditional jazz," says Juliet Kelly, shortly before flying to
Athens for a three-night club gig.
Unusually, the audience she is due to perform for will consist
mostly of under-40s.
"That is so rare," she says. "Often the people who run jazz clubs
are retired - that's how they're able to do it, because it's a
labour of love - so the audience is naturally going to be older.
When those people are gone you wonder how jazz will carry on."
As someone who stands slightly outside the world of traditional
jazz, Kelly is in a good position to comment.
Whereas most singers stick to straight down-the-line standards by
the likes of Cole Porter and the Gershwins, her two albums have been
made up mostly of her own songs, for which she took honours in the
jazz category of the 2004 International Songwrit-ing Competition,
judged by Brandford Marsalis.
While some are lamenting the death of jazz, others are hailing
today as a possible golden age, with young instrumental bands like
Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland bringing in young fans.
But, as Kelly explains, the two worlds remain quite separate.
"The people who listen to those bands maybe wouldn't even like
traditional jazz. They include loads of other influences like rock
and punk, so they appeal to different kinds of people."
For vocalists based in the jazz genre but using their own
material, the story is different. "It comes back to the older
audience who are looking back to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday,
who didn't sing their own songs," she says.
"What they were singing were the pop songs of their day. They're
classic songs that I still love to sing, but they've been
interpreted a thousand times.
"For me to make it personal, I have to write my own songs. You
want to touch the audience in some way - doing with your own music
is a direct link."
Just as often the problem is promoters more inclined to book a
conventional act in the vein of Stacey Kent than take a risk on
someone singing songs the audience won't already know.
But in that case, why keep up the battle of branding oneself as a
jazz singer - why not just call oneself a singer -songwriter?
For Kelly it's about making that link with the audience as strong
as possible. She explains: "Every time I do a song it's different,
depending on how the audience reacts, what I'm getting from the
musicians, and how I'm feeling. It's freedom - that's what jazz
There's also the fact that jazz was simply the first kind of
music she sang. While studying economics at college in south London,
she signed up for weekly evening classses in bass guitar.
"After the first couple of lessons I thought, this is really
hard'," she admits.
"I was really silly and girly and thought, I don't want to cut my
nails', but you couldn't get your money back for the course, and I
thought, well you don't need an instrument for singing, so I'll do
"I'd never sung before I sang jazz."
Shortly after she brought out her first album, Aphrodite's Child,
Kelly found herself being noticed by people at the top.
Courtney Pine invited her to join him at the Barbican's Jazz
Britannia festival, playing alongside the cream of British jazz.
Kelly says: "It was one of the best nights of my life."
At the moment, Kelly is gathering financial backing to release
her third album: "I'm just waiting for someone to fund me.
"That could be your headline: jazz-loving millionaire wanted for
up-and-coming jazz singer."
Juliet Kelly will be performing at artsdepot, Tally Ho Corner,
North Finchley, on Sunday November 18 at 8pm as part of the London
Jazz Festival in association with BBC Radio 3. Tickets cost £14
(concessions £12) and are available from the box office on 020 8369
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