A Beginner’s Guide to Jazz

Made up of musicians Germana La Sorsa (vocals) and Joe Boyle (double bass), Jazz in Cinema are a duo that perform the finest jazz music that was written for or used in movies over the course of the last century, also putting their own jazz spin on a few unexpected songs of different movie soundtrack genres. 

Together we’ve put together a beginner’s guide to jazz: an introductory crash course in all things jazz to get you in the mood ahead of their performance at the Cinema Museum for Emerge.

How did you both begin your separate journeys playing jazz?

Joe: I was a classical musician originally; I grew up listening to classical music as my dad makes violins. He put a violin on my shoulder and said: ‘play’. I grew up doing that for years and years. I started playing drums as a teenager as teenage boys tend to do, and my drum teacher told me about this guy called Max Roach and played me some stuff from a drums point of view. I thought it was really interesting and when I went to actually listen to him it was like: ‘oh my God! These are Charlie Parker records! I’m not supposed to like this stuff but the drums are really cool’. Then I got to Sixth Form College when I was 16 and started playing the guitar just for fun and my music technology teacher said: ‘do you want to play the guitar in my youth big band?’ So I went along to Southampton and started doing the youth program with them. This was at a point where classical music was starting to bore me a little bit. I got into the jazz thing from a guitar point of view and I was like: ‘this is a lot more fun. I get to improvise and play whatever I want and it’s great.’ So I decided I should go to study jazz guitar… There were a couple of double basses lying around at university, and so I started messing around with those and realised that’s where I’m happiest. I got into it and kind of went from there – went to jam sessions and started playing jazz with everyone. That’s how I went from a seven-year-old child making horrible noises on a violin to double bass!

Germana: I started playing and studying classical piano when I was ten – I was just fascinated by the instrument, but I would get bored from all of my classical music lessons. My dad actually told me one day: ‘you should listen to some jazz’… He started giving me some records of jazz musicians like Oscar Peterson and Duke Ellington and singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday…. I was like: ‘I could possibly be a jazz pianist’. But actually I just wanted to sing.

I then started to study jazz piano but again just wanted to sing so I started to have singing lessons with one of the best Italian jazz singers. I just started to naturally improvise and change the tunes. I sang a lot of pop and rock when I was younger, but I couldn’t be in any boxes, I just wanted to change the melodies and do different things….I had a jazz improvising approach, and when I actually understood jazz language and all the freedom that improvisation gives you, I was like: ‘actually, my dad was right, this was my way.’ I realized I wanted to do my second degree in jazz singing.

Coming here to London, my musician friends opened my mind a lot. I knew I wanted to be a jazz singer and I wanted to do it in London.

London is a very saturated city in terms of genres and music venues. Where is a good spot in London to find jazz and what do you think makes a good jazz club?

Joe: It depends what you’re after really. I mean the first thing that comes to mind is Ronnie Scotts… who tend to put on very “straight ahead” jazz. There are plenty of other places too though. The Vortex in Dalston tends to put on more experimental stuff… a quick google will throw up more places than I can pull off the top of my head but there’s The Crypt, Toulouse Lautrec and Oliver’s Jazz Bar to name a few. Oliver’s jam session is particularly good!

Germana: Oliver’s jam session is the best! For me, it’s also got sentimental value because it was one of the first jams that I did when I came here, the second day I was in London…But I still think that’s one of the best jazz venues. The first night that I arrived here I was at Ronnie’s: the “not to miss” venue! I still love all the places that Joe’s mentioned too. We’ve had some particularly great gigs at Toulouse. They’re certainly all great venues for someone that wants to get into jazz and listen to a good cross section of the genre.

What would you say is an essential introduction to jazz for new listeners?

Joe: Kind of Blue is always the classic. Miles Davies, Kind of Blue is the record – I think it’s the biggest selling record ever made in jazz, because it’s perfect.

Your project is Jazz in Cinema: are there any particular films with jazz soundtracks that stand out to you as a good listen?

Joe: When Harry Met Sally is a good shout.

Germana: That’s what I was thinking too. Not really La La Land, because there’s no jazz in that! Round Midnight too.

Joe: It’s a film about a jazz musician. You kind of already have to be into the jazz idiom to get it!

Germana: The soundtrack is interesting.

Catch Jazz in Cinema performing as part of Silver Screen Jazz at the Cinema Museum on the Saturday night of the festival, where they’ll be performing with special guests  Rupert Cox on piano and Dave Storey on the drums.

Images copyright George Nelson.