Just a few weeks before her Master graduation at the Prins Claus Conservatorium in Groningen/The Netherlands I had the big pleasure to talk with jazz singer Alina Engibaryan half may 2016 in a small Cafe in Groningen downtown. Even she was very busy preparing her Final concert and presentation, even she was very busy preparing her concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival in july as an opening performance for Al Jarreau, Alina took almost 2 and a half hours to talk with me, exclusive for 60Minuten.
Please enjoy a very warm, open, interesting and inspirational talk!
Bernd: Dear Alina, thank you very much for your time for making this talk possible. My first question is a request. Can you please introduce yourself for those people, who do not know you?
Alina: My name is Alina Engibaryan, am a jazz singer, for the biggest part of my life I am busy with music, this will be my 18th year that I’m involved so much in Jazz music. So, that’s me! (Laughing).
Bernd: How did the music start in your life? Can you please tell more about your memories from your early childhood? And why did you choose to become a singer?
Alina: Officially, I started going to school when I was five years old. Before that, my childhood offered me music all the time. We had concerts at home, because my parents are big music lovers. My grandmother used to sing and my grandfather was a very well known great jazz drummer. He was one of the best jazz drummers of Russia, and he was mentioned as one of the three best drummers in Europe as well. His name is Nicolai Goncharov. He is one of the biggest inspirations for me. He performed in a school in Russia, that recently opened. After he played a concert there in 1995 he went back to my parents place and had a talk with my parents about me, that child, that was singing all the time. It was his idea, to send me to that school, because they were specialized in jazz. He thought, that could be something interesting for me.
Bernd: It sounds, your music profession is genetic!
Alina: Probably. I believe in that. (Laughing). At least, the love that I have for music come definitely from my parents and my grandparents. When I got five years old, we went to that school my grandfather adviced and I did my first audition and passed. For me, from that moment on, everything started. This school is very special. Dedicated to Jazz and for children, it is the Rostov Jazz School in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Named after one of the greatest russian piano players, Kim Avedikovich Nazaretov. One of his students, Aram Rustamyants, is the director of this unique school. He created that whole school project together with three of his best friends, who are also teachers at this school, and these four basically built the whole community of jazz musicians in Rostov-on-Don in that period of time. They are still doing a really great job over there. One of their big acts is the organisation of one of the biggest jazz festivals in Russia at this moment, called Rostov International Jazz Festival (www.rostovjazzfestival.com). Their quality is on a very high level with a lot of jazz musicians including some of the teachers, who I currently have here at the Prins Claus Conservatorium in Groningen, The Netherlands. Basically, this is how my jazz journey started. Pretty soon after I went to school, I got involved with the Children’s School Big Band, that was also touring a lot. My first trip outside Russia was with this Big Band and we went to Germany. We toured almost one month long and that trip became really special and important for me. I never had doubts about making music, I was never forced to do this, I was always very enthusiastic about singing jazz. I’m very grateful, that my parents gave me this opportunity. That tour with the School was my first gig! But the love for music came from my family.
Bernd: Earlier you told me, the school was very small in the beginning, with about 100 students. Now it’s really big?
Alina: That’s right. At the moment they have about 700 students. Considering that the building is not that big they manage a big job. And they have a lot of very talented students. And lots of them are also coming here, to Groningen. (laughing).
Bernd: Are you still in contact with them?
Alina: Yes. I go there every year. While I visit my family, I also perform at the Festival once in a while. They recently opened a new really amazing club, the New Centropezn Jazz Club. It was the first time in that club, that I had my own show in my home town.
Bernd: Great! How was that?
Alina: It was really interesting. You know, it is like, you don’t want to disappoint your family. So, you do the very very best you can. Two of my shows were sold-out, which was very magical. To see all the people supporting me so much. But in fact, they all are very big supporters. From the moment I moved they still stay curious, which is very nice.
Bernd: Let’s talk a bit about your family background please. You told me, you are half Armenian?
Alina: Yes, that’s true. I was born in Russia, but my father is from Armenia. I always felt a really mixed culture in my family, with that flavour. (laughing).
Bernd: How is this culture? What is it for you, also right now?
Alina: It kind of let you appreciate things from where you come from and starts with things like language, music, food. These are the things, that are daily for us once we are home, but the moment we leave, this becomes something special. I feel like both of the cultures really inspire me to be the way I am. Especially music-wise. Armenian music is something special. We were listening to jazz in my family all the time, but my father was always kind of sneaky, knowing my culture and my background. And because I was born and raised in Russia, of course, I like Armenian culture more than Russian. This all really affected me somehow. I started researching a bit more about music and my culture for my final Master concert, that will happen soon (here in Groningen at the PCC). It has an impact on my personality, I guess.
Bernd: Can you tell me a bit about your main influences in your young age and right now? What was and is important for you to have around as an artistic inspiration? You told me earlier, you have a special interest for psychology but also for computer gaming?
Alina: That’s true! (Laughing). I don’t wanna sound kind of predictable. But from childhood on I was so much involved and focused in music, that I didn’t really had time to spend on other topics than that. Of course, it depends on the age, what you are interested in. But the few topics, that catched my interest, were my love to psychology books. Partly, because it also has a very strong connection to music. Like Al Jarreau said to us during a workshop: “Music is a healing”. Like this, I understand, we musicians are like doctors, like therapeuts. Like psychologists, we sometimes have to give the truth to somebody, that they don’t or do wanna hear. I don’t think, this is just because I’m a musician, but music can get me out of any state of being, doesn’t matter what mood I’m into. Music does work like this. I also feel, that probably my whole musical background is connected. And in my spare time I like computer games and I’m curious about computers in general.
Bernd: What is that special interest you have about computer gaming?
Alina: It’s still creative! Also interesting for me is to see, what other people like in gaming. It is a really broad topic. It uses graphics, sounds and has a lot of activity inside. To be honest, I like to play mostly shooting games, not really girly ones. (Laughing). It is not, that I have much time right now for that. In my free time I listen to music mostly.
Bernd: When you listen to music right now and not having much time for that, how do you do this? Do you skip titles or do you listen to songs in total?
Alina: It really depends. Honestly, it’s not that I don’t have time for anything. Am kind of very strict with schedules. I always find time. I always have headphones on, whenever I go somewhere, walking or gym or whatever needs me in motion. (Laughing). When I play or read I mostly listen to music at the same time. There is always music around, while I’m eating and I know, I still pay attention. Then I’m not really focussed on other things beside. That’s also kind of inspired by schools and a more academic way of learning and listening. And for sure, this can also take away the magic of music, by explaining and analyzing too much.
Bernd: It becomes intellectual.
Alina: Yes, very true. And that is not something, we hear, when we go for example, to gospel churches. The choirs are preaching, like praising God and singing about love. Music presented like this comes from the soul and from the heart. I’m still kind of careful, the way, I’m listening to music. I want to hear it, like the first time. Like children would listen. I don’t want to put too much labels on things. Of course, as a musician, you want to know, what kind of tools you should use mostly to become better. At the same time I feel, the soul and its energy is the most important.
Bernd: Just in general, can you please explain, how you became this person Alina, you are now? You came from Russia, settled in The Netherlands, how did you manage that? You told me earlier, the beginning was really difficult, to realize, you became a stranger together with other strangers. How did you manage to get through all that, to settle?
Alina: Well, of course, moving out was a difficult thing. Basically, I had to leave all the comfort and everything I built in all those years, just for the sake of growing outside of my comfort zone. I think, that was the most important step in my life. The school I used to study became like a home, the teachers became my other family members. Of course, they wanted to raise me in a safe environment, preparing the student for everything, that could be cruel in the world, unexpected. At some point, these things are not the way like life works. When I came to Groningen, all wasn’t scary or dark for me in the beginning, of course not. People here welcomed me in a very kind way. The fact, you have to do everything yourself, makes you much more focused and ready. You immediately know, that some things you are not getting used to now, you just have to be comfortable with. That is, what pushes you outside your limits. So, once you are there, you just make steps and put yourself just a little bit more outside your comfort zone, in order to become a better person. Not only a better musician, but also a better person. Now I’m here already five years and this place became my second home. I do love it here of course. I have friends here and my new teachers here became also like my new parents. (Laughing). They really take care of you and they are serious about your study and their own profession, also as a teacher. And about what life is all about. I know they respect us students. They do not treat us like some people from above. They really wanna pull us towards themselves, you know what I mean? Be proud!
Bernd: It’s interesting, you say that. Some weeks ago I had a very interesting conversation with Adam Nussbaum, who is a guest teacher at the PCC. He told me, he always want to get INTO the music, not going inside from above.
Alina: Yes, it’s really true. The most inspiring teachers for me are those, who are not afraid to share everything they know at the moment. Those are the people, who are always curious. I mean, music is not my profession; music already became kind of a life style. When I wake up, I think: When do I have time to practice, when do I have time to play with people, when do I have time to go out and check the music, when do I have a concert. Like this, music is all around and I really love that. And I’m really happy it is this way right now. Those people, who share that information, who always stay curious, those people never stop growing. Their age doesn’t matter. The jazz singer JD Walter was the one, who helped me to come here to the PCC, because he told me about it. He helped me, to grow a lot. He always shares everything he knows. And every time, I see him, I have so much to learn again, because I know, he is one of those people, who are always curious. Joe Locke is another important and inspiring teacher for me, also Matt Wilson. Other musicians, that I had workshops with, are very amazing too. But I talk about those, who I meet constantly. My parents added a lot of flavour to my musical start in Russia. In special through sending me to the Rostrov Children’s Jazz School. I feel, that school cooked it all so very well. I enjoyed the taste actually! And right now, I can kind of share the recipe, after this long journey.
Bernd: It sounds, your life got a cooking studio!
Alina: Yes! I feel like, music is the most connected to food and medicine. Because both have some kind of cooking process. And it’s both connected to time.
Bernd: Joe Lovano said once, teaching is not giving answers, it’s sharing the blessings.
Alina: It is. I think, a good teacher is also someone, who has not always the right answers. But who can make you ask the right questions. I often feel, we don’t know what we want. That is also something, that creates frustration. For creative people, it is so easy to get confused. But this confusion sometimes is also part of inspiration, that can be positive and can be negative. You know, we can get inspiration out of anything! And that is totally important. For me, Al Jarreau was one of the most inspiring people ever. Just hearing, what his life was about, his journey and how he approached music and how important that is for him, soul-wise, you know? That makes you just sit and cry! With a story like Al told, I realized, that I am not the only crazy person out there, that has these goose bumps every time, hearing something crazy or exciting or touching. Also, for me, going to New York and living there for 6 month, was very inspiring. There in New York does exist a particular spirit and energy and soul. Jazz there is the New York people’s music. The roots are there so strong, that they don’t think about practicing Jazz. It is something, that they already own and they easily can add something to it in a totally natural way. These particular roots there for me are very inspiring, because you can feel a very strong energy. The community there owns this special love for jazz, that unites everyone. This is very beautiful.
Bernd: Let’s go back to your study here in Groningen. You told me, JD Walter was the person, who brought you more or less here?
Bernd: What did you learn the most from your favorite teachers here? You mentioned earlier Matt Wilson, Joe Locke and of course JD Walter. But also the russian famous trumpeter Alex Sipiagin. Now you are following the Master program and will finish very soon. Can you just tell, what is the essence you got from your teachers up to now?
Alina: As I said before, the most important thing was, that they constantly pushed me out of my comfort zone. As a child, you are getting used to certain things, you have some kind of habits. It’s already kind of your style, when you are small, you are already a personality, you have your own way of interpretation, even if you are just trying to imitate someone. But you sound with your own voice. Going out of the comfort zone is the most important thing, they gave. And this is not just about singing. It’s about the whole musically approach, like the way we compose for example. Go outside of your limit and use more things that you think might not work. Just to not be afraid! Not to be afraid of failing, because you learn from that as well. I think, it is not important, to just see things that are working for you. It’s like diving in the ocean without knowing where to go. You only have to make sure, that you have enough oxygen in your bag. Sometimes this is what you do, when you start, then you don’t know, how to try things. The oxygen is the knowledge part, and these teachers give you enough oxygen to reach the bottom of the ocean without any problem. They always know that you’ll be fine and safe.
Bernd: So, they teach you to trust yourself?
Alina: Well, it’s not just trust. It’s more about possibilities. You know, sometimes we are getting even out of oxygen. And that is totally okay. It is also part of the creative process. Of course, a school and their teachers have some kind of limitation. For example, the trusting thing has to happen only between you and yourself. That is the only source, that always exist for yourself. For me, it is totally okay sometimes, to run out of ideas, because that also pushes me towards being curious. Another really important advice is, indeed, to stay curious. To talk about the big thing MUSIC, it’s the most important way to stay always: Curious. I don’t listen only to Jazz. I listen to music, that is touching me, that is well made and then, it doesn’t mean, it has to be well composed, in a way that makes sense. It can be well produced. You know, there are so many things, that make this word being, what it is. Those more details sometimes make a piece amazing. At the same time, composing, producing and all those details are still so much work. People like my teacher Matt Wilson told me, one short melody can go on and on and on all the time. But when it’s played with the same intention, with like-minded people that moment you are connected energetic likewise, is another important thing. Because sometimes you don’t have time to rehearse music. Also this, for me is not the most important thing. Sometimes I do rehearse a lot but miss the right connection with my fellow musicians, the energetic connection. And sometimes I have no rehearsals and it feels right. I’m still trying to find out, if that is something, that you can really build with your age maybe. At the same time it is just impossible, to be friends with everyone. People are all different. Music can become a friendship for one day, it can become a family for one day too. It really depends how you approach music. And people. There is so much I learned from my teachers and it’s really hard to talk like: I learned this and that. It’s not only about technique, it’s more about the vision you can create on music, and how to settle this in life, what is also inspiring.
Bernd: Through you I finally met Matt Wilson and we had already a first part of a very long and very inspiring and special talk. Thank you very much Alina, for bringing me in contact with Matt.
Alina: My pleasure!
Bernd: My impression is just special with everyone I’m talking with, with Adam Nussbaum, with Matt Wilson, with you as well, you all inspire and touch me! When we first talked a bit longer some weeks ago, my impression was, you are not young, you are very old already!
Bernd: You are an old soul and you know already so much. And in your way you are very powerful!
Alina: Thank you.
Bernd: You have a kind of energy, that touch people. And that is a very big quality. It’s not just in music. It is also just talking with you, like now. Last time I thought, she’s not just twentysomething, she is already fivehundredtwentysomething!
Alina: (Laughing). For me, if we talk about Matt Wilson, he was and is one of the most inspiring person, because of the way, he approaches everything. He is the one, who can make you cry, just through talking about certain things. And the way he plays shows, how much fun he has there! And how much he loves this! I performed with him a few times. One of the most impressive moment was, when we performed in New York in a church. It was a beautiful event and we didn’t had a rehearsal. Matt brought some children who were inspired through gospel music for one of his original tunes. That was one of these moments, you don’t know the music, you are just reading the music. You don’t know, what to expect. You don’t know, what the context is. Performing in that church made me feel such a pure energy. And this didn’t came from having an extremely amount of confidence. I remember the moment, we started playing, we were constantly in touch music-wise. Everyone out there had open ears, open hearts, open souls and the music just happened naturally. That was one of the best moments I’ve ever experienced performing. It was just pure. All was just based on the beautiful spirits, on faith. And all this happened in a very bright place, full with nice energy and the people were just there to embrace and share that moment. That was really important. Not just because it was in a church. The connection between us was there so alive.
Bernd: Thank you very much for sharing these beautiful memories. My next question is related to your big succes in Montreux last year, which was in summer 2015. Can you please tell, how that happened?
Alina: I was doing my first year of my Master study and I knew about the Montreux Jazz Festival for a while already, but I didn’t really know, that there was also a competition. My mother somehow found this out, and she asked me: “Why don’t you try it?” Just to say it again, stay curious! (Laughing). That idea gave me so much support, my parents are the best! Before 2015 I didn’t apply, because it was my first year of my study. I had to graduate 2 years in one in the PCC. There were a lot of things going on and I thought, I would like to have a little bit more time to not just make it to the competition, but to actually go and enjoy more people and other talented singers. Like this I thought I needed to dedicate my energy. Then last year I finally decided to do it and I recorded a demo at school (PCC Groningen/The Netherlands) with other students.
Bernd: What kind of material did you record?
Alina: There are certain requirements. I had to follow them and sent two pieces. After about one month I received an email that I got access to the Singer Finals, which for me was amazing! I’m not the person, who likes to have expectations. I was just purely waiting for the results. This was really great news for me and I wasn’t sure at that moment, who would be in the jury. But when I saw the list, my throat was under my knees and my heart was bumping! Al Jarreau was one of the main jury members. I remember, I was crying and so excited and scared and happy at the same time. There was just a fountain of emotions. Al Jarrreau’s music had always a home in my parents place and I listened to him since I was born. It was him and Stevie Wonder and a few other very great names. My father is a big music lover and he actually bought CD’s, we had a huge collection at home. Through him I got the same love to music. I heard all albums of Al Jarreau and for me, just the idea of meeting him, was really exciting, I couldn’t wait, I was really overwhelmed. Then, the moment I went there, was a very interesting experience. It was the first competition when people didn’t had the competitive vibe. Actually, the festival is build in a very bright way. The first thing we had together, was a dinner. And we were about ten people in total. There we were not talking about the program or anything like that. We had our rehearsals seperatly in the morning and after that we had dinner together. We all had just a great time, we all wished each others good luck and to have fun first of all. Like this, all felt like we were some kind of community already with the same life goals. Not talking about the competition, because that wasn’t the subject that moment. The day of the semi finals the energy was very nice. Of course, some people were worried, which is natural, which is part of being a musician. Then music got life! Everybody was a bit emotional and it was interesting to experience that energy there. During the competition everyone was going seperately, warming up and trying to focus. Some didn’t want to talk, some couldn’t stop talking, some couldn’t stop laughing, because everybody has a different approach. Then, the moment I got up the stage, I felt overwhelmed. I knew in my head, even this sounds maybe weird, I wasn’t nervous. But my body was so overwhelmed and my heartbeat was out of control. When I was walking forward, I saw Al Jarreau and I immediately felt, there was some particular energy in the whole building, you know what I mean?
Bernd: It felt, like a saint was there?
Alina: It is really not easy to describe. There was, for sure, a spirit. I felt like, if you put your hand in the air, you feel the big weight of the air. The audience was packed in that house, people came to listen to the music and actually really support you. That was a very interesting moment. I do not really remember my performance, only some few and rare moments. At some point I felt so much the moment of the EGO. When I started feeling this overwhelming feeling, again, sometimes this distracts me a little bit. That moment there in Montreux I felt I had to let go and just be me. First of all, just to be honest as a person. We are all artists and we have to play, play music and play particular characters sometimes. I don’t want to use the word theatre, but we all have a story to tell. The evening was real and everyone showed ten different personalities. It was pretty scary when they were announcing the finalists. My name was the last one. I was totally overwhelmed with the three of us, we were just hugging and crying and so happy, that we actually got to the finals. You know, everyone was so talented! It’s not, some are better than the others. And yes, we are all still friends, us finalists (Laughing!). That’s just great!
For me, having the opportunity to being heard by Al Jarreau was already a blessing. There is no other word for saying this. He always finds the right word. He always finds the good way to turn all into a blessing. Just spiritually, his presence is so rich, that all becomes a big inspiration, doesn’t matter what state of mind your are in. Part of the price was one week being in the Academy in Montreux. We were ten people, three from finals from the Vocal Competition, three finalists from the Guitar Competition, three from the Piano Competition and one person from the Public Price. That was defenitely a life changing experience. They had a very intense program, of course in a good way. They were just feeding us with information until we became basically fat. They teached us the very basics, like the way to step on a stage, business advices and very small things, aspects, that are relevant for being an artist.
Bernd: Was it kind of a lecture about how to become someone in showbusiness?
Alina: Exactly. Just how to be completely an artist. The most important thing they gave, was the big love and care and kindness, just showing how gracious they were. I don’t know, how to describe the amount of gratitude I have towards each. And not only the teachers, also the students were like this. We all played together and we were all inspiring each other just through being ourselves and showing our different personalities. Sometimes I think, in music a person’s Ego stands in the way. This is because of the fear we all feel. They cannot really step over it, in order just to be who they are and just sharing that impression. Everyone is really unique and we just have to embrace that and be the best, we are. Not someone else. That was something, that happened there, in the Academy. We were sitting together during a Gala concert, the final concert of the Montreux Academy. There we were sitting in the backstage with all the students and the teachers. Kurt Rosenwinkel was one of the teachers. He said: “Yeah, there is too much love in this room!” And most of the people started crying, being emotional. Nobody wanted this to end. That moment was really something. I felt, it gave such a huge impact to all of us there. Starting from students, teachers and even the staff members. They really gave so much effort towards all of us and their own work.
Bernd: They really appreciated every single moment!
Alina: Yeah! In general, this Montreux community is very powerful. Because of people like them, Jazz do have support. Though this festival is really inspiring with all kind of different styles right now. They have Pop, Rock and so on. But everything is the whole community, the heads of all these departments are people like Al Jarreau and Quincy Jones. Herbie Hancock is performing there often. That makes the music right now, what it is.
Bernd: In the years Claude Nobbs organized the Montreux Festival, Montreux published a lot of really amazing live records with a huge big and great quality, a high level! Flora Purim, Chris Hinze, Dollar Brand, Jukka Tolonen, Art Blakey are just a few to mention in this category of live recordings with a huge quality.
Alina: While we were in the Academy last year, we also saw the archives. The way, they treat this material, the quality, the production, even how they store all, showed us they really care! That’s what makes the music appreciated, you know? In support and all. The whole country is in a Jazz Festival atmosphere, you see their posters everywhere. And all people know, what this is about. All streets in Montreux are jazzy, they have jazz signs, and all the people know, where the festival is situated. It’s really impressive. It’s like, you step of the train and immediately see the signs towards the palace, where it all happens. Just in general I do hope, that there will be a big future for this festival. At the moment the community becomes stronger, the older generation included. But also the new generation. People, who are very curious, with much respect, embrace this festival. As long as these aspects stay alive and work together, these connections will stay very strong. Right now, there is so much information available over there, through the internet, books and records. And you can get confused. That is, why earlier I said, teachers can make you ask the right questions. Even when you sit behind the computer, and you know, there is so much information available, you just don’t know where to start.
Bernd: One part of the price is, that you will be able to make a recording?
Alina: For now, it’s all in progress, the whole idea. Before I got their price, I had already another recording planned. That’s the CD I’m currently working on. But still I’m thinking about the whole release, the tour and all. We are working on this with many discussions. And in the meantime I’m already collecting ideas for the next recording. I’m trying, not just to step on one thing only. While the opportunities are around, it’s nice to use them!
Bernd: You will work with Al Jarreau on this new CD?
Alina: No. This next CD is the price for my project. Of course, I can call Al Jarreau, I will dream, to do that! But this will be a first step towards hopefully something bigger in the future. The great thing is, that I will be opening with my trio for his show during the next Montreux Jazz Festival in july, which will be the 50th anniversary of the festival by the way. That is another happy news to jump to! (Laughing!)
Bernd: Do you know, how this happened, why they ask you to play this year again?
Alina: That was part of the price as well. I knew, when I would win the competition, there would follow a recording, the final performance, the academy and a Berklee online course, which still has to happen in the near future. So yeah, they are very gracious!
Bernd: When you had your Final there last year, you had a band from the festival?
Alina: Yes. They were local musicians, very great ones. We had one rehearsal and that was basically one run through all songs. Like that, they were totally ready. You, as a finalist, had to sent all material and they checked it all very carefully. Like this, it’s very easy actually.
Bernd: And now, in July, will you play with whom?
Alina: I will have my own band. I will play with two of my current classmates, who also play with me in the Big Band. It will be Jorge Castaneda, from Spain, on piano and Andrea Caruso, from Italy, on double bass and on drums I have Arthur Hnatek (Erik Truffaz Quartet, Tigran Hamasyan) originally from Switzerland, but he’s busy all around the world. So, I think, with this trio it will be a very special moment for me to perform in Montreux.
Bernd: What will you play there?
Alina: I do not have something like a final setlist right now, but I do have some few ideas and I think I will perform some of my favorite standards and some of my original compositions as well. Next to arrangements of songs that other people might know better. I’m trying to keep the idea still open!
Bernd: And this will be a paid job for all of you I hope?
Alina: Yes, they cover all. They are really kind.
Bernd: Such a great band you will have there with you!
Alina: I’m pretty excited. All of them are very different. But at the same time I know, that all of them are very musically. It doesn’t matter, in which context I heard them before, they are so great musicians! I just can rely totally on their ears and their energy. And they can rely on their ears and their energy as well, they can make the music happen, what is very important for me.
Bernd: How did it happen you choosed for them for this special concert?
Alina: I think, it was a natural choice. I just feel very comfortable playing with these musicians. Jorge and Andrea are those ones, who moved with me together to Groningen, even back from New York to Groningen. We didn’t collaborate that much before all together, but seperately we did. It just feels good, to play with them, to sing with them. Also I know, that both of them collaborated with themselves a lot, so that is also good to know. And like this, it makes sense. It is important, that character-wise and energy-wise we are not against each others. I heard Arthur playing with other people a lot and all I can say about him, is that he’s just great! His way to play makes just sense, he really gives a huge impact to the whole picture. Energetic-wise he is also another great and special individual. But, of course, I am very curious to hear the final result of this band, of this combination.
Bernd: Will you record with them as well?
Alina: Right now, I am totally open for all. But it’s also a financial question of course. Then it’s hard, to get them all together in time. Everybody is touring and performing all over the world.
Bernd: Let’s talk about your way to compose. You write music and also sometimes lyrics. What are these lyrics about and is there something inside of you, that wishes to share your life experiences with others in music?
Alina: I started composing and writing lyrics pretty early in my life. And of course, during the time, the inspiration sources changed. I was always against writing cheesy songs about love and things like that. Also, because there are so many of them, it is an unlimited source. But I had stories, inspired through whatever happened in my life and through whatever I saw in my life, even from sources like movies or books. Even gaming! Just anything that inspires me creating stories. After a while I found out, that you cannot be against something, that is so natural, like LOVE is. That made me to describe relationships as well, after a while. And it doesn’t have to be my own, just to have a general idea. There are not so many songs, I wrote and still do, that are about myself. In songs I always try to find a solution. Or to create a message for others, to inspire them finding a solution themselves better, to help them finding answers. At least, that’s my goal at some point. For example, Gregory Porter is one of those, who has the most beautiful stories in his lyrics.
Bernd: Did you met him?
Alina: Yes, I did. I had a chance, to have a lesson with him and talk about life. He inspired me a lot. Also Kurt Elling did. I met him and we had an amazing conversation, I saw his workshop. Those are the people I look up to in our days. But it also depends, if I write lyrics to somebody else’s compositions. I always try, to respect their title. That’s what the music is about. Of course, there is also music whithout lyrics, that has a meaning. And I want to respect that as well. This, for me, can become very frustrating, but in a good way. Again, it pushes me out my comfort zone when I’m doing more things, then I used to do. Trying to come up with other things, to share them. In a way, it is like a puzzle. Very interesting! Sometimes it can be inspiring, how to spend a day.
Bernd: Did you compose today?
Alina: No! Today I had exam. (Laughing). But I did yesterday. Often I don’t like what I’m composing. But I always try to finish it. Then I store these ideas at a place, or on my phone, in my recorder. Later I use maybe one idea out of ten. Or I think it doesn’t work and will never work. And I will come back to it in a few years maybe. (Laughing). I did like that and some of those ideas worked very well, others not. Am just totally open to this process. Composing is like having a conversation. Sometimes you have a thought, then you change, or you don’t like it anymore.
Bernd: How do you compose? Do you write on paper or do you write in a computer?
Alina: It really depends. With one of my recent tunes, it was really interesting actually. It might sound a bit weird. I don’t have a routine doing this, because having a routine, could steel the magic of writing. When one thing is wrong, in a place you are sitting, you can get very distracted. For me this means, the more random it happens, the better it is. One of the reasons I composed, while I did the dishes, I had a special motive in my head. One motive in a lyric that sounded kind of interesting. I also had music in my mind, the chords. Then I went to my instrument and thought: Before I start playing, I just put on the recorder, to make sure, not to forget. And then slowly I played this song. What I did, was listening back to it, and that was a song. I didn’t had to change so much, not the lyrics, not in english, because it’s not my native language. But pretty much the whole idea stayed that way. Like this it happened maybe four times in my life, when the music just happened. I just felt, it was a gift! Sometimes you are just sitting frustrated in your room, looking for answers. I love playing the piano and do this a lot. This is why I compose on the piano a lot too. Composing is just searching for yourself.
Bernd: When you have a concert, do you also play the piano and sing at the same time?
Alina: No, I just sing. I like playing the piano and singing at the same time but I do not do this often during a concert. I really want to improve my level of piano playing. I just do this for the sake of love for the instrument. I had really great teachers with backgrounds in jazz and classic for piano playing. Unfortunately I stopped playing the classical piano, just because of lack of time, when I didn’t had my own instrument. Now I have my own piano, but I don’t have much time, especially in front of all these exams. But I’m planning to come back to this. It is another source of inspiration, like searching for other styles. I do believe, that music first comes from the heart and the soul. Next to that we now have so much music around us, that influences also.
Bernd: I was thinking about Shirley Horn.
Alina: Yes, she is one of the greatest. For accompanying herself, the way she feels the spirits, even when she doesn’t sing, she continues her message with her piano playing. There are a few singers that are super amazing in that way. Carmen McRae also used to do that. Also Nat King Cole for example, really one of the greatest. He always had a message, he had a beautiful voice and was very honest at the same time.
Bernd: When you cover songs, from other artists, other composers, which artists do you prefer?
Alina: I don’t have particular preferences, because right now I listen to all kinds of music. Of course, I used to do like many other people I guess covers of Stevie Wonder. But right now I’m very open. I was listening to Hip Hop music, because these guys have huge stories and big messages. I mean, sometimes just describing the casual life for me has a strong energy, you know?
Bernd: What I just think about, is that Hip Hop includes many stories from life, like a reflection, including also some kind of protest. That you don’t agree with a political situation, or whatever is happening in the world. Does this also come back in your music?
Alina: In a way, yes. That can be, of course. Especially with people and relationships. I do talk about this in my music. I would like to go back to your last question about covers at this point. But talking about this topic, I feel, is important too, to be honest. We can’t be always with butterflies in our heads or hearts every day in our life. There are also struggles, that made life unbalanced. Music has to be balanced. It needs to have also parts of aggression, love and disagreement. There should be conflicts as well. Because this all is real! It is a very big palette. It all is life but includes certain shapes, you know? I don’t want to put myself in analyzing this all. It is all just pure and needs to be listened to, needs to be enjoyed. When your body reacts to certain frequencies, and things like that. Talking about covers again. For me, one of the main inspirations is Robert Glasper. Recently I’ve been laughing a lot. I had a few songs, I really liked and then I thought, it would be great to arrange them. Then I put Robert Glasper’s music on and he did those arrangments already and I just thought, it’s so amazing to hear that tasty match. He is just a great musician and he can do this just perfectly!
Another inspiring person for me is, and that is not really about covers anymore, but talking about people, that inspire me, is Michael League, the founder of Snarky Puppy. I was super lucky to have the opportunity to sing with him on a festival here in The Netherlands last year. He is a prodigy in life and music, the way he treats his other band members, the way, he writes music, the way, he produces music. The attention he has, is just so honest and real and beautiful. Snarky Puppy collaborates with great people, world musicians, pop musicians, jazz musicians. They make music music! It’s is not important, which style something is, it’s just music that is important.
We all share the same intention and the same goal. Not to fight for one place, because no place is perfect, no thing is perfect, nothing is perfect. I feel with those guys, a really big power and intention of this musical family, this union. This is so beautiful. Hearing and seeing Michael League playing is very inspiring. Hearing him talking is even another inspiring aspect. Once he said: It’s really important, not just to be a good musician, but also to be nice to be around. I thought, yeah! This is such a great thing!
For sure, this is really clear, but at the same time many people also just don’t understand. They get too much involved in their Ego and everything just doesn’t make sense anymore.
Honestly, I started playing more covers and even arrangements for standards, because you kind of run out of your own ideas sometimes. That’s a normal thing for an artist, that’s when we are looking for more, that’s even a really healthy process. We have to be patient. At the same time patience sometimes is killing the whole creativity. Because we cannot wait! Once I asked one of the mentors in the Montreux Academy, Yaron Herman, who is a musical director as well. I asked him: I’m always afraid to repeat myself, repeat my own ideas when I compose and when I write lyrics. And he said: May I ask you a question? Do you get tired of hearing “I love you” a lot? I thought: You know what? Let’s keep it there, I don’t wanna answer this question. Then he continued: How many ways do exist to say “I love you”? To make it deliberate, the way it’s deliberate by saying this way.
Once I started forgetting these things, I started feeling lost. In those moments it is important, to have your friends around. To build your community of people who see the way you are.
Bernd: That means, as a musician, you have to be a social human! But, if I see this correctly, there are also many musicians, that are not social!
Alina: Yes! I’m not saying, you have to be anti-social! For sure, every loner has some kind of surrounding. At some point in your life there is still some kind of teamwork. For example, the sound engineer of your concert. It doesn’t matter how lonely he is in his life, but he becomes a part of your family at that moment! At least, it should be like this. You have to be a person, that is nice to be around with. Of course, you can be a Diva, but that’s not connected with music, that is already the EGO. That’s what brings us further away from music. Music is, music should be a more pure thing. We have to keep it like that. All we create in our mind, the character, the angle, the fake things, all that takes us away from the beauty of music. So yes, I do believe, there are people out there, who are not social. I’m not the one, who is going out all the time, socializing all the time. But at the same time I have friends, that I love. And I do have a family, like a surrounding of people, who I can play with and enjoy my life with. That is important. Not all of them are musicians. But they all respect and share!
Bernd: I want to ask you about your time in NY, where you stayed 6 month. That was part of your Master program. Can you please tell me about that period of your life, what were the highlights for you now, when you look back?
Alina: Yes. Montreux happened during my stay in New York. First I moved to New York, then traveled to Montreux in Switzerland. That was just a life changing moment for me! Because of the connections you gain, you see how many people are as crazy as you are! Just to say this: I don’t think, we musicians are normal. And there is nothing wrong about it. My life schedule is not one like another normal person would have. At least, this is my opinion. I have the same fears like other people, the same energy as others. The love they share, for what they do, is strong! People can really appreciate you and love, what you do and show it. It’s a very huge range of emotions out there. That helps you constantly doing your best and being the best human as possible. It’s not anymore about the statement, what can I do. Or: What am I doing. You cannot just stop and seek and think. People are hungry for music there! And with that fact in the back, you cannot just think about, how to create that fancy or popular thing. It’s more, you really have to make a proper dish and really enjoy it!
Bernd: It’s lovely, the way, you say that!
Alina: Again: For me it was very important, to be outside of my comfort zone. Sorry for repeating this. Just being there and seeing the people, who do know anything about me. The only thing you have to be connected with the moment, is music. Then the question is: What is your message?
Then you have to go and be yourself. In the best possible way! That’s the way, how you make people just respect each others. Know each others space and know, we can go together. I mean, we all still have our own destinations. But we can choose in between for new steps too! Funny is, we constantly push each others to be better.
Here in Groningen, we have the same, in a way. But here all is more safe. More polite, more kind, more chilled. Here it is just more relaxed, more comfortable. Here we live in this kind of mentality. But there, in the United States, in New York City, it’s different. First of all, it is a bigger country. A lot of things are going on there. People there are more fighters. And that’s propably, well I mean, I don’t say people here are lazy or that kind of thing. It’s just that the approach they have is something like: What can we do in life? How can we do it better? Where I’m coming from, it’s pretty similar. Russia has the same attitude. I enjoy that and I do have friends there and I do miss living there. But at the same time I like it here, it’s also important for me to be here, to bring all my thoughts and ideas together. Finally I do what I think I am and just get my diploma. Right now my master give me the idea of going deeper and actually research music. Something I was always avoiding! The whole Big Band research I do and did, is really interesting. How can I express myself with this Big Band? That was already a nice question, not just focussing on a problem and coming with a solution. Just come with an idea, that could lead to something. When I started with this, I found out, that my heart belongs to a style. Again: Am a huge music lover and love many different styles. But: There exist a particular vibe, where I’m attracted to. So, I wanted to research a little bit more about that. Later on, I discovered, in that style not so many singers were performing. Or the way, they were presented, wasn’t the way, I like to perform myself. It was great to discover music interpretation, that’s not new and just open my vision to things my way.
Yeah, going to New York for me was a very heavy experience in a beautiful way. It had a huge impact. I performed there quite a lot. I sang about thirty concerts, of course, these were student concerts, you don’t get paid or anything like that. You perform with your teachers or with your friends or fellow students. You grow together, you try new things. Just being curious for what your possibilities are. This whole thing went into kind of jam sessions. At some point of your life this is important. Sometimes I learned from one performance more than from some lessons. And that is not, because the teachers are bad. But because of the way, you experience things at the moment. It’s the momentum. Just that. It’s not written on a paper, it’s not known. You just throw yourself to something – NEW! I think, it’s more important to be able to try your own ideas performing rather than studying. Once you study, you kind of put yourself into a box. I mean, I am not talking about school right now in a negative way. Sometimes it depends, what you do beside going to school. It is important, to stay curious on all levels life offers you!
Bernd: Where did you live in NY?
Alina: I lived in Brooklyn with a friend of mine. A bass player, who also studied here in Groningen at the PCC. That was great, because we also practised a lot together. We had very different schedules and couldn’t see each others often, but when, we always played together. I met and played a lot with my vocal teacher JD Walter, which was very beautiful, mostly that happened in Queens. I was everywhere, not just sitting at home. Every day I was going to the city, trying to get inspirations of the people’s energy, from sitting in the subway and being in the park. Or visting a show. Amazing artists perform there! I had lessons with fantastic musicians in New York City! OMG! I wish, if I had lessons with these musicians for ten hours, I would be the best, you know?
Bernd: You also visited other special places in New York?
Alina: Yes, I did. Almost by accident I visited Ground Zero. I visited New York already three times. But the first time I felt more like a typical tourist. Then I wanted to visit the place, where 9/11 happened. I wasn’t sure, if there was a monument or not. So, I went by myself in the middle of the busiest area of the city, which was quite chaotic. But the moment I stepped on the territory, where this horrible thing happened, it felt like the city was quiet. Again, it is a horrible thing, that happened there. Many inspirations come from hearing all those sad stories. Through them you feel it all. Experiencing the whole heavy energy there, I got pretty infected, touched deeply. There are two fountains and at that moment, there wasn’t a museum. I think there is a museum now. But there was a tree, supported with ropes and such things. That was the only tree that survived there. They brought it from that place first to a garden, raised him there and later on brought this tree back to his old place, near Ground Zero. I remember, when I went out, I had my headphones on my ears. Of course, I turned the music off, once I got there. Afterwards, I couldn’t listen to music anymore for a while. All that energy was just in all my body and I was thinking so much about this all, which made me cry and I stayed quiet for a bit. Then I wrote a song, dedicated to that tree, a piece in three parts. The moment, that tragedy happened, the moment, they let the tree’s roots grow back and the moment, they brought it back to its old place. When you go there visiting the tree, they always say, stay clear from the closing doors. This inspired me and I wrote a song with this title: „Stay Clear at the Closing Door!“ Just all inspired me there a lot! Starting from walking outside and ending talking to great artists.
Bernd: You visited churches?
Alina: Yes! I saw some gospel concerts that happened in churches. The whole energy they have there is very high and special. It made me cry from happiness. Music is so powerful there. I mean, I’m a believer, I believe in God. For me, this faith is very important. I feel, everyone has its own faith. I respect all the religions. I don’t understand, why people get fanatic and create big problems and something, that is against each others. For me I can say this very clear, that I am not a racist. In churches music got its place to reunite people, at least I hope so. Because, performing and being there is not about competition. We share the same intensity and we have the same intention, to create something.
Bernd: What is it for you, that really interests you in music? And then, what is it, that really interests you in singing?
Alina: I don’t know. This is a very hard question. As a child, you don’t think about these things. I do listen to music since I’m born. And I was involved in making house concerts since my second year on earth. Then I was standing on a chair and told everyone: Now you have to clap, because I’m gonna sing! And everyone was clapping! And I started singing. But for trying to answer your question: I don’t know. And I don’t want to know.
Bernd: Is it maybe the melody that interests you?
Alina: No! It can be the rythm! It can be the melody! It can be anything! It can be vibration. I sing sometimes in some frequency that touch me inside. And I cannot understand, why I want to cry! Like Al Jarreau said: “Our heart beats. We are born with rythm”. So, I believe that. I just want to keep it there. I am not that much interested, if there is a melody, that touches me. It’s all totally open! Always! Starting from vibrations and frequencies and all this. And it goes further to something magical.
Bernd: Let’s talk a bit more about your Big Band project.
Alina: This project is in progress right now. Basically the whole idea is, I arranged tunes in the fashion of jazz music of the 50s and 60s. That was kind of the era, well, I’m not saying, singers were not performing really that period of time. Maybe they had less importance than rather in swing music, the traditionally jazz, let’s describe it more the pop orientated jazz music of that period. I try to keep this stronger energy, when the bebop styles were happening. The difference was, coming from traditional music, there was more improvisation involved. Improvised yet organised. Not free avantgarde but still it was organized. Musicians tried to make it complicated for each others for the fun, in order to make it a little bit of a competition, but in a friendly way. Other aspects were also happening, like racial questions that were also influencing the music of that period. Right now, I’m basically trying to keep that “Blue Note” vibe, music inspired by musicians like Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane and Mc Coy Tyner. And I sing that music with the Big Band! Of course there are many Big Bands that dedicate their music to those musically giants. Kurt Elling did that very well, also other great singers. But still I feel I want to try it myself. Next to this, I already composed pieces in that fashioned style. All is in progress, the ideas are growing. Soon I will have to make it happen.
Bernd: You will continue with that project after you’ll be finished here?
Alina: I’m not sure, because I still don’t know, where I will move to after. I don’t know now, what will happen. For now, I keep it as a project but the music will be always in my pocket. Where ever I am, I can share that.
Bernd: During your study, you have to learn a lot of songs, a lot of lyrics. Did you ever had the experience you sometimes forget lyrics?
Alina: Maybe I had that a few times. But still you can come up with, not something random but, as long as you understand the meaning of the song, you can put some words in there. Until now, I didn’t really totally forgot the lyrics of a tune. But sure, this is natural, this happens. Again: It’s a life situation, anything can happen. You know, people say, this is unprofessional. But sometimes, even amazing great musicians knowing so many great standards and usually don’t forget them. But sometimes even these things happen. It doesn’t make a singer unprofessional. We all know, that falling is bad, because it will hurt. But we are not doing it with attention. Then sometimes and suddenly even these things happen! (Laughing)! We have to accept that!
Bernd: What is the magic of life for you? How is this sensation, to be alive for you?
Alina: For me, all is about faith. Everything for me is faith. A very strong and active energy. Am a very realistic person. I’m not an optimist nor a pessimist. I’m happy being alive and I hope, to be alive for a long time. Because there are so many things to learn, see, experience, do. As long as you believe, life is always better. And you actually do something to be better and help others to be better. It is not only because of yourself in this life. I also love teaching, sharing things and knowledge with others. I am very curious and we all are curious together. Teach each other to be something stronger. Honestly, what recently upset me, is the whole world situation. People are getting distracted through politics, racial and religious questions. This really upsets me a lot. Because of this all, I stopped watching the News. Of course, I am on social media, checking that. I have so many different friends from all over the world, from all kinds of places and I wanna keep that pure. The purpose of life is more beautiful than fighting and money and all those kind of things. As long as people have kind intentions to each others, I’m happy. I wish, everyone can live long and happy.
Bernd: What kind of advice could you give to people, who are in the same situation like you, when you were younger? What life advice could you even give me?
Alina: These are a few. First, if you know, you would like to connect your life with something, with someone, you just have to go for it and not be afraid. Because fear is not natural. We all have to be smart. And of course, we need to be honest to ourselves. Going without any fear or better, with awareness. We have to be aware, but with positive intentions. Because, if I would be afraid, I would be possibly still in the same place with my parents. But I am one hundred percent sure, I wouldn’t be, where I am right now. And I am happy, where I am right now. If you want to know about music, for example, or whatever you are interested in, you really should follow that, archieve that. Until reaching it. We only live once, and when we do something we do not enjoy, we are cursing ourselves to be unhappy. And start suffering. Money is not everything, but it’s defenitely a tool for us to be able to do what we want. So, it is important to be realistic, honest with a pure and kind intention. Be kind to each others. That’s all. Because, first of all I know very well, if I would be scared, I wouldn’t go out at all. If I wouldn’t treat people in a kind way, they wouldn’t be kind with me like they are and nothing would happen. If I wouldn’t be curious, I wouldn’t learn many things. If I wouldn’t step outside of my comfort zone, I wouldn’t grow. So, these are the most scary things. But again: Fear is kind of un-natural. We always have to keep that in mind. Believe in whatever you want to believe in and have faith in your inner connection. Then energy is also very important. Stay balanced! Be kind to yourself in the right balance, have good and strong energy and always have faith!
Bernd: When was your birthday?
Alina: Three days ago!
Bernd: Happy belated birthday to you, dear Alina! And always be lucky and happy!!
Alina: Thank you very much!
Update: Alina just started recording this september 2016 a new project in New York with Alex Sipiagin, Chris Potter, Eric Harland, Matt Brewer, Will Vinson and John Escreet for Criss Cross Jazz.
And just released her own CD “Driving Down The Road”!
For more information please check: https://alinaengibaryan.wordpress.com/