Female First Interviews Joe Stilgoe

Described as the "renaissance man of modern jazz", Joe Stilgoe is a man who's already impressed many on the music scene, even landing himself his first West End stage role in Kevin Spacey's High Society.

Now with a new album scheduled for release towards the end of this month, we decided to catch up with Joe to find out just what we should expect from him in the coming weeks, his passion for the industry and much more.

Tell us a little bit about the creative process behind your upcoming new album 'New Songs For Old Souls'.

I was trying to make the best album I possibly could, which is always the aim, but hopefully my songs get better, my voice and playing gets better and my musical choices become sharper. I want jazz, or at least songs inspired by jazz throughout the decades, to reach more people through this album, and with the current interest in retro music and style, I hope it doesn't stand out as pastiche or too retro, just a collection of new songs played with a nod to the past. It was great working from the start with producer James McMillan, so we both knew the direction of the record before we recorded a note. I also threw open the song choices to a select bunch of people who've been great supporters in the past, so I did a live solo gig with little voting cards and everyone chose their favourites. Some of the songs had only been finished that morning. It was the day after the Scottish referendum, so democracy was in the air...

How important is it for you as an artist to have creative control over your material and work?

Good question. I might seem a megalomaniac in that all my songs are just by me, but I suppose I'm only doing what me heroes did, like Cole Porter, Irving Berling and Frank Loesser. I do love lots of modern pop, but if you look at a Taylor Swift or Rihanna song, there can be up to 10 writers on the credits, and I think that the song will lose its individuality and staying power. Obviously they're selling millions of records so they're doing something right, but I want to write songs that will last, and be covered by artists well into the future. In the studio I like lots of input, I'm definitely not like Brian Wilson, who knew exactly what he wanted at every step of putting together a record. It's very rare to be like that - I know vaguely how I want the song to sound but I work with my band and producer and together we end up with the finished article. So in short, with songwriting I'm a bit 'ME ME ME' but in the studio it's more 'US US US'. Does that make sense?!

The release of your new record coincides with your major West End role in High Society, can you tell us about how you gained a part in that show and the experience you went through to get the role?

I was doing a concert for Radio 2 and Maria Friedman was one of the guests, and she called me while I was on holiday the week after (I don't take many holidays. Maybe I should...) to ask if I wanted to be in a new show she was directing. When she said High Society and The Old Vic it's fair to say I bit her hand off. But we were on the phone. So I bit my own hand off. No, I said YES, loudly, and since then I've met Kevin who is artistic director of the theatre, and it's all been a bit of a dream. This will be his last show in charge. He couldn't be in it, sadly, would have been amazing to perform with him. The role I'm playing is new but kind of based on Louis Armstrong in the film, in that I'm a musician friend of Dexter, and I flit in and out of the show as a sort of rabble rousing party pianist. So, it's a part that's been specially created for me, which feels amazing. I never intended to go back on stage after doing lots in my early years, but I always dreamed that there might be a possibility of something like this.

Can you tell us a little bit about High Society for those who may not know the plot and such?

High Society is based on The Philadelphia Story and the 1956 film musical starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. The setting is the preparation for a big society wedding (think Kardashian but much classier), and the bride to be (the Grace Kelly role) is presented with various romantic dilemmas during the big party the night before. It's also a satire on the upper echelons of society who are supposedly trouble and care-free and who want for nothing. The characters are all brilliantly written, very funny but also moving, and the songs by Cole Porter can't be bettered. It's one of my favourite films, and the show brings much of that style, class and humour to the stage.

How have rehearsals so far gone for that show?

They are going really well. It is so exciting to be acting in such a great show and especially as it is Kevin Spacey's last production at the Old Vic there's a buzz around the place and the rehearsal room. I'm sure everyone says this about a production they're in, but it IS going to brilliant.

Going forward, who would you love to work with on new material?

I'd love to write songs for Gregory Porter, who could sing the shipping forecast and it would sound beautiful. I've been talking to his management, so hopefully we can work together soon. That man is a great thing for jazz, and the kind of music I do. He brings soul and great song-writing to jazz, which is often a genre where good new songs are in short supply. That's what I want to do - to make songs in this style sound new but also like they've been around for a while. My absolute dream would be to write songs for films - can I work with John Williams please? Or write with Randy Newman? Do you have his number?!

Are there any definitive roles or aims you want for the future?

I've loved delving into acting, so of course something in film would be marvellous, but in musical terms I have a new Glen Miller project pencilled for September, and I've also been asked to write a musical. I was always wary of this as my Dad was/is such a huge figure in that world, but I'm going to give it a crack and see what happens. Something about the cinema, possibly.

What should fans and new listeners expect from you in the coming weeks and months?

My new album 'New Songs For Old Souls', which you should obviously definitely buy if you like classic big band and jazz music with a new twist. I'm doing a headline show to launch the album at the Old Vic on June 14th . A UK tour in October/November - plus my West End debut stage role in High Society throughout the summer. I'm also returning to the Edinburgh Fringe at the end of August to reprise my 'Songs On Film' show. We're calling it 'The Sequel'...

Joe Stilgoe's new album ' New Songs For Old Souls' is out April 27th on Linn Records 

Headline Show - Old Vic, London - June 14th