WHEN it comes to the image of jazz, The Fast Show has a lot to answer for. Thanks to Paul Whitehouse and his funny chums, many people find it difficult to think of jazz without conjuring an image of a dingy room full of men in polo necks, nodding and exclaiming ‘nice’, as an unidentified instrument caterwauls in the background.
Funny? Yes ... but a far cry from the real story. As acclaimed local jazz vocalist Ruth Lambert explains, it begins and ends with the song.
She says: “The first thing that attracted me to jazz was the songs. In the Great American Songbook there is a song for every emotion and just about any situation you could think of, all beautifully written.
“I think audiences can often relate to a singer because of the words of the songs. Many people who say they don’t understand jazz will also tell you that they love Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday. I think that the lyrics and the sentiment of the songs make the music more accessible.”
Despite working as a professional singer since the age of 18, Ruth, who is based in Cullercoats, North Tyneside, only really discovered those great songs for herself when she went to study music at the University of Strathclyde.
She picked up a first-class honours degree and the prestigious Alexander Stone Scholarship for excellence in solo performance along the way.
But it was when she was recruited into the university’s award-winning Big Band, whose alumni include some of the UK’s biggest jazz names, that she really found her niche.
She says: “What really got me hooked on jazz was the improvisational aspect. I love that you never know what’s coming next and that it’s never the same way twice. With improvised music you have to really communicate, really listen to each other.”
Confident that she had found her musical medium in jazz, Ruth returned to the North East after graduation and started her singing career in earnest, ultimately earning herself a residency with the Customs House Big Band in South Shields and playing venues such as The Sage Gateshead, Baltic, and various jazz festivals including Glasgow, Gateshead and the Isle of Bute.
Ruth says: “The local scene has been on the up over the last few years – long may it continue.
“We have some world-class musicians here and some very appreciative audiences, plus some very talented younger players coming through.”
It was through the local scene that Ruth met the musicians who make up her exceptional sextet, all respected names in their own right, featuring local jazz luminaries such as Paul Edis on piano, Mark Williams on guitar, Andy Champion on double bass, Tim Johnston on drums, Graeme Wilson on saxophone and Graham Hardy on trumpet.
The last few years have been something of a rollercoaster for Ruth, as she attempted to juggle her music career with the demands of being a new mum.
But, although it has been a challenge, she reckons her role as a mother has strengthened her resolve and added a new dimension to her performance.
She’s come a long way since her debut album in 2006, So Many Stars ... and on Friday, she’s launching the follow-up release, Easy Street to demonstrate in full.
“I recorded the first album when I was first finding my feet in jazz. Now I feel much more established in my career and more confident as a result,” she says.
“Motherhood has brought a massive change on many different levels. I’ve grown up emotionally and am finally happy in my own skin. I’m much more relaxed and I think that shows in my voice and in the music.”
Ruth and her band are launching Easy Street on Friday, with a live performance at the Saville Exchange, North Shields. Doors open at 8pm and tickets cost £6 or £5 concessions.
Call (0191) 643-7093 to book. For more information, or to order a copy of the album, visit www.ruthlambert.co.uk.
To hear some tracks from Ruth’s new album, visit www.journallive.co.uk/culture