These days, for a musician to make their mark, it’s not simply good enough to be good; you’ve got to have it all. And yes, Natasha Seale has it all. From singing and acting in West End shows to touring her own one-woman show ‘A Life in Song,’ celebrating the life of Rosemary Clooney. If this were not enough, Seale is an accomplished songwriter and lyricist, as her debut album “A Bigger Sky,” released in 2017, testifies.
Steeped in contemporary music as well as a love for the Great American Songbook, the vocalist has also been performing her Ultimate Ellington show to enthusiastic audiences. Having just released an EP of Duke’s tunes, “Ellington Seale’d,” it seems like a perfect time to catch up with Natasha.
You have just released an EP, “Ellington Seale’d” featuring a handful of songs written by Duke. Can you tell us a bit about the recording and why you picked these songs to sing?
It’s a live recording, raw and in the moment with incredible musicians. We hadn’t rehearsed and there was a wonderful energy and confluence, it was palpable. The audience played a part, they were fantastic…Musical alchemy happened.
This recording bottled a significant time in my life. It was a cathartic concert, for me, and probably my best Ellington show – hence the title.
I’m fascinated with the music, the era and his canon. And what was really interesting to me was Ellington’s collaborations and his singers; there were so many with stories to explore. I love that mostly with these songs the words were added much later on. I like to write like this and I really wanted to understand his process/his way of creating music. The songs were chosen for my recent tour ‘Universal Ellington.’ So, it’s a recording of the show, without the ‘dialoguey’ bits in-between and a reminder to me of how powerful music, collaboration and spontaneity can be.
Was the gig recorded with a view to being released or was it just a happy coincidence that the music was captured that night?
I wanted to capture the show I’d been enjoying for a while now, warts and all. Each time it was with different musicians, so the learning was accelerated. I hadn’t released a live recording previously – and I knew with these musicians this was a golden opportunity. I wanted to record in an intimate venue in central London with gorgeous acoustics – The Crazy Coqs.
The EP features six songs from the evening’s performance, but I’m guessing you have much more material from that gig. Do you have plans to release more, maybe as a full album in the near future?
Yes! It is a beautiful recording, filled with pathos & joy. There is also a self-penned I sang, so that shall be saved for the full album version, in the foreseeable future!
Learning these songs to join a jazz quintet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado was a deal breaker years ago – they weren’t looking for a singer at the time. So, revisiting the songs 25 years on has been filled with discovery and reflection and unlocked a lot of joy.
You had assembled a top-drawer band for the recording. Do you play with Mike Gorman, Robert Rickenberg and Clark Tracey on a regular basis?
I’d love that! I’ve worked with Robert for about 17 years now, we’re good friends. I met Mike on the night at Crazy Coqs, bearing in mind we had just 30 minutes to top and tail the repertoire. And Clark was on my very first Universal Ellington outing, so we’ve come full circle. I knew it would be nothing short of amazing with this dream team.
Your previous release was the excellent “A Bigger Sky” released on 33Records in 2017. An album of original material that had some wonderful music and lyrics written by yourself, so I wondered why on this occasion you have chosen to record the music of another?
“A Bigger Sky” is still relevant. In fact, there’s a track called “No words” which is poignant to the times we are currently living in. I still perform these songs. But there is much more to learn – more I want to learn. I’ve always been drawn to the emotional landscape of Ellington’s music, the bold mood and atmosphere. I really wanted to understand his process/his way of creating music to inform my own song writing. I continued writing whilst touring Universal Ellington, amongst other things it served to deepen my understanding around creating and collaboration – composing in the moment, on the stand with the band – a fragment of melody, an interesting rhythm – this is very exciting to me and a truly collaborative experience I’m always seeking.
The has been a six year gap between “A Bigger Sky” and your new EP. Why wait so long before releasing another recording, and what have you been involved with in the interim?
We moved house then I had my youngest child, I took some time with my family.
During this period I created a one-woman show about Rosemary Clooney. I was gigging, touring and preparing for my Pizza Express Soho – Clooney launch. Then COVID happened. In fact, we went into lock down the night we performed at Riverhouse Barn.
I then went on to release 3 original singles ‘Wishbone’, ‘Suspended’ and one collaboration ‘Fault lines’, with Catalonian artist Guillem Mitchel, we’d recorded previously.
“Timeless torch songs” was what I was putting out into the world – but I wanted to reconnect with the energy and joyous exchange with my band and a live audience. I love Ellington’s swing & Latin – Clooney’s album Blue Rose sent me in this direction. Billy Strayhorn, of course, made Blue Rose happen, Clooney never met Duke. But it was this album that led me to Ella’s 57 album and inspired me to put together a show with my favourite songs – the 3 minute master pieces and others –which became Universal Ellington. I had the idea to record the music live, but not before I’d fully understood and inhabited the music, on tour, with all-star Jazz musicians.
I know you are very family orientated and have two children. It must be very difficult juggling a career as a musician and the demands it places on your time, often at hours that do not suit family life. How have you managed to divide and prioritise your time between family commitments and your career?
It’s tricky! Time management skills during the school day and making the most by working at night, when they’re asleep – this combined with a sense of what feels right to me. And of course much planning. I involve and expose the children to as much music as possible; rehearsals, gigs/concerts/teaching along the way. I want them to see their mum doing the thing she loves, that’s important. Sometimes I’m winning, sometimes not. I’ve chosen freelancing as a musician and educator so I can be autonomous and decide what’s important to me and my family in this moment. But this is in a constant state of flux, often decisions are weighed up with childcare costs and more importantly against how absent it will make me from the home – they’re not little for long.
It’s taken a while to contour work around being a present parent – something that wasn’t in place for me growing up. Same for my husband, and he understands the world I invest in so fully and is very supportive. If a project is positive with growth, discovery and financially ok – amazing – we make it work between us. Last Summer I sang at Camp Bestival and the family all came along to experience it, we camped in the Artist area and had a ball! At this stage, I’m careful about what I say yes to – yet I don’t limit by genre and fortunately I’m versatile. Nowadays, thankfully, mothers have more visibility and so my children are always part of the conversation. Both worlds inform each other.
You are also working on a project that looks at this very issue of motherhood called “Two Pigeons and A Pizza Box”. Can you tell us about the project, and the inspiration behind it?
Yes I’m thrilled, I’ve just been awarded Arts Council Funding to develop this project further, so exciting!
“Two Pigeons And A Pizza Box” is a one-woman show, a collection of original songs and narrative, exploring reconciled female experiences, parenting and pigeons! It’s about lots of things, relationships, parallels, finding the magic in the mundane. It’s about the public face and the private face – I’m fascinated with this. It’s about the things we want to say – but don’t – and things we shouldn’t say – but do! The inspiration behind it is my response to everyone around me, the people in my life!
You also have a successful career as a leading lady on the West End stage. How did you get to work in the West End, and have appeared in such wonderful productions as “Les Miserables” and “Mama Mia”, and was this always an ambition as a singer and actress?
It was always my ambition to sing and use the spoken word, to communicate – I knew I was good at this. I signed with my agent before graduating LIPA. So I was auditioning whilst in my final year – the West End happened quite quickly because of this, I guess.
My ambition has always been to work with new writing (in theatre/music theatre and the music industry) and to devise. I dreamt of travelling as well and thought I had a good chance of seeing the world working in these wonderful musicals, Mamma Mia was a total blessing. I still want to work with Mike Leigh (and in the Dorfman at some point)! My trio regularly played The National Theatre foyer for years, pre children, so I must return to the Mother ship.
The West End shows are a long way from performing Ellington songs, so how did you become interested in the music and apart from Duke who would you say have steered you in the direction jazz?
Well the genesis of great shows, West End and fringe begin with improvisation very much – not the performance we see – but spontaneous devising within a structure/frame work, in rehearsal, this happens in order to create characters and to develop plot (usually in the first weeks).
Improvisation is a universal consciousness and links every art form. I tend to follow this thread. I am deeply inspired by it and any practitioner or artist who approaches their discipline using improvisation – I gravitate to it. It’s pure creativity, whether it’s music/ theatre/film/dance or art. Its who we are. But to answer your question Coleman Hawkins helped me when at 18, I got a flat with my first love, who completely broke my heart. I threw him out two weeks into our new tenancy. And I listened to “Body & Soul” over and over, and stopped feeling lonely – things felt possible again. Then I bought Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ … Around the same time my dad took me to see Tina May and Liane Carroll in concerts, they left an indelible impression on me, I wanted to sing their songs – the Great American Songbook.
June Christy’s sound influenced me on Something Cool, as well as Sarah Vaughan and later Jamie Cullum, with the early jazz-pop albums. He inspired me to write. I once did a Royal Variety show he was on and I asked him if he wrote ‘All at Sea’ alone … That Song!! Discovering the Concord albums was a joy and anything arranged by Nelson Riddle. When I met Claire Martin, I had a huge jazz input from her. And I live in Leighton Buzzard- Jazz Mecca – no shortage of jazz talent here.
Do you have any other exciting projects on the go or in the pipeline that you can share with us?
Exciting mentorships begin in the new year, new collaborations with some of my favourite musicians, arrangers & lyricists. I’m working with a director, so there is a lot in the pipeline, it’s quite overwhelming right now.
Long term as one of the Directors for The Peppercorn Centre, we are championing a place and space in the heart of our town dedicated to Arts & Heritage; visual/performing arts & music. A space to gather, educate and create. It’s been a long journey this far (6 years in total) BUT yesterday we met with Counterculture at our venue – we’ve been working with them for around 3 years and we now have our building. It’s incredibly exciting…Onward!