08/26/12 By H. Allen Williams
Susan Krebs: Actress, Activist, Jazz Musician and Gardener
An Artist in Every Sense of the Word
Jazz is so much more than improvisational music, it is a lifestyle and many times I find that jazz musicians are also socially conscience and activists, which lends itself to the thought process of being in the now, a core principal in jazz improvisation. Rooted in many principals of the arts - artist (in all sense of the word), Susan Krebs exhibits a particular understanding that jazz is about much more than complex structures and heady notes. It is a reason, a lifestyle, a language and an emotion, which Krebs certainly displays in her latest offering Everything Must Change. Quoting I Ching, “The Only Constant is Change,” truly is a proper descriptive for Krebs textural and inviting way of interpreting different tempos and moods with confident command and prowess. Krebs vocal style is decidedly modern, but comfortably assured and relaxed. Backed by an ensemble of seasoned veterans; Rich Eames (piano), Jerry Kalaf (drums), Ryan McGillicuddy (bass) and Chuck Manning (saxes), who offer rich imagination, fast instincts, assured and distinctive surrender to the moment of improvisation which are explored best in the Susan Krebs Band.
H. Allen Williams: Growing up on the east coast, how do you feel it has influenced the way you hear the jazz language, in comparison to the West Coast jazz scene you are a part of now?
Susan Krebs: Honestly, I’m not sure how or if it has influenced me one way or the other! I grew up in Baltimore and found my way to the recordings of Billie, Bessie, Memphis Minnie, Ella, Nina and Sarah in my teens, and I heard their call! Then while living in New York after college, I had the opportunity to hear many of the great ones - Duke, Carmen, Sheila Jordan, Count Basie, Mose - as well as the very fine unsung musicians at NY’s thriving venues for jazz -- such an education! I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over 35 years, gradually learning about the history of the vital West Coast jazz scene, which continues today, and taking inspiration from those who’ve been playing here for over 60 years as well as from the newest generation who are pushing the envelope - and everybody in between! There is a wealth of talent out here!
In this modern era of the internet, the world has become quite small -- we are one big neighborhood -- and I think that the music being made is much more globally influenced now than coast-ally so.
H. Allen Williams: How do you feel your stage experience influenced you as a jazz musician?
Susan Krebs: Well, I’m very comfortable on stage and therefore, on the bandstand as well. But the strongest stage influence on my work as a jazz musician is the over 30 years of improvisational theater work: individual expression in the moment in collaboration with the collective whole. I learned to be in a place of “Yes and...”!
H. Allen Williams: I noticed you call your ensemble, “Band” distinguish your choice and how it relates to the collaborative spirit of your latest release, Everything Must Change?
Susan Krebs: We are all dear friends and colleagues -- some are longtime collaborators -- and we’ve played together in different configurations over the years. The 5 of us who make up the Susan Krebs Band on our new recording have been playing all kinds of gigs for a couple of years - including my jazz salon, ThemeScene -- and we roll easily with each other! We just feel like a “band”, you know -- a “band o’ brothers and a sister”! Making the recording last summer was grand fun because we enjoy making music together - and the food was really good! Jazz Band Camp! My hope - my intent - is that we may continue as a working band.
H. Allen Williams: There are so many sides to your talent, which are so well rounded in the arts. Tell us more about Susan Krebs the actor?
Susan Krebs: I’ve been fortunate to be a working actor since my early days in New York in the 1970’s: TV Guest Spots (most recently “Mad Men”); TV and Radio Commercials; Animation; Film (i.e. “28 Days”); Theater work including my solo show “LUNAR”; the contemporary opera “String of Pearls” at the Weill Theater at Carnegie Hall; and years of Improvisational Theater work, both in the comedy short form with War Babies for 10 years, and 15 years of collectively exploring dreams, politics, myths, and personal stories through the long form with the all-women’s company, the Wims - some of the most satisfying and growth-producing work I’ve experienced.
H. Allen Williams: You seem to be quite interested in nature from aviary to gardening. Tell us how this influences the music you perform or how it might influence the way you interpret music?
Susan Krebs: I have been an “outdoors” person since I was very young. I also come from a long line of gardeners and I am myself a gardener. Working daily in my garden is the closest thing to a meditation for me -- short of making music. I am continually reminded of nature’s life cycle -- including my own! On my walks and hikes, the sights, sounds and smells of Nature compel me to be present - and quiet my mind. I am often moved to vocalize as I walk along - whether non-verbally or exploring a tune. These outings feed my muses!
H. Allen Williams: Your project Jazz Aviary was a mixed media presentation. What originally inspired this idea, and how did you incorporate other talents you have into this presentation?
Susan Krebs: Because I have spent much of my life outdoors, birds have always been a presence in my life. For example, being serenaded with birdsong as I garden is a grand pleasure! And on a full moon midnight, awakening to the mockingbird high on a wire just thrills me as he offers his extensive and adamant repertoire of birdsong! So, I think I had always been taking notice of the “avian musician”!
But in 2005, I wanted -- I needed -- a project that would transform my despair and anger over the continued abuse and gradual destruction of our environment - into a joyful concert celebration of the beauty and wonder that Nature arouses -- and birds seemed like Nature’s perfect representatives and guides! I spent months happily researching and gathering music and poetry about birds, basic ornithological facts (I confess I am more of a “poetic” than authentic birder!), and new studies about the only animals known to sing and to make - some would say “compose” - music: birds, humans, whales, dolphins and mice! I am fascinated by this provocative concept of a “universal music” shared by these creatures - a music made up of all the same and/or similar elements: scales, harmonies, rhythms, patterns, melodies, pitch etc.
So, the concert includes actual birdsong surrounding the audience, which the musicians mirror and transform into their own music. There are also beautiful visual projections throughout the concert and wide-ranging musical arrangements - from Hoagy to Vaughan Williams to Hank Williams to 17th C Catalonian Traditional! The concert arrived at its present form after many incarnations over the years as we created a structure -- within which we could jam with the material.
H. Allen Williams: What does the word jazz mean to you?
Susan Krebs: Oh my -- that’s difficult for me to try to articulate. It’s such a personal feeling, you know...and a lifestyle, for that matter!
Well OK, what comes to mind: the now expressed sonically - let’s leave it at that!
H. Allen Williams: If a room was filled with an audience that had never been to a jazz concert before, what message would you desire the listener to leave with after your performance. What would be the defining meaning you would want them to remember?
Susan Krebs: I would hope that we might have shared an authentic “heart/mind” connection, and be lifted by the underlying joy of the music and its immediacy and its intimacy - and its passionate demonstration of the “freedom of expression” that most Americans treasure.
H. Allen Williams: What does the future hold for Susan Krebs?
Susan Krebs: Let’s see: more work with the Susan Krebs Band; continuing to present my jazz salon series, ThemeScene, in theaters and living rooms, where we explore a chosen theme through music and song, spoken word and poetry; performing “Jazz Aviary,” especially as a fund-raiser for Green causes; beginning to work with a piano and horn trio; and forever growing in and practicing the Schubert Lied, “Du Bist die Ruh” (You Are Peace), which I offer publicly every now and again! AND, I hope to travel more! AmenAwomen!
Whew! Thank you for all your thoughtful and provocative questions, Mr. Williams!
H. Allen Williams: Thank you for taking the time with all of us Susan.
H. Allen Williams
More Articles in Community Articles
Joan Jonas: Reanimation, with Jason Moran
Virginia A. Schaefer
Tony Adamo Featured on Allaboutjazz
Francisco Yobino: Do Small Things with Great Love
An Interview With Bassist Joe Sanders
Blue Note Records: A Diamond Celebration
AVAILABLE NOW - Bassist/Composer OMER AVITAL Delves Into The Culture of His Homeland Through Jazz On His New Recording, NEW SONG, available on Motema Music - November 4, 2014
Jason Paul Harman Byrne