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On Modern Ancestors (Afrasia Productions), singer/songwriter Carmen Lundy incorporates Afro-Cuban rhythms, spiritual sounds inspired by the church, modern jazz harmonies and other elements to create a multi-dimensional, collage-like self-portrait. That’s a fitting notion, as the respected vocalist is also a gifted visual artist. One of her works, a sculptural piece incorporating a banjo, graces the album’s cover. The repurposing of a vintage musical instrument works well as a metaphor for the album as a whole, which pays tribute to Lundy’s influences (she cites Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, Geri Allen and others), not through homage or imitation, but by following their examples of originality and individualism. —Shaun BradyHow does your work as a visual artist complement your musical life?
I’ve been able to work at my craft as an artist, perform and sing around the world, come back home, walk out of my music studio and go to the other end of my house to do art. I began to work with found objects after gravitating toward an interest in Picasso after being crazy for Van Gogh for most of my life. I was inspired to try things that took up space. I love things that are similar, like textures in sound and in the visual field, or the way chords have a certain personality and colors have a certain energy in the same way. It’s a wonderful balance to my other creativity.
When did you turn your attention to visual art?
I had a friend who was an art dealer and had a gallery down the street from WDNA, the jazz radio station in Miami. When I would visit him, I would wake up to a Mary Cassatt over the bed or a Dutch master in the kitchen. That piqued my interest, so when I moved to New York I began to collect art, buying from street vendors and the homeless. Over time my interest grew, so I took a sketch pad and watercolors along on a four-month tour of Europe and began to try my hand at painting.
You call the new album Modern Ancestors, but instead of a tribute to jazz legends past it’s a collection of original songs. What did you have in mind?
This modern point of view has to do with trying to get the listening audience on board with jazz vocals in a way that has nothing to do with songs from another time. As a composer for the last 35 to 40 years, I’m at a point where I don’t feel like I have to please everyone by covering the standards just to get some attention. I spent many, many years developing my craft, learning the repertoire, playing with incredible artists and learning from the greats. I realized my voice was going to be in original music, not in my version of ‘Love for Sale’ or ‘Dindi.’ Forty years later we’ve lost so many of our great modern ancestors, but for me the point of the modern was to simply ask the listener to hear me for now and to let me sing about now.