True Wit: Curtis Eller Strikes Again

Curtis Eller just completed his tour through the UK and we are sad to see him go.

Eller during his tour through the UK

Nursing laryngitis while giving back-to-back performances in a different city every night, he draws from a seemingly overabundant sense of professionalism and talent.

Unstoppable, he rushes back to the stage to gulp down doses of honey in order to get through the next song.

He manages, through all of this, to elicit genuine laughter from the audience.  “Excuse me, but this is a little disgusting,” he exclaims, just before throwing his head back and dowsing his throat with honey from the bottle he squeezes into his mouth.

Then he’s back in the middle of the audience, belting out his best songs.

Not just another singer

Eller isn’t just a singer/songwriter/banjo player/yodeler (as if that isn’t enough).

Other than these impressive skills, he is also a bonafide comedian.

Singing a song about coal mining he stops mid-note to offer the audience another of his witticisms.

“I don’t know anything about coal mining, but you have to sing these kind of songs every once in a while in order to renew your banjo license.”

His humour may be one of the reasons why the artist is so popular amongst Brits, who undoubtedly appreciate Eller’s dry, irony so reminiscent of British comedy.

Curtis Eller at the Green Note in Camden, London

The show must go on

Eller stuck to old favourites that were easier on his aching throat.  But no one was disappointed, especially not his loyal fans who faithfully sang the chorus at Eller’s command.

Green Note is a small venue, but the intimacy of the place is perfect for performers like Eller whose interaction with the audience is such a delightful part of the show.

The audience laughed gleefully as he randomly blew out candles on tables, climbed atop chairs and chased waitresses and audience members while playing the banjo behind them.

Slightly ill, he may have been, but lacking in entertainment value Eller was not.  As energetic as ever, there was not a corner of Green Note the singer did not dance, run or play his way through.

Yet, behind the fun, it is almost impossible not to notice a sort of awareness of his own cultural identity.  Eller’s songs consistently remind us of the America that he sees, with all of its problems and promise.

Never failing to deliver, Curtis Eller also reminds his audience that though he is a performance artist, he is also a teacher.  And though the attendees of his class may be willing students, his lessons about “Robert Moses” and others acts as a reaffirmation of his hope that America may someday be a better place.

He ends the show as he begins, with another witty joke, a knowing shake of his head, his honey in one hand and his banjo in the other.

Carrie Haber: A Maltese at ease

Carrie Haber

Carrie Haber has devoted her life to music, which is not at all extraordinary for a young singer/songwriter.

But what is unique about the Malta-born artist is that she hasn’t spent the past few years doggedly searching for a big break.

She, in essence, goes where the wind takes her.  Yet, despite her relaxed attitude about her career, opportunities seem to have fallen into her lap like overripe fruit.

The artist received a free offer to have her video filmed by a producer in Malta, who kindly decided to take her on as a project for his marketing company.

She also received vocal lessons, which gave her the skills she needed to become a vocal coach in her spare time.

Performing Right Society

After earning enough money to produce her own EP, Haber attended a Performing Right Society meeting for artists in Malta.

The organisation, created to make sure artists get paid royalties for commercial use of their music, had drawn an interesting array of people.

When one of the attendees asked Haber to loan her keyboard to him for a show he was doing later, she agreed.  The artist was none other than British music promoter Tony Moore.  He was so grateful that he asked Haber to open his show that night.

“He invited me to come to London and perform in his venues.  I was coming over regularly at first, for a week at a time and then a month.  I made the decision that because things were happening for me in London, I should make a move.”

Haber’s move to the richly diverse and cultural city of London caused her fans to develop a greater respect and recognition for her as an artist.

Carrie Haber at The Bedford

The Malta Music Awards

In 2009, she won Best Songwriter and Best Female Artist at the Malta Music Awards.

By 2010, after living in London for just over a year, the talented singer/songwriter had already attracted some influential people in the music business.

“I’m working with Sting’s producer, U2, and Peter Gabriel.”

But while Haber’s good fortune is seemingly a windfall, it is her attributes as an artist that is undoubtedly the secret to her success.

On stage, her humility is as much a part of her energy as the songs she belts out with incredible self-assuredness.

“I’ve improved so much,” admitted the singer, later on.  “I received a lot of constructive criticism.  I had one to one’s with Tony Moore that have opened up my mind.  I have a better understanding of what talent scouts are looking for.”

Backup

Like any young artist, 25-year old Haber has difficult moments in her career.

“I have moments of worry, but nothing ever happens when I panic.  It’s also about having a backup.  I live music.  I breathe music.  I teach music as a backup so that I can be around it all the time.”

Almost every decision Haber makes is based on self-improvement, not only as an artist, but as a person.

“I studied psychology in university because I wanted to understand myself and others a little better.  It opened my mind a lot.  I check in with myself often and ask questions like, ‘Why am I going through this?’ and ‘What’s going on with me?’

Her willingness to self-improve has made it easier for her to make vital connections in the music business.

Her magnetism is obvious to everyone in the room, even if it isn’t to her.  Over coffee, Haber’s cheerful disposition infects another singer and friend nearby.  The two begin to giggle like schoolgirls.

Animated, Haber continues to talk about self-therapy.  And even in this, her philosophy of letting inspiration find her comes through.

“You don’t have to go looking for whatever your spiritual muse is, just stop and look within.”

Her face a bit more serious, Haber warns against musicians being unclear about their art.

“Artists tend to focus on the business side of things too much.  If you forget about the spiritual and the passionate side of music, you’ve lost the plot.”

When asked if she had any advice for young artists out there, she simply responded,

“Lie on the grass and just breathe. Be inspired by quiet moments.  There’s a difference between someone who’s writing from the heart and artificiality in songwriting.  Don’t do it if it’s not who you are because things won’t connect that way.  You’ve got to be genuine.”

Lizzie Ball: From violin to vocals

Photographer: David Redfern

In a place alive with the faith of worshipers, where stone walls and wooden pews reign supreme, a small ensemble of musicians play beneath a stunning glass window.

A bass player caresses his instrument like a man in love.  The nimble fingers of a pianist dance across the keys like a card shark hiding the magic number.

A woman enters in a white, sleeveless summer frock that fits her slender physique like a glove.  She seems a tennis pro, who suddenly decided to put down her racket in exchange for a microphone.

When she sings, her voice is smooth and sultry, and tells her story.  Her name is Lizzie Ball.

Before long, she switches instruments – from voice to violin, from violin back to voice back to violin again.  All eyes in the crowd are on her.

And while this humbling scene is one the audience might expect to see again and again, they would be wise to always imagine Ball at the centre.

There is an air about her that fills the room.  She is magnetic, immensely talented and down to earth.

The Orchestra of Life

One of Ball’s greatest mentors is Nigel Kennedy, who recently chose her to head his Orchestra of Life.

When Ball was ten, her mother took her to see the well known Kennedy in her local town of Sheffield.  Ball was rooted to her seat.

“I remember gripping the rail in front of me from the balcony and looking at this crazy guy, with his hair and facial expressions and just thinking, He’s amazing!

About 15 years later, she met Kennedy at Ronnie Scott’s and decided to tell him how much he meant to her as a role model.

Kennedy and his wife eventually developed a friendship with Ball and asked her to fulfil the role of leader of the Orchestra of Life, a musical ensemble which Kennedy put together earlier this year.

“It was an amazing moment, because I think it felt like karmically it was the right point for us to work together.   So I was really delighted when he approached me.  It’s been just great.  Every minute you work with him, you learn something new.”

Violin with vocals

No one ever pushed Ball into becoming a violinist.  It’s something she wanted from the age of seven.

After obtaining a music degree from Cambridge, she began making a living by playing the violin.

During a jam session, one night, with friends, Ball began to sing accompanied by a guitar.   Everyone was surprised at her natural ability and urged her to pursue it.

“To me it was something that I had always done in my own time, in the shower or with my Mum.  Strangely, I never considered singing as a career move.  It just hadn’t ever been an option for me.  Eventually, I took it a bit more seriously by trying to get to a similar level as I am with the violin.  It’s helped me to think very differently about the violin as well.  Suddenly there’s a new aspect – everything is broadened.”

The Lizzie Ball Band

Ball’s father is a jazz pianist, so she grew up listening to Herbie Hancock, Julian Joseph, Ella Fitzgerald and other greats, which explains in part, why the classical violinist has gravitated so strongly toward jazz.

The vocalist also attributes her love of jazz to her mother’s eclectic taste in music and the fact that they lived near Sheffield during a time when the town was ripe with Northern bands.

Playing in various bands from quite a young age, Ball performed with orchestra members and also joined them when they played in their own bands.

“I was probably about 15 years old, in a pub that was a really cool venue for music in Sheffield.  I remember walking out and being nervous, but literally just going for it – throwing myself in the deep end.  From there, I continued trying to improvise a bit.  And during my lessons I was told to transcribe jazz music, which is a really good way to get those colours and flavours in your harmonic language, so you’re not thinking in a straight classical way.  Jazz is a blank page; it’s just amazing.”

Ball’s eclectic background caused her to eventually create a band of her own.  The Lizzie Ball Band is made up of a skilled and diverse group of colleagues from Ball’s classical background and regular performers at Ronnie Scotts, including jazz guitarist Nick Meier, pianist James Pearson, drummer Chris Dagley, percussionist James Turner, and double bass players Rory Dempsey and Sam Burgess.

Staying grounded as an artist

Ball believes that it’s important to stay positive and to engage in activities that improves one’s outlook on life.

Photographer: David Redfern

The artist works in projects designed to help stigmatised children channel their energies in a healthy and rewarding way.  One of them, Britten Sinfonia’s project, sponsors a live gig in which the children perform.  The young students also get the opportunity to work with Ball and other artists on music projects, improving their self-confidence.

Self-confidence is an important aspect to being an artist, according to Ball.  The violinist warns against self-deprecation, which she often feels is present in England.

“There has to be a certain amount of humility, but always a pride in what you do.  It’s important for artists to get outside of England and experience other things in the world.”

As a violinist, vocalist, and leader of a band and an orchestra – music seems to permeate every aspect of Lizzie Ball’s life.  Yet, this seems as much a labour of love for the artist as it is a career.

“I think it’s very important that music still retains its true nature and we don’t get completely motivated by business.”

With incredible focus and self-discipline, she continues to embrace the world of music she was introduced to in her childhood.  Music lovers would be wise to watch out for Ball over the next couple of years.  Her dynamic personality and unwavering passion has already secured her status as a principal player in the genres of jazz and classical music.

Lizzie Ball will be performing Bachs Chaconne for solo violin with 4 vocal part accompaniment with New York Polyphony in Oslo Cathedral on August 7th at 7 30pm.

She will also be performing with the Urban Soul Orchestra in London and the South of France on the 2nd, 4th, 20th, and the 27th through the 29th of August.