Frances Madden is Australia's rising jazz star and one classy, classy lady
Frances Madden has been blessed beyond measure with talent, elegance, class and her gorgeous voice. Indeed her cup runneth over. Frances was the recipient of the 2016 102.5 Fine Music FM Stefan Kruger award late last year, has opened for Dionne Warwick, regularly sells out jazz clubs around the country and has been compared to Diana Krall and Norah Jones. Praise follows her everywhere she goes.
James Morrison: We were so impressed with Frances and her music that we invited her to record an album in the studio. She has a wonderful feeling for jazz and blues standards but what makes her a real stand-out are her original songs and unique style
Dominique Robinson, Co-owner, The Basement: Frances is one of Australia's most exciting young entertainers. Each time she plays here she brings a capacity crowd into The Basement and every person in the house loves her special mix of jazz, blues and classics. Catch her in Australia before she gets taken off to the USA or Europe.
Mal Stanley, ABC Jazz: A talented young vocalist and pianist on the Sydney scene. One to watch.
Matt Bailey, Presenter, Jazz Vibes, Fine Music 102.5 FM: Frances' music is a river of original and heartfelt material, truly a creative force not just in the jazz idiom, but as a genuine contemporary songwriter to keep an ear out for
Nikos Fotakis, Editor, Australianjazz.net: She may be just in her mid twenties, but Frances Madden is surely what some would call “an old soul”. There’s no other way to explain the ease with which she comes up with songs that seem to come from the golden age of jazz. A sparkling pianist, with a bluesy attitude and a flair for bossa, she is also blessed with a sweet, sexy and breezy voice. In her first album ‘If this were a dream’, her refreshing, original songs are paired with some perennial jazz classics in a way that seems surprisingly natural.
John McBeath, Jazz Critic for The Australian: The new album by Frances Madden titled If This Were a Dream impressed me more than most debut albums do. Frances has an individual expressive ability, a musical professionalism, a good feel for swing in jazz and she plays fine piano. I'm certain we'll be hearing a good deal more of Frances in the future
Wayne Borg, Managing Director, Fox Studios Australia: Frances has charisma on stage and the band are great live. She is also a natural in front of the camera
One could go on to list more accolades from leading jazz experts and critics. Frances is a rising star in the jazz scene, and has captured many hearts, but is just getting started. Despite her natural gifts, Frances is truly a very hard working musician. She has invested hundreds of hours as she studies and practices music, learns and honours the standards, composes and writes original works like a pro, looks after her voice, and continues to give performance after performance. Frances kindly took the time to talk to Music Love all about her music, being compared to the greats, and the time when she was starting out singing in a hotel lobby and encountered the co-owner of Sydney's jazz club The Basement. Which she now sells out.
What does music mean to you?
I love music. I’ve been learning and performing my whole life, at least as long as I can remember, so it is like a language. In my family we grew up with music around us all the time, in the house and in the car, and everything from Bach to the Beatles. But especially since I started writing my own tunes, it has taken on another dimension as well. Music is a natural form of expression for me. The tunes come from somewhere and the words to match. It is a bit like an extension of me, which made it a bit scary putting songs out there
Your voice is incredible – how do you look after it?
That’s very kind. Actually, I practice regularly and try to keep my voice healthy by using good technique. I also try to make sure I’m always getting some external input on my voice, my piano playing or my songwriting. Right now I have a wonderful voice tutor, Stephen Yalouris, who teaches at the Conservatorium here in Sydney. I’m learning some of the techniques and skills specific to classical singing, and how to apply them to my own style.
Congratulations on winning the 102.5FM Stefan Kruger Scholarship – how did you feel when you found out?
I was absolutely thrilled of course! I guess when something like that happens you feel all sorts of emotions. I felt honoured and humbled and grateful all at the same time. I was also a bit excited because I knew the financial and other support would help me develop my career. Working with Fine Music is quite special because they really are a very classy organisation.
How will you use the prize money?
I’ve agreed with Fine Music that I will use the cash component and most of the in-kind support towards my second studio album. I have a great new crop of tunes and I’m planning to go into the studio in the first half of this year to record them. I’ve got a mixture of swing, some earthy blues and also some ballads. We’re currently looking for a great team to work with on the project, including a producer. I’m hoping I can create at least one or two tunes that also have the potential to crossover and appeal to a mainstream adult contemporary audience.
Talk about your time playing in a hotel lobby.
Well, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, right? And I did play a few hotel lobbies especially when I was just getting started. Luckily for me, some of the nicer hotels in Sydney seemed to think that a jazz singer playing piano in their lobby adds a bit of class. So I played in places like the Sheraton on the Park, the Park Hyatt and the Langham, and then I eventually got better opportunities and residencies within them.
Any advice for people who play in lobbies and elsewhere, where the audience isn’t necessarily super-engaged with your performance?
Yes, let me just quickly tell a true story which has kind of has a moral to it. One day I was playing solo in a bar at the Park Hyatt. There was this table of very wealthy, very noisy women who were obviously having a lot of fun in their own company. They weren’t listening to me at all and, at one point, one of them even came over to me and asked me to "turn the music down"! It was a bit deflated but I just tried to do my best work for other people hanging out there in the bar. Anyway, at the end of my set, the women all left but one of them stayed and came over to me. She said, “Hey, don’t worry about those other people, they have no idea about music. I absolutely loved what you were doing. And by the way, I own a little club in town. I’d love you to bring your band down there and play one night. Maybe you’ve heard of it, it’s called The Basement.”
Do you prefer singing covers or your original music?
I love performing my own music. And I have to say, it is really very rewarding when people enjoy something that you have written and then performed for them. But I do love performing covers as well. We pick timeless classics from jazz, blues or even pop and we try to put our own unique interpretation on them. Doing covers is a way of paying tribute to the people who made that music originally. Actually, it is great to have a mix of both on an album and in a live show because the covers give you some familiar ground from which to take the audience to new territory.
How do audiences respond to your original music?
After a show, people generally respond to the whole performance because we consciously try to take the audience on a bit of a journey. But when people say they have a favourite tune, it is often one of my originals. Some people do get very moved by particular songs or tunes. I have a tune called I Will Remember You and it is probably the one most people comment on after a show, and also when I get emails from people who have bought the album. I wrote it in a particular circumstance but it is a kind of universal saying good bye song, so people bring their own life experience to it. People can respond very personally, like someone recently told me the song had helped them cope after their partner passed away from cancer. I mean, wow! That really had an impact on me. Some of my songs, like Rain Down on Me have a spiritual dimension that people pick up on and identify with. Then there are people who seem to like Such a Beautiful Day which is a celebration of life. You never quite know what is going to capture people and that is why we love to have variety in our set.
What is your favourite place in Australia?
I’m a Sydney girl but I have to say I just love Melbourne! The CBD is so alive at night with restaurants and clubs and people enjoying themselves. And then the morning after a show, you can drink coffee and eat breakfast all day. It is a very liveable town. But I’m not leaving the harbour city any time soon.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in suburban Sydney in a typically multicultural family. My dad’s family were here for generations, but my mum and her family came here from Vietnam. My parents insisted that all four of us study a musical instrument and also play a sport. Music was part of our family life and I studied classical piano at school and also through AMEB. When I finished high school, I decided to start singing and naturally steered towards jazz - it was, after all, the music that we listened to on our family road trips down to Jindabyne, along with James Taylor and The Beatles. I was lucky enough to win a place in the vocal stream at the Australian Institute of Music to complete a degree in Music Performance. It was an accelerated course and I completed it in two years. I’ve performed a little bit overseas and I hope to do more of that in the future, but for me Australia was a wonderful place to grow up and start out.
Favourite café or restaurant in Australia?
I’d choose a creamy hot chocolate at the Guylian Cafe in Circular Quay or any classy chocolatier. I guess that gives away my other secret passion :-)
Who are your favourite Australian women in music?
My favourite artists, and for varying reasons, include Kate Ceberano and Renee Geyer, who I saw live just recently. And of course, I’d have to acknowledge people like Sarah McKenzie and Emma Pask who have carved out their own path in the jazz world. For me, a special mention will always go to Judi Morrison, wife and collaborator of James, who contacted me out of the blue on Facebook one day and said, “Hey we like your music, would you like to come down to James’ studio and record something…?” What Judi and James are doing for young jazz artists in Australia, especially through their college in South Australia, is just fantastic.
You have been compared to Norah Jones and Diana Krall, and other greats. How do you feel about musical comparisons?
Well, that is very high praise indeed. I’d be happy to be mentioned in the same sentence as either of those ladies any time! It is very flattering to have that kind of comparison. On the other hand, I think as an artist, even an early career one like me, you are always striving to do something that is unique and an extension of yourself and your own individuality. Being compared to other artists is a bit like being placed in a genre. When I write, I don’t think about genre or style, I just follow what is coming through and try to capture and express the essential nature of the tune. It just happens that most of what comes through for me is jazz or blues, or sometimes a folky ballad. I’ll be very happy if someday people say, oh, that’s the ‘Frances Madden sound’. That will mean, for better or worse, I’ve been able to create and be true to something unique, something that is an expression of my nature.
You opened for Dionne Warwick. WowTown. Discuss.
Hehehe. Yes, I have to admit to being more than a little bit thrilled about that! She is an absolute star and also such a wonderful example to watch at work. I met her briefly before and after the show and she was gracious. But it was also a real pleasure to be present while she performed. She has a certain poise and dignity and authenticity that seems to be a rarity these days.
What do you want to tell the world?
Anything I have to say, I put in my songs
Frances Madden is performing at Foundry 616, Harris St, Ultimo on Friday 24 February. Look out for upcoming shows, subscribe to the mailing list and buy her albums at www.francesmadden.com. Frances is on Facebook, and @frances_madden on Instagram and Twitter