Jazz Divas 2020: Polly Gibbons On Being Inspired By Ray Charles And Nina Simone

Polly Gibbons joins us on Close-up Culture to preview her sold-out show at The Pheasantry (Chelsea).

Q: Tickets for your performance at The Pheasantry (Chelsea) sold-out very quickly. What are your thoughts and feelings heading into the opening show of the Jazz Divas 2020 series?

A: It’s super that it’s sold out! I’m very much looking forward to singing some songs for everyone there. James Pearson (pianist) is a brilliant diva, so people will be in for a real treat. 

Q: The show will feature the music of Ray Charles and Nina Simone. Can you tell us about your connection to their work and why you wanted to pay tribute to them on this show?

A: I’m not a frequenter of doing ‘themed’ shows, but I have performed this before and was asked to do it for the opening of this series.

Both Ray Charles and Nina Simone are two of my absolute favourite artists. I think my connection with them is that they are both very eclectic and open musically, both steeped in the blues and gospel, as well as jazz. I’ve always had a love and feel for different types of music with a ‘jazz ethos’ running through it.

Q: How have these two artists helped shape your career and your approach to jazz?

A: They’ve both inspired me to practice the piano more. Neither are archetypal ‘jazz singers’ ala Ella or Sarah, but they’re both full of the spirit of jazz, the playfulness and being in the moment, which is an approach I dig – big time. 

Q: What can the audience expect from the way you have interpreted and packaged Ray and Nina’s music for this performance? 

A: Well, I’ll interpret on the night. Much of their material is emotionally weighty and from a particularly turbulent period in African American history, so I will give a little context now and again, but shall mainly let the songs tell these universal tales. There will be some of their well known works and a few lesser known gems. 

Q: You will be up on stage with pianist James Pearson. What type of atmosphere and energy do you two try to create during performances?

A: I believe we both aim to create an open and easy vibe in the room, so people can relax in to the music, become absorbed and hear the stories. 

Q: Beyond the show being sold out, what marks a successful performance for you?

A: If people lose themselves for a while in another place, outside of the physical world, perhaps I can ignite some feelings or invoke people to think about something differently. The very fact that people come to live music gigs is already a good thing. I personally, also hope to feel a sense of peace afterwards.

Polly Gibbons will open the Jazz Divas 2020 series on 6 March. Doors open at 7pm.

Check out more from the Jazz Divas 2020 series

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