An interview with Fiona Ross
by Stacey Zering
With its hybrid of musical genres – Latin jazz, funk, Big Band – Fiona Ross’ latest album Fierce and Non-Compliant is an endlessly surprising and engaging record. Hailing from the U.K., she brings distinct, refreshingly eclectic flavors to the jazz scene.
Q: What are the earliest memories of music you can recall?
A: Oh goodness, I’m not sure really. I grew up surrounded by all sorts of music. I remember my Dad listening to Trad Jazz – Louis Armstrong and Ella – and he loved Ruth Etting. My Mum would always listen to opera and my older brother would be listening to mostly rock in his bedroom. She would tell you I started to sing before I could talk, but I don’t know what I was singing….and I remember us all watching the old Hollywood musicals all the time and singing those songs – Judy Garland, Gene Kelly etc.
Q: Do you recall a strong musical community in and around where you grow up, which is where, actually?
A: I grew up in Brentwood, Essex in the UK, which is not far from London. But I have Celtic roots – my Dad was Scottish and my Mum was half Irish. I was surrounded by performers from a very young age. My first professional job was when I was two, so, yes, a community of sorts, but a professional one. My parents were hugely supportive and ensured I was surrounded by like minded people.
Q: What attracted you to writing and singing songs?
A: I don’t think I can explain that one! It just sort of happened. Performing is just something I have always done. I didn’t decide to do it at any point. I guess my parents knew it was what I was meant to do….I was brought up to be a performer. I didn’t ever have that decision to make and although my work life has evolved over the years, I have been incredibly fortunate to have always worked in the creative industries in some way. I am at home in my music and always have been.
Q: Did you study music in school?
A: Yes. I started piano lessons when I was six and dance and drama lessons a bit before that. When I was 11, I went to a performing arts school and started my training more formally and I also started vocal tuition then too. I trained in dance, drama and music, so they all had equal focus at that time.
Q: How did you select the variety of styles on Fierce and Non Compliant?
A: I often get asked about how I write and I’m afraid, I am very much a go with the flow type of writer. I don’t really plan it at all. I have so many ideas going on in my head all the time, I just let them come out. One song, I did want to write as a more traditional, jazz standard type of song – “I Followed My Heart” – but apart from that, I didn’t select any styles or anything, just went with what I was feeling at the time. This is one of the wonderful things I find with sitting under the heading of jazz – anything goes!
Q: Are there any artists who influenced you to change your approach to music and how?
A: I don’t think I have changed my approach at all, but I guess I have always been subconsciously influenced in a variety of ways which has shaped me as an artist – and as a person. Being honest and true to yourself is very important to me – Prince, Hiromi and Billie have shown me that. As a piano based songwriter, Billy Joel and Rickie Lee Jones were a key part of my childhood and I was always inspired by their writing and the variety of their styles. But I also love the way some music – Earth, Wind and Fire for example, just makes you just feel good. Sometimes, you just want to groove and this is just as powerful. So I guess, I try and put a bit of all of those things in my music.
Q: Which artist moves you the most?
A: I have had so many significant musical influences throughout my life, it’s hard to pin down and different artists affect me in different ways. The pianist/composer Hiromi is a huge inspiration and I often actually cry when I listen to her work. But equally, Billie Holiday’s honesty and interpretation of songs affects me deeply. Prince moves me in many, many ways and has always had an impact on me. Aretha Franklin, of of course…I really can’t pin down just one artist….too many wonderful artists out there. course…I really can’t pin down just one artist….too many wartist….too many wonderful artists out there. ◼