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As good fortune would have it, we had the opportunity to meet at the lovely Imprimerie café near the Louvre, with one of Paris’ brightest new stars to hit the stage, recording artist Victoria Rummler. Vicki, who is currently working on her second album, was able to take some time to sit down with us to discuss life and music in Paris. We’re very lucky to know her both professionally and as a friend. She is tall, blond and blue-eyed, she brightens the room with her shy smile. She’s best known for of her jazz, but she crosses over with ease, pop, acoustic, alternative.
Hi, you do go by Vicki, right?
Hi, yes, Vicki’s fine, actually I only started using Victoria when I moved to Paris. People here really love that name – and Vicki is a dog’s name here! (laughs)
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Royal Oak, Michigan, outside Detroit, and grew up in Rochester, New York, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Miami. We moved a lot because my Dad was with Kodak and got transferred every few years. And I went to Williams College in Massachusetts.
How did your musical journey begin?
My earliest memory is of singing with my Dad in the car. He taught me how to hear and sing harmony, and also to appreciate different languages, since we sang a song in German. I started piano lessons at age 6 and have always loved Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy. In Miami I played in piano competitions, became a cheerleader, sang with a church group that toured Mexico and Central America, and performed with a show chorus in high school. We did some pretty hip stuff at the time – a Chicago medley comes to mind, with some unforgettable choreography on “25 or 6 to 4” (laughs). My senior year I sang with the stage band – we did a strange mixture of Carpenters songs, disco and big band music. I remember hearing Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” for the first time and being totally blown away! I rushed home to let my parents hear it – of course they’d grown up with it and had a good laugh at my expense. But the jazz seed was planted! I also directed and arranged for an a cappella group, the Ephlats, at Williams College. My favorite contribution was the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes.”
How did you get from Miami to Williams College to Paris? That is more than a taxi cab ride.
(Laughs) That’s for sure. I had always wanted to go to college in New England, and Williams just felt right, so I applied and was accepted
Photo: Fabrice Knoll
for early admission. After graduating in 1988, I wanted something totally different. I’ve always been fascinated by foreign languages and cultures, so I took off for Munich, Germany. What was supposed to be 6 months turned into 5 years, working with BMG Records, and performing with a cabaret/performance art group in German. We did these wacky shows, using psychedelic slides and wearing various things on our heads: bathing caps, giant fluorescent pieces of fruit, blinking Eiffel towers (I kid you not) – a premonition of my future in Paris!
So you ended up in the Paris jazz world by way ofMunich?
Pretty much. Again, it was time to shake it up a bit, take on a new challenge, learn another culture. In 1993 I decided to fulfill a lifelong dream by spending a few months in Paris – and I’ve been here ever since! I worked for MCA (now Universal) for almost 4 years, and have been a freelance vocalist/composer/pianist/lyricist for 10.
How does living and performing in France compare with Germany, is it as extreme as we would think?
Kind of. It’s hard to generalize, and it’s important to mention that Paris is like an island different from the rest of France (like NY in the US). But I often found the German lifestyle more similar to the American: more organized, straightforward. In France things seem more complicated, but also more creative. For example, when I worked for the record companies and would call someone in Germany, we would say our name instead of “hello,” get right to the point and the call would be over in 3 minutes. With the French we would talk about the weather, the weekend, or something random for about 15 minutes, and then get to the reason why we were calling. It’s tricky, but fun figuring out how people work. And it’s easier than if I had moved to, say, Bangladesh! (laughs)
“Jazz in Paris” has a better ring to it than “Jazz in Dhaka”? (laughs)
Can you picture that? (laughs) My parents would have been thrilled!
Tell us about your music. Your style is very pure, vocals are both fragile and solid, and it all seems very unique. How did all of that come together?
I did classical and pop and yes disco, growing up, and concentrated on jazz for several years after moving to Paris. The American jazz influencein Paris is huge and it was kind of natural to continue that. I’ve sung in a lot of vocal groups and have tried to remove all boundaries to what I can sing. As for my own style, it’s intricately tied to my experiences in different US cities growing up, in Munich and Paris, the people I’ve met and things I’ve learned along the way. So today it goes beyond jazz and runs the gamut of emotions and genres. It can be playful or powerful, structured or improvised. But more and more it seems to be a direct reflection of my own mood and experience at the moment.
How do Parisian crowds differ from, say, New York or Chicago?
It’s funny, my solo act debuted in France, so I was used to audiences not necessarily knowing all the standards or understanding all the lyrics. So when I did my first US tour in 2005, I was shocked, but thrilled that people hung on every word! It added a whole new dimension to how I could communicate. For example, in Des Moines I did a spontaneous version of “Georgia,” calling it “Iowa.” That show got a standing ovation.
Your first album, “Twinkle,” opened to some great reviews. Tell us a bit about that.
Photo: Hermine Cleret
“Twinkle” was released on Pitch Puppy Productions in 2004. It was a presentation of my musical journey up until that point. There’s a wide selection of tunes, from standards “I Could Write a Book” and “They Can’t Take That Away” to a tongue-in-cheek original called “Cocktail Optimism” and waltz ballad “Words,” a cover of Pat Metheny’s “James,” and a Japanese traditional song called “Watashi.” The instrumentation differs from one tune to the next, from piano, bass, drums/percussion to guitar and steel drum. The reviews were great to read. Made me want to record more.
You also perform with an a cappella group?
Yes, a pretty wild, really successful project. In 2005 I was invited to participate in the second album by the cutting-edge French electro-a cappella group “Les Grandes Gueules” (the Big Mouths) for SONY-BMG, released in March 2006. There are 6 vocalists in the group – 3 women, 3 men. The album title, “Vocal Extreme,” pretty much describes it. We experiment with sound, both vocally and electronically, there’s a sound engineer who’s basically the seventh artist in the group. We really push the limits of what can be done with several-part harmony. Being the only American in the group is interesting and has really pushed me linguistically and culturally. A far cry from the stage at Palmetto High School for sure.
So you’re now working on a follow-up album?
Yes, it should be released in the coming months.
How does this album differ from your debut?
Photo: Gildas Boclé
The title is “Am I Am,” which is also the title of one of the tracks. I like the symmetry of the phrase, and the fact that it combines a question and answer. The album is a combination of live recording and programming, including guitar, Fender Rhodes, percussion, electric bass, and special guest stars Olivier Ker Ourio on harmonica and Emmanuel Bex on organ. There are 11 tracks: 9 original tunes, 2 covers and my unusual take on the children’s song “Frère Jacques.” This new project feels like a bolder affirmation of my style, which was recently described as “Erykah Badu and Bobby McFerrin channeling Mel Tormé, somewhere between Paris and Rio.” Not a bad assessment! There are some funk, pop and Brazilian influences, a touch of humor, and lyrics about coming to terms with being an expat, after almost 20 years of living abroad: hellos and goodbyes, traveling, trying to belong, and knowing different languages. It’s also about the cyclical pattern life seems to take: although you leave your past behind, it’s always a part of you and can resurface in your actions or relationships.
What does it mean to you to be a professional musician in 2010?
It means being as open and flexible as possible, while staying centered on what you’re experiencing. Every person you meet can influence you, and every project you participate in can feed your own creativity. The day-to-day life can be challenging, but the power of music is fascinating, therapeutic, sometimes bizarre – totally worth it!
Vicki, thank you for your time, it was great talking with you and we wish you the best of luck with your new album.
Thank you, it was great. Enjoy the good weather!
Victoria Rummler will provide a sneak preview of her new album on Friday, July 16 at 9 p.m. at the China, 50, rue de Charenton, 75012 Paris, http://www.lechina.eu/ and on Saturday, July 17 at 7 p.m. at the prestigious Nice Jazz Festival, Scène Matisse,http://www.nicejazzfestival.fr/.