by Simon Sargsyan from JazzBluesNews.
Simon; First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Carmen; I was raised in Amsterdam. My parents where true music lovers. They had a big and very diverse record collection. Somehow I was allowed to manage the record player from a very early age and put on records as I pleased...

Since I was little, my favorite singers where Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Ray Charles and I had a 60 minutes tape that I made consisting of my favorite songs from the Sings the Blues albums of Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Memphis Slim….(don't forget Memphis Slim! He was a big influence) and with Muddy Waters’ ‘Mannish Boy’ filling out the last 3 minutes. The tape eventually broke and got eaten by the machine, that's how much I played it.

What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today?

I studied with Sylvy Lane at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, great teacher, and the ensembles with Arnold Dooyeweerd were very informative as well as the very unorthodox harmony and arranging classes with Misha Mengelberg.
I was in New York for a short spell and had some great lessons there with Gary Dial and Lisa Michel.
But as important as the lessons was the very vibrant jazz scene we had in Amsterdam in the late ‘80 and early ‘90. There were lots of clubs to play, I had a weekly gig in ‘Heren van Amstel’ as well as playing regularly at the Alto Jazz cafe, the Bourbon street jazz club, the Bamboo jazz bar, Cafe Silver and many more….. of all those places only Jazz cafe Alto is still around. My bassist Peter Bjørnild, still plays there every Monday.
What made you choose jazz vocal?

As I’ve said my favorite singers where Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Ray Charles so that was the way to.
I did have a very short pop career, pushed by a commercial label, but I very quickly realized that, that kind of career was not for me.

How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

I guess my sound now is a bit darker than when I started out. My choice of key for a song is a bit lower, also I think that maybe I am a bit more to the point now, able to say more with less…
I had a period where I was deeply into Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan, learning and sometimes writing lyrics to their solos.
And I always listen as much as possible. I keep having phases where one artist tends to be all I’m listening to. At the moment it is Jim Hall, but recent phases has been: Brad Mehldau, Esbjorn Svenson’s EST, Ibrahim Maalouf, the Bad Plus, Marcin Wasilewski, Bill Evans, Tord Gustavson, Louis Armstrong…

What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

I am studying the Catarine Sadolin’s Complete Vocal Technique with a teacher, Anne Marie Hilbrands, here in Amsterdam. One thing I practise for rhythm is singing a Bebop head like Oleo or Bloomdido, with a metronome only on the 1st beat then only the 2nd, 3rd and 4th. And occasionally I transcribe a solo of one of the masters and then put words to it.

Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

I think it has more to do with what I have been and am listening to. Free jazz has never really been my thing, although I have learned from practioneers as Arnold Dooyeweerd and Misha Mengelberg and played in the band of Eric Vloeimans, somehow the harmonic language of the ‘50 feels better to me….and I love Stan Getz…

How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

I don’t try to stay pure to any idea or style, I just go for what I feel like, so I don’t worry about it.
What do you love most about your new album 2018: <Carmen Gomes Sings>, how it was formed and what you are working on today?

Carmen Gomes Sings is collection of my own compositions taken from various albums from my Byton Label albums especially made for Spotify. In a sense it is a best off album or a retrospect from that period. Since I signed with the audiophile label Sound Liaison in 2012 I have made 4 albums for the label. All very well received and critically acclaimed. They are available in high resolution via or on CD via my bandcamp site;
At the moment we are finishing mastering a one mic recording, done with my band in one 3 hour session. The sound is amazing, so pure and real.
In May we will record a tribute to Ray Charles live in the MCO gebouw in Hilversum in the same way. I’m looking forward to that although I also finds it frightening to step into the shoes of the great master.

What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

Impossible question…hmm.... I like music that really moves me but also music that tickles my intellect. I finally made a recording of Summertime for the one mic recording session. With the help of pianist Cajan Witmer, we went back and investigated the original harmony that Gershwin made, the melody is very simple but Gershwin's harmony is very sophisticated, not the 5 chords that you can hear musicians use on jam sessions, I guess that’s a good answer to that question; Summertime with the original harmony.

There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

When an audience is present, a synergy occurs.The audience becomes part of the music making, somehow it all becomes one,... we play what we want, but we oftentimes change the set list on the spot...but is that because we want to do that or is it the audience that somehow makes us do that? I don’t know.

Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Recording ‘Carmen Sings the Blues’ for the Sound Liaison label, live in front of a studio audience was a very special experience. We recorded live to a 2 track Studer tape recorder as well as straight into a DXD recorder (I believe that is 8x CD quality). Recording live means you only have one shot at recording the music, but somehow that pressure made us all play at our very best. We have to live with the small mistakes that were made but that also makes the music, so much more real.
And another very special experience was recording our newest project using only one microphone. Again no possibility of repairing mistakes, but the sound and the realness is incredible. We were standing very close to each other while recording, just like in a small club.

How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

Let them hear the music! Let them learn to play an instrument and they will discover the past masters.

John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life? sure ask difficult questions…. love and to give is the meaning of live. Music is my way of giving.’

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Make it tax free to have live music. In cafes, theaters, festivals. Stimulate LIVE music!.

Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

I keep having phases where one artist tends to be all I’m listening to. At the moment it is Jim Hall, but recent phases has been: Brad Mehldau, Esbjorn Svenson’s EST, Ibrahim Maalouf, the Bad Plus, Marcin Wasilewski, Bill Evans, Tord Gustavson, Louis Armstrong….

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, where would go?

New York City 1943: Minton’s Playhouse, watching Bird play with Monk, Dizzy , Klook….and Billie Holiday sittin’ in.

How are you able to keep going on being a musician in these difficult times?

It’s life, live it! And like Dexter Gordon said; "to be in this business you gotta have heart".

I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

How do you come up with these difficult questions ...

Simon Sargsyan