Name: Jasmine Myra
Occupation: Saxophonist, composer, band leader
Recent release: Jasmine Myra's Horizons LP, produced by Matthew Halsall, is out via Gondwana. It has been compared to the work of Bonobo, Ólafur Arnalds, Portico Quartet and Hania Rani.
Recommendations: Music for Large & Small Ensembles by Kenny Wheeler. This is one of the most beautiful albums I think I have ever listened to; from the compositions to the performance, it’s stunning.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. This is one of my favourite books. It’s about a young girl growing up in Afghanistan in the 60s and explores women’s rights under the reign of the Taliban. It’s harrowing in parts but also incredible and definitely worth a read.
If you enjoyed this interview with Jasmine Myra and would like to find out more about her work, visit her on Facebook, and twitter. Or check out her official website and artist page on the website of Gondwana Records.
[Read our Ólafur Arnalds interview]
[Read our Portico Quartet interview]
[Read our Hania Rani interview]
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I was introduced to music from a very young age. I remember being bought my first keyboard when I was 7 and being encouraged by my parents to play.
I started learning saxophone at high-school and it was from that point that I decided I wanted a career in music. I went on to study Jazz at Leeds Conservatoire, which is where I began writing.
I have always felt that music is something that comes quite naturally to me, which is why I think I was drawn to it from a young age.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
For me, it triggers emotions and memories rather than shapes and colours. I love listening to music that has a strong sense of emotion. Music has the power to make you feel happy, sad, peaceful or nostalgic at any given moment, which I find incredible and is something that I try and achieve in my own music.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
One of the biggest challenges for me has been finding my sound as a composer. This has taken me years to develop, and I think it is something that will be continually developing throughout my career.
I started writing music in my first year at college, but it wasn’t until years after I graduated that I felt I had truly found my voice as an artist. It was a challenging process for me, and I often felt very lost and frustrated. Having said this, it was vital to my development and has led to me being able to write music that feels true to myself.
I’ve always believed that it’s important to have authenticity as an artist, which is something that sounds simple but often working out what this means to you can be tricky.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I’ve always identified as someone who is slightly eccentric. Like I mentioned in my previous answer, I place value in authenticity and believe we should celebrate uniqueness.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Simplicity. I often follow my ear when I write and am not concerned about the complexity of the music; I just want it to sound good.
For me, the structure and arrangements are very important. I spend a lot of time making sure my tunes make sense structurally because I think this can really affect the flow and overall energy of the music.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I can recognise the significance of both of these viewpoints. I think in order to innovate you have to have an appreciation and understanding of what has already been done.
Personally, I get more enjoyment out of creating original music than I do performing Jazz standards for example, but that’s purely subjective and one isn’t better than the other.
When it comes to listening to music, for me, what is important is that the music being created is done well and that I feel a connection to it. It really doesn’t matter to me if it’s groundbreaking or not.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
I compose all of my music on Sibelius and will sit at a piano to write. This process works best for me.
I also spend a lot of time listening to music when I am writing as it helps me to get inspired.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
My usual routine when I am working from home is that I will get up, make a coffee and listen to music or a podcast. Then I check my emails and catch up with admin for an hour or so.
Once I’m done with that, I’ll have some breakfast which is usually porridge or muesli. Then I’ll have a shower and get ready for the day. After that I’ll either practice for a couple of hours or write some music.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
When writing my debut album, Horizons, I started by writing a lot of small ideas down on Sibelius. Each idea was only a couple of bars of melody or a riff or a few chords. I would flit between each idea, adding to them gradually until I started to find momentum with one of them.
For me, the hardest part of writing is often getting past that starting point with an idea and developing it into a full piece. A lot of the ideas never got finished, but they were an important part of the process for me because they took away that overwhelming pressure that every single idea has to be a good one.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I always write on my own. It’s quite a personal thing for me and can be a long process which is why I prefer to do it alone. It’s only once I’ve finished a tune that I’ll take it to my band and they will add their magic to it.
This is often a very special moment for me, hearing the tune come to life after previously only having heard it through Sibelius.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I try to write music that evokes positive feelings and leaves listeners feeling uplifted. Nothing brings me more joy than seeing the audience connect with my music in a positive way when I perform live.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Listening to music has been something that’s gotten me through some difficult times throughout my life, particularly in the past year. It has helped me to feel connected to the experiences and emotions of others, at times when I’ve otherwise felt alone. During tough times, that sense of connection can be incredibly comforting. I’m sure most people can relate to this.
Writing music is also something that has helped me through hard times. When my Grandmother passed away last July, I spent a lot of time writing while I was grieving. It felt like an escape for me and helped me to clear my head and process everything.
It was during this time that I wrote a tune called ‘Words Left Unspoken’, which is part of Horizons.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
This isn’t something that I’ve ever really thought about. My interest in music is purely from an artistic standpoint and exploring the connections between music and science doesn’t excite me.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
People can find creativity and expression in every part of life; it’s subjective. I think there’s something wonderful about being brave enough to express passion and excitement for something that others might find mundane.
I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that would find writing music incredibly boring, but everyone is different and that’s what makes this world so interesting.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Music can be a way of communicating deep messages and emotions.
Even if that’s not the intention, I think that through writing and performing, artists are putting a piece of themselves into the music and that is passed on to the listener.