Barbara Hendricks was born in the USA and received her musical training and her Bachelor of Music at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. She has more than 20 roles in her active opera repertoire and has performed with all of the leading conductors and orchestras of our time. She made her jazz debut at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1994 and has since then performed regularly in renowned jazz festivals throughout the world with the Magnus Lindgren Quartet.
Who are your favorite jazz greats?
My introduction to jazz was due to my high school choir director, Arthur Porter who was considered to be the best jazz pianist in Arkansas at the time. He and his trio were invited to play at one of Bill Clintons inaugural balls in 1992 . At age 15 I was his regular babysitter during the weekends when he played in local nightclubs. He had an enormous collection of jazz LPs and I listened to them while waiting for he and his wife to return home. My education and love for jazz began there in his living room some 50 years ago. Since thenI have listened to and been moved by so many great musicians at different times in my life. I am listening to a lot of Coleman Hawkins just now because my husband played one of his records some time ago and I love it and listen to it often! It is futile to give names but I can start with: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson as well as some great Blues musicians like Elisabeth Cotten, Son House and BB King; Negro Spirituals and the Blues are the roots of Jazz and these musicians have had an enormous influence on a multitude of incredible geniuses that have come after them.
Why is it important for young people today to learn about jazz?
I believe that it is very important for young people to learn about music in all of its rich and varied aspects it should be included in the curriculum of their general education from an early age.To learn about music without learning about jazz would be like learning about dance without knowing what a waltz is! Jazz is an integral part of the cultural heritage of humankind.It is a gift that we too often ignore.It belongs to all of our children and to deny them access to it is to shirk our duties as adults to inspire and motivate them. Lack of knowledge of our this cultural heritage is cultural poverty and a wasted opportunity to allow them to explore their own budding creativity. I am a trained classical musician and my repertoire has included jazz for more than 20 years. I fight everyday to keep both jazz and classical music from being left out of our musical consciousness. What the mass media offers to us as culture is equivalent to industrialized food that it conceived to be consumed quickly and to give the an impression of fullness and short term satisfaction but is sorely lack in the nourishment that feeds the soul.
What is your most memorable jazz 'moment'?
The first time I sang on the stage of the Montreux Jazz Festival! When we decided to move to Montreux Switzerland some 25 years ago one of the first things that I was looking forward to was to be able to attend the legendary jazz festival every year. What I could never have imagined then was that one day I’d be singing jazz on stage there and that would be the beginning of my journey as a jazz musician. I was introduced by Quincy Jones! It was so memorable to me because I, coming from the world of classical music and a beginner in jazz, felt warmly welcomed in the jazz family by the musicians and the audience. It was an honor and a privilege to be standing on that stage where so many of the greatest jazz artists have stood.
Do you think that music (and jazz in particular) can promote peace and tolerance?
I think music has a very special power to touch us by bypassing our small brains which tend to get us into a lot of problems. Through the language of music, we are able to speak to one another and reach others. What can promote peace and tolerance is the conversation, the possibility of having a conversation with someone else.
Why do you think a day like International Jazz Day is important?
It’s important because we get a chance to acknowledge jazz all over the world. Collectively, if on that particular day, everyone is focused on jazz, it gives us the opportunity to introduce it to young audiences who are unaware of it or find it difficult, and to shed a light on that heritage, on the beauty and on the emotion that is in the music. I think people are so busy, and to take the time to celebrate jazz on one day where everyone is vibrating to the same beat all over the world is wonderful. There is so much we do to waste our time everyday, why not devote an international day to jazz?!
What is one action the public could do to promote Jazz Day or the values of jazz?
On International Jazz Day, allow yourself to be really open. Decide that, today, I’m going to be open to whatever jazz wants to work on me and let it happen. It’s an openness to see and to accept. Once that is achieved, many will become ambassadors for jazz! There is not one jazz, there are so many different types and styles of jazz and music from many different periods. It is varied, as varied as we are, and as international as we are! You see that the roots of jazz come from Africa, and we have all come originally from Africa… it becomes obvious that this music is a apart of our universal language.
Do you think jazz brings together people from different cultures? Can you give examples from your personal experience?
In my quest to learn more about the blues and the roots of jazz as I develop, it is very clear that when you hear music from Africa, from Mali, Senegal Nigeria, or you listen to delta blues from Mississippi, they’re speaking the same language. So all we have to do is to play more together , listen to each other play, play for others, and let that conversation continue to happen.