'Living The Life, Down On Mack Avenue'
French chanteuse Ilona Knopfler is set for the American release of her new CD entitled 'Live the Life' on Mack Avenue on July 19th, 2005.
Paris-born but raised internationally, Ilona brings her sultry vocal stylings to twelve timeless songs, which take listeners from the inside of a dark jazz club in New York to the cafés of the Left Bank in Paris and back again. Penned by such legendary and diverse songwriters as Ivan Lins, Thelonius Monk, Claude Nougaro and Charles Azvanour, each song highlights Ilona’s eclectic stylistic abilities and the purity of her voice.
On the heels of a standing ovation at the Syracuse New York Jazz Fest, KSA Publicity and Mack Avenue Records are excited to announce Ilona’s performance at the legendary Blue Note Club in New York on the 25th of July. Afterwards, Ilona will set off on a series of concert dates across the United States, including highly anticipated performances at the upcoming NARM Convention in San Diego (August 12th) and the Detroit Jazz Festival in September.
Chatting recently with the lady herself, I first wondered if the title of the album was representative of how she progressed on a daily basis? "Absolutely. I am not trying to reach enlightenment, but the quest for spiritual awakening is a daily process. Everyday I have to reevaluate my priorities, and make sure I’m doing what I should be doing. It’s up to me what I make of every day that is given to me. I don’t want the stories I tell my grand kids to start with “if only I’d”."
It's been said that you chose these songs to enable a picture to be painted of who you were - so, in your own eyes, who are you with this regard? "I am a painting that everyone has a different interpretation of. I update it constantly, and it is full of secrets that even I may not be aware of yet. Every time I look at it, I will see something new, something that touches a chord, usually what I am going through at that very moment. I do not want to be categorized, because I am given the opportunity, just by being alive, to learn and change, so why not do just that…live, learn, change."
When songs such as these 'speak to you,' how does that differ from the abundance that don't? "Just like some people will get goose bumps or chills when something reaches out to them, I will tear up. There is a LOT of music that I enjoy, or even listen to every day, but when it’s about getting personal, the choice has to be selective. It may relate to something I’ve lived, or an ironic analogy, but ultimately, it is the harmonious blend of powerful lyrics and sensitive music that …”speak to me” like some other “stories” will touch you."
What are the main musical differences that you have encountered between France, Hong Kong and the U.S.? "Wow! Three different markets that I love. In Hong-Kong, there is such a small jazz community, that the few venues and musicians, are hopelessly devoted to keeping it alive, and satisfying the need of the music lovers that, like in NY, get so little time off to actually enjoy it. Standards are very much appreciated there, and flying artists in is always a treat. In Paris, the music reflects the multicultural population, the African rhythm, the middle eastern feel, the afro-Cuban beat. You will find your hearts content in any club in Paris. It has become a town where a guest artist, or having at least three nationalities on a stage, is almost expected! The US is where it all started, so needless to say that it makes sense for me to do my first steps here."
Tell me more about the rock band you fronted in Hong Kong ... and what was its name? "The Shout! I had a crush on front man Danny Levine (at that time, if you sang and had long hair ... what teen girl could resist?), so needless to say that when my friend (also his drummer) Raj Melwani told me he wanted me to sing back up for his band, I didn’t know which way was up. With my 15 years on this planet, I didn’t know what I could possibly have to offer. I sang with them for 3 years until I moved to NY (we reunited for a year after that). It was a real stepping stone, I enjoyed every gig. It gave me a chance, as a back up singer, to open up without fear, which I am still experimenting with, all the while not having the responsibility of a front man."
So, stupid question time: Are you related to the wonderful Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), per chance? And if so, how?! "I don’t know. I am of Hungarian descent, and I heard that he is as well, but I never looked into it. Since there was only one Knopfler family in Hungary, it seems there is a possibility. I have always enjoyed his music, but I always felt it would be awkward to go up to him and say “Hey, I may be your long lost cousin, twice removed” to which I could imagine the response to be “… and let me guess, you’re a singer trying to make it right?” I don’t want it to sound like I’m trying to get anything out of it, so I’ll wait a while before I approach him. But it would be fun to know, ... let me know if you find anything!"
Is there a song out there that you've tried many times to capture on record, but for whatever reason it just won't work at this time? "Not yet, but I’m sure it will happen. I’ve always been fortunate to be surrounded by people who speak their minds honestly, and that let me know if something I’m planning to do doesn’t sound like such a good idea. It’s happened to me often live. Just because I like a song, doesn’t mean my interpretation of it will do it justice. It’s something I’ve learned and am still learning."
Being a mother of a young daughter, is it hard to travel for your music ... with or without her? "Well, one thing is for sure, it is always hard to be away from her. I am now, tasting the first disadvantages of touring in regards to her schooling. She is supposed to start school in Paris in September, but I will be here until the end of the year, so readjustments have to be made constantly. It is important for me to have her with me as often as reasonably possible. Not only so she can see ‘what mommy does when she’s away’, but also because in teaching her to express her talents and abilities, it is my duty to do the same and share my world with her. It is always hard, as a parent, not to impose what you think your child should do, but I’m hoping that in exposing her to this versatile world of creative expression and cultural differences, it will give her (like my parents gave me) the ability to call any place home, and the understanding that there is a place for any idea or project."
What do you like to do on your spare time, away from music? "I am very family oriented, so I spend time with my parents whenever possible. I have always enjoyed doing things around the house , wood work, painting, gardening. A good book will sometimes find its way on my bedside table, sometimes I’ll be a beach bum, a movie buff (mostly oldies), I enjoy more than anything traveling and reuniting with friends around the table of a fine restaurant. I guess it depends on my mood … and the weather."
Finally, if you were put into a room and asked to choose three (3) other well-known musicians to aid you in creating a single for charity, who would they be (and name their instruments) and what would the name of the song be?! "Hard to say. I would have loved to do any project with Stephane Grappelli, Michel Petrucciani and Ray Brown. Obviously that’s not going to happen. That's a tough question to answer on the spot!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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