Contemporary jazz artist Kara Johnstad discusses her influences and music during our telephone interview from Berlin, Germany.

    Singer, songwriter, recording artist, producer, professional Internet radio host and jazz sophisticate, Kara Johnstad, a third generation entertainment professional, is well-versed in classic melodies.

    A Veteran Jazz Musician But Hard To Categorize

    Kara Johnstad, who has something of a female Leonard Cohen songwriting sensibility with some Renee Fleming mixed in, can at times be hard to categorize. Consider this:

    She was signed to the RCA record label in her early 20s; her management team includes Craig Urquhart, the former personal assistant to the acclaimed American music legend Leonard Bernstein; and her usual band includes percussionist extraordinaire Rhani Krija, who is currently on tour with Sting.

    Then there is Johnstad’s passionate Le Grand Love,”a tribute to the music of the French Academy Award winning conductor, composer and pianist Michel Le Grand and Moon In Capricorn, an album comprised completely of her own material. Calling her a veteran jazz musician is in some ways, an understatement.

    We recently caught up with Kara Johnstad at her home in Berlin, Germany. Sincere thanks to Kara for taking time out from her busy itinerary.

    You and your music both possess enormous international appeal. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

    Thank you. I was born in America, in St Louis. My family and I also lived in Wisconsin and I’ve resided in Berlin, Germany, as well.

    Do you recall your earliest music influences?

    My first song memories were the sounds of the birds, the wind, storms, and thunder. Sometimes as kids we’d learn songs off of old instruments that were lying around, and simple songbooks, you know, sitting around the living room listening to each other, giving plenty of space. My family and I listened to NPR [National Public Radio] and classical music on the radio, before the explosion of the Internet. When I grew a little older, I took in a wider variety of music; classic acoustic folk that included Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and Joan Baez, Broadway musicals, and of course, serious jazz.

    Joni Mitchell is noted for using open tunings on her guitar, live and in the studio.

    Yes, and I understand she came to use those tunings out of necessity. She’s great.

    Joni Mitchell performed a lot of her songs solo, on the acoustic guitar. Have you ever thought about doing a similar solo acoustic project?

    Yes, I have. I consider an acoustic project to just be the artist and the instrument, unplugged, like the guitar, or in my case, ‘me and good old Mr. Steinway.’ We’re getting ready to record an unplugged album, Naked Thoughts,where I sing a few pop songs and some adult contemporary pieces that are all my own material.

    You consider yourself to be an American singer-songwriter. Which of these talents came first for you, the singing or the songwriting?

    I liked reading as a child. I didn’t really sing too much in public because I was a little shy, so I’d get lost in books and my own writing. I think it was high school when I became strongly interested in musicals. Later on, especially in Europe, I did some singing, acting and other projects, and I was able to get deeper into my music and develop a stronger voice. Eventually it became a natural process for me to combine singing with songwriting.

  • MUSIC INTERVIEW MAGAZINE: voice visionary, singer-songwriter Kara Johnstad in concert

    Kara Johnstad is a singer-songwriter, recording artist, producer and professional Internet radio host.

  • Who else has recorded or performed your songs?

    Mainly European artists who have limited exposure here in the United States. Some of my songs were recently featured in a television compilation from a German soap opera.

    Different Planes from your album Paths X, is a wonderful demonstration of sensitively done vocals and precise lyrical wordplay that’s been blended with Johanne Gelman’s smoothly textured electric guitar licks; what other projects have you and Johanne worked on?

    We’ve done some orchestra work together for other performers and we’re planning to get together again in the future. I produced a Las Vegas type of show with songs like “New York, New York,” “Lady and the Tramp”; that was done with the Berlin-based Savoy Dance Orchestra, where I first worked with Johanne.

  • Do you consider yourself strictly a jazz artist?  No, not a jazz artist, a singer and a pop vocalist.

    © WolfWebWriting Publishers. First published in MUSIC INTERVIEW MAGAZINE