Billie Bird’s Session No 3 @ Le Bourg, Lausanne 27/02/2015


This is Billie Bird‘s third experimental sound session at Lausanne’s cosy Le Bourg theatre. A chance to play out new arrangements and songs that could go on to be used on her forthcoming LP. This intimate, organic musical workshop perfectly suits Bille Bird’s style which is anchored in the folk idiom but is textured with such deep, naked emotion that a close exchange with her audience is an essential part of her live expression. No surprise, it’s a sold out soirée for Lausanne’s finest singer-songwriting talent, her loyal fanbase is out in hoards because once bitten, twice smitten and eager for more.


Immediately you are drawn, tripes and all

Setting the tone is her haunting acoustic version of Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’, (the only cover in her otherwise original repertoire), one that she has made her own by marrying the melancholic dark edges with her sensitive vibrato voice to great emotional and melodic effect. In fact, therein lies Bird’s vocal skill: teasing fragmented, disjointed lines and rhythms with such malleability that everything comes together seamlessly. Immediately you are drawn, tripes and all, into a journey of emotional exorcism helped along the way by the stunning video backdrop of misty landscapes, raging seas and moody skies totally suiting the timbre of her music.

There’s such charming, heartfelt purity in her delivery

Song-by-song a band member joins the stage, so that when it’s time for the bluesy, foot-stomping ‘April’, all hands are on deck for clapping and voices for singing in unison – a change in tone thanks to lightness of Billie’s banjo and the audience’s joyful participation. Another of her great abilities is to blurr the light with the shade: – yes the majority of Billie Bird’s song-writing material is tortured and rueful in colour, but oh, there’s such charming, heartfelt purity in her delivery that one never feels the need to call the Samaritans. Toes are always tapping and fingers eager to snap, even during the darkest lament of love-turned-sour (‘What are we’) or impossible desire (‘Beast’). Hanging emotion on a driving, intricate beat is Billie’s speciality; her original rhythmic patterns are as compelling as her meaningful lyrical content.

She gives difficult emotions a home to go to

It’s a treat to hear her sing in French, (‘Il n’y a rien qui te remplace’), and I would certainly have liked more in her original tongue which to my anglophone ears is made for poetic, romantic suffering. There’s an unexpected afrobeat moment where the entire band fusion together into one deep, hypnotic groove – very refreshing. And then the Tom Jones incident: knickers thrown at her on stage! When I mentioned a loyal fanbase I wasn’t exaggerating. Billie Bird is a blossoming national treasure and audiences are enchanted by her dark, emotive style wherever she performs. It’s as if she gives difficult emotions a home to go to. Her raw, understated delivery has a knack of drawing you in and not letting you go. We were all left wanting more, wishing that the magic of this intimate gig could go on and that her dusky light could shine on us all night.

Line up:

Billie Bird (vocals, guitars, banjo, piano)
Marcin De Morsier (bass, synths, vocals)
Fabio Pinto (guitars, piano, perc, vocals)
Jérémie Duciel (drums)
Giuseppe Greco (live video visuals)

Forthcoming live gigs:

22nd March : Ebullition, Bulle w/ Mister & Mississipi
25th April : Bogen F, Zürich w/ Scott Matthew
19th June : Cully Classique (off festival )

Insights into the 1st edition of the Montreux Jazz Academy

NB-DSC02809Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti, artistic director of the Montreux Jazz Academy, talks about the first edition of this exciting, pedagogical project where 12 young winners of the prestigious Montreux piano, voice and guitar prizes are further coached by 14 world-renowned mentors at the Sylvia Waddilove musical centre.

How did the idea of musical pedagogy evolve at Montreux Jazz ?


Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti I’ve been working for the Montreux Jazz Festival for over 25 years, primarily as artistic co-ordinator, but also as educational co-ordinator ever since Claude Nobs began the idea of informal musical workshops. Before my arrival in 1989, Claude had always asked key musicians to extend their stay in Montreux in order to talk, teach and interact with the audience, students and fellow musicians. He would announce the workshop details at the end of a concert for the following day, but this meant that only people present at the concert would know what, where and with whom it was happening. I started organising these workshops in advance, incorporating them into the official programme, which gradually made the workshops an important feature of the festival highlighting the importance we gave to the interaction between master and pupil. This eventually led to the 1st official Montreux Jazz Solo Piano Prize in 1999 where a selection of young pianists from all over the world came to Montreux be coached by professionals in the field. Voice and guitar prizes soon followed.

What was the approach to the Montreux prizes?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti We wanted to structure these prizes in such a way to avoid the competitiveness you might find in a sporting event, and instead create a nice atmosphere for the candidates. The young musicians coming to Montreux were treated as a group, made to feel comfortable, lucky to meet and work together, mostly of the same age and level but coming from different countries. At that time it was also an excellent way to bridge the gap between eastern and western Europe of the late 90s. It was important that the contestants be real, complete musicians, not just able to reproduce or repeat music, each had to submit their own composition or arrangement and give a lot of themselves.

When did you realise that musical coaching was not enough?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti Year after year, we began to notice a reoccurring problem. Despite the winners receiving money, a recording contract and a live show the following year at Montreux Jazz – a few months after winning the prize, they would call us up asking for help: “can we have the names of a good agent, manager, how can we find gigs, labels, PR, etc..?” It was clear that being a young virtuoso is not enough in the world of jazz and music, many of our young winners had no idea what direction to go in and how to follow up their prize-winning achievements. We soon realised that the chosen candidates coming from over 40 different countries needed a more practical form of training alongside their musical coaching. Hence the idea of the Montreux Jazz Academy was born – to help young musicians take advantage of the experience and connections of the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation, the Festival’s pedagogical wing, in order to maximise their self expression as artists and also help them build their career toolkits.

Describe how the Montreux Jazz Academy is set up.

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti There are 14 mentors and 12 candidates, or ‘laureates’ as we like to call them. Nine of them are made up of the first, second and third place winners of this year’s piano, voice and guitar competitions. The remaining three are made up of the first prize winners of the previous year. The Academy lasts just over a week from 30th October to 5th November where the young laureates live, work, perform and learn during an intensive week of exchanges with international musicians and music-business professionals. Masterclasses are given on a daily basis on useful topics such as “Understanding the music business/ How do I get signed to a label? / Managing your online presence”. There’s no competitive atmosphere or prize at the end of the Academy, just learning, sharing and a big gala show on the last evening overseen by Lee Ritenour. What’s very precious for me is to have the laureates express themselves freely and get into the habit of risk-taking with ideas and possibilities, this is less present when there’s a competition at stake. After the Academy I know something will change in how they make music as individuals – and not just the laureates, the mentors have also been affected by what they’ve shared here. They didn’t all know eachother beforehand and it was wonderful to see the cross-fertilisation bubbling up between them during the duologs, live gigs and workshops.

How did you go about chosing the mentors?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti I chose mentors who already have a strong relationship to Montreux, first of all because it’s easier to have direct access to them, secondly because I needed to know their resources, what they’re capable of and how curious they are. For example, I chose guitarist Lee Ritenour as musical director of this edition because he has always taught in his career, he has a good relationship with the younger generation and knows how to raise everyone’s level. He’d already been president of a previous Montreux Jazz Guitar prize and had done an amazing job. From the USA we invited drummer Sonny Emory from Earth, Wind and Fire who has an amazing energy but is very different from the classical jazz drummer; saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who opened the first Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967 – a kind of godfather figure; star vocalist Patti Austin, president of the Voice competition a few years ago. We also had the pianist Yaron Herman from Israel, electronic genius Bugge Wesseltoft from Norway, Hammond B3 giant Macoto Ozone from Japan, singer Sebastian Schuller from France and our very own Eric Truffaz. Their interaction made it feel more like a laboratory than an academy, anything could happen! The relationship between instruments and machines was really explored which was very important to me as I wanted new musical territories to be looked at as much as geographical ones. Even Charles Lloyd got to experiment with the power of electronic music.

Does the Academy have a particular involvement with Swiss artists?

1459961_862670483754534_356142560921368328_nStéphanie-Aloysia Moretti The Academy is essentially aimed at aspiring jazz musicians on an international basis, but obviously we are happy to nurture Swiss young talent as much as we can. The exceptional singer/songwriter/guitarist Patrick Rouiller, (one of the star contestants on The Voice Switzerland 2013), was the only Swiss laureate selected for the Academy this year. However we were graced with some top Swiss musicians who took part in our live sessions in the evenings, among which vocalists Anna Aaron, Billie Bird, and pianist Léo Tardin – who was so enraptured with his jam session that he missed his train back to Geneva and ended up with all the other laureates back at the Waddilove centre. Léo, a Montreux solo piano prize winner himself, was blown away to see the high standard of practical teaching, backline equipment and tools on offer. “The best of the best in an informal setting” is how he described his time spent at the Academy.

What will the laureates take away with them? 

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti Firstly, all the laureates have said that the practical learning has been crucial: how to get a gig, consider yourself a brand, understand the workings of the music business, etc… They feel more confident to go into the world as a musician and handle their lives. No school normally talks about the practical side but now at last they know what to expect. Secondly, they’ve all mentioned the importance of experimentation and improvisation as a group. They have been stretched beyond what they thought were their capacities, forced to explore new territories and been made to find new ways of expressing their art.

How will the Montreux Jazz Academy be next year?

Stéphanie-Aloysia Moretti I could be a bit more audacious next year regarding styles of music from further afield than just the western world. Maybe bring in mentors from India or the Orient and see what new musical perspectives they could share with us, teach us to feel music more with our guts and less with our brains perhaps…? But for sure the goal will remain the same: to maximise self-expression, risk-taking in each young musician and to teach them the practical tools for succeeding in their music careers.

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