We talk to British jazz aficionado Zara McFarlane about Brit school beginnings and her recent gig on ‘Later…..with Jools Holland’
Growing up on the borders of Essex and London, jazz wasn’t necessarily the first style of music to make an impact on Zara McFarlane. “My earliest musical influences definitely came from Reggae music,” she says. “As a child I was a lover of musical theatre and pop music.” It was this love of musical theatre that lead her to attend the now infamous Croydon Brit School for sixth form, a while before the hype and expectation befell its students. “At the time the Brit School was a fantastic place to be. I studied Musical Theatre there,” she explains. “We were encouraged to be creative with little restrictions but they also taught us the art of professionalism and what is expected of you in the business.” It was during this period that a culmination in her new found passion for jazz, and the influence of her creative surroundings concentrated her on the idea of becoming a professional jazz singer. “I became a lover of jazz music when I was in my teens,” says Zara. “[The Brit School] was also the first place that people spoke seriously about having a career within the arts.”
After she released her debut album ‘Until Tomorrow’ back in 2011, which was a predominantly jazz offering, it wasn’t until the beginning of 2014 that we got to hear her new sound, which illustrates Zara’s progression as an artist. “With the first album I wanted to focus on a more traditional jazz sound; that was cohesive throughout the album with regards to instrumentation particularly,” says Zara. However, when it came to working on ‘If you knew her’ she took a slightly different approach: “With the second album I wanted the lyrics to connect the songs and, musically, treat each song as individual pieces and allow the music to evoke different emotions.”
The strength in her voice, as well as her song writing ability, has been strengthened somewhat by the time spent away from her solo endeavors. Over the years she has been a featured artist in Gary Crosby’s Ska Orchestra, and also teaches workshops to aspiring young musicians, though not so much recently, despite her enthusiasm for the task. “I do it from time to time. Not as often as I used to,” she says. “It is great to be able to share experiences and knowledge with young people and to be able to encourage people.”
Yet when it comes to Zara’s most recent accolade, it would have to be her spot as a featured artist in notable Jazz pianist Jools Holland ‘Later…’ show, where she performed ‘You’ll get me into trouble’, as well as ‘Police and thieves’ – both taken from her second album which focuses on exploration. “Since releasing the first album I have become more confident within my writing abilities and I look forward to continuing to challenge myself musically and as an artist, exploring different styles of music,” she explains.
Although slightly off the mainstream radar, Zara’s talent and passion for her craft have seen her profile snowball as of late, but she won’t be stopping there. Having performed at Sunsplash Festival in Turkey this weekend and with her State side debut later this month, Zara is promising to widen her audience on a global scale.
Words: Siobhan Frew