Megan Shank March 09, 2009
One of the most simmering voices in town belongs to Heidi Krenn, an Austrian who studied with Sheila Jordan and Theo Bleckmann in New York on a Fulbright. At Cabaret, a lush Bund bar that opened in December, Krenn interprets the American songbook with alternating vulnerability and defiance; her sincerity and depth of expression radiate. The decorplush purple curtains, funky light fixtures and buttery leather furniture-matches Krenn's sometimes sensual, sometimes playful mood.
Time Out Hong Kong
Henry Chung October 22, 2008
Free form jazz: Heidi Krenn - Interview for Time Out Hong Kong
Heidi Krenn is the kind of modern American jazz vocalist you’d expect to find in a bustling town like Shanghai. Before her move to New York City, Krenn studied in her homeland Austria with renowned jazz vocalists Sheila Jordan and Mark Murphy. In 2003, she was a finalist in the Austrian Young Lions Competition. In 2004, she received the prestigious Fulbright Award to study at NYU with pianists Kenny Werner and Don Friedman, and then at Queens College with saxophonist Antonio Hart. Krenn’s repertoire starts with the great American songbook and expands into the world of scat vocals – a rare improvisation skill among jazz vocalists today. Heidi performs at the Friday Fest jazz series outside of Taikoo Place, Quarry Bay on Friday, October 31 at 6pm.
You studied with legendary vocalist Sheila Jordan and formed a “life-changing friendship” with her. How would you describe her as teacher and friend?
I met Sheila when I was doing a workshop with her at 13 years old. At that time I was deeply into Clifford Brown, listening to him all the time and learning his solos, so I decided to sing a ballad dedicated to him entitled I Remember Clifford. I think that’s what really drew her to me, seeing this child who was just totally absorbed by the music, singing her little heart out. I guess I must have reminded her of herself when she was a teenager, finding out about, and falling in love with, bebop. Sheila took me under her wing and was fundamental in some life-changing musical events in my life, like getting a scholarship for a jazz summer programme in the US in 1996, deciding to leave home when I was 16 to study jazz music at university, [and] supporting my move to NYC later on. She is one of the most creative and risk-taking singers who doesn’t shy away from being herself in her music. She is one of the few who can improvise like an instrumentalist, and then the next moment move you to tears with the most heart-breaking ballad.
You have played many renowned jazz clubs in NYC such as Birdland, Small’s, and Dizzy’s. How’s playing in NYC compared to House of Blues & Jazz in Shanghai, and clubs in Vienna?
There is no audience like a New York audience. They are probably the most appreciative and dedicated listeners because they know their jazz from head to toe. They pick up everything you do and really get into the music. It’s similar in Vienna where so many people grow up listening to classical music and go to concerts. They’ve always had a strong affection and interest in jazz as well and there’s a strong and vibrant jazz scene there. Now Shanghai on the other hand is a different kind of animal. I feel that the music is still very new to most audiences and people don’t really know what to think of jazz. It seems that in general, music is considered to be more entertainment than a form of art. That requires you to be a very different kind of performer, which is quite challenging but is one of the reasons why I [went] to Shanghai. At the same time, the listening audience is growing.
Very few jazz vocalists these days get exposed to, let alone try to master, the golden days of scat vocals. What are your thoughts on that?
Some of my favourite jazz singers never scatted. My first love was Billie Holiday, who didn’t scat, and the same is true for Abbey Lincoln, who is a magnificent musician and songwriter. But then of course there are also singers like Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy, Jay Clayton and Jon Hendricks – not to mention the great ones like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan – who are all true masters of the craft. I personally have always improvised. To me it’s an essential part of who I am and what the music means to me. I studied scatting very early on, learning the solos of the great instrumentalists like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown. I think it’s an important part of jazz singing, which is also why I’ve decided to teach it, to pass it on, and to give people first-hand experience on how jazz improvisation works.
Who will you be appearing with in Hong Kong?
I’m really happy to be able to bring my own band to Hong Kong, which means I will be able to prepare some great music for the audience! I’m already working on new material and am really excited to perform it. My band is a piano trio lead by pianist Sean Higgins, bassist Curits Ostle and drummer Charles Foldesh. They are all very talented musicians from the US. We will have some jazz standards form the great American songbook as well as some Portuguese fado, Brazilian music and originals. I’ve never been to Hong Kong before, and am curious to see what the jazz scene is like there.