Lowell Pickett’s praise for Mina Agossi is simple, and powerful.
“An amazing voice, and absolutely fearless,” he says. “She is so natural in her whole approach, her whole demeanor. She just exudes a sense of wondrous joy and comfort. I have never met anyone quite like her before.”
Pickett works hard to bring the best of the jazz world to the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, and so there was no question in his mind when Agossi asked about appearing on December 2nd as she brings her new album “Just like a Lady.”
He heard about Agossi’s talent from pianist Ahmad Jamal who Pickett says is a shrewd talent spotter.
Agossi was originally a theater student, but then discovered she loved singing jazz.
“And in some respects her singing is theatrical,” Pickett says, “But it is theatrical in a natural improvisational way. There doesn’t seem to be any guile with her at all,” Pickett says. “She is having fun, absolute fun.”
And fearless? Pickett points to how Agossi delights in using a very small band.
Just drums and bass and voice, no chord instrument. Some singers will do that for a song or two, or do a duet with a bass-player for a song or two. But to do an entire night like that and make it work, make it captivating and riveting, is a pretty uncommon talent.”
Pickett says Agossi is not bound by musical genres either. When she sings it is jazz, but he says she draws from many sources.
“She will do ‘I won’t dance,’ Fred Astaire, associated with Fred Astaire, or some other Cole Porter song, Nina Simone, Fats Waller, and Jimi Hendrix, all in the same set. And it all makes sense.”
The Dakota gig is the first stop on Agossi’s tour. she agreed to answer some email questions from her home in France.
1) After producing many records featuring you and just a couple of musicians, you have added a lot more instrumentation for your new recording “Just Like a Lady.” Why did you decide to move in this direction?
During 12 years, I ‘ve been exploring the relations one can have between bass, drums and vocals, without “boring” the audience!
You imagine… ! It’s was a challenge, because there are no harmonical instruments in that case. Everybody was wondering, where was the piano or the guitar… I had to convince people we could make it. So… little by little it became my trade mark, even if I was more then happy to play with the Spirit of life Ensemble with Ted Curson, or Archie Shepp, my concern was to develop this trio as far as possible.
It seems now I have done this, and it became obvious for me to invite another musician, Phil Reptil. This artist is one of my favorite in France, he was one of the first to create the French underground electro music world in the 90. So that’s how everything started up.
2) You make a point of always including a Hendrix tune on each of your albums. What is your attraction to his music from a jazz perspective, and how do you choose which one to do?
“Improvisation”, is my word, and I guess it was Jimi Hendrix favorite thing to do: “improvise”. This is Jazz, that’s why I love to sing his songs, first of all because he was a wonderful improviser, he made the world discover his skills on an electric guitar, as well as on the acoustic ones, his songs are extremely difficult to sing and extremely well written, he was a fantastic singer, and he had the blues inside of him, he could explore the rock, pop, classical, Asian, African and blues worlds, so easily, that’s all I love.
I never know what song I’ll sing on the next album, I just know, I have to sing one.
3) What are the challenges facing a jazz singer today? What are the joys?
Very, very hard ! It’s an everyday struggle, nothing is printed on paper, especially nowadays, when the first cuts under “crisis” is culture, when culture should be the first thing to be saved for people because they to change their mind and go out and have fun even more now, that is my point of view. but I’m lucky enough I’m 39 and have 19 years of music life behind me, I’m worried for the young singers who start now, I hope they are going to shake the tree and not try to “please,” I hope they develop new technologies to defend their rights and change things.
I’m too lazy now to try to do it… ah! ah!
My “Joys” are on the stage.
4) You are returning to the Dakota. After touring so many jazz clubs around the world, how does it compare?
Dakota is like a home for me !
I love the audience , I love the food there, I love Minneapolis, such an avant garde city, such a wild city, and such beautiful souls who know a lot about the blues and about the cold, and they need to continue to shine, and make their city attractive, that’s what the Dakota does.
You can get a sample of what Agossi does with Hendrix below as she sings “Voodoo Chile.”