JazzColumbus.com Interview Series: Louise Salvador

Next in our new series of interviews with some of Central Ohio’s finest jazz musicians is vocalist Louise Salvador. A native of Houston, Texas, Salvador has had a long and storied career, and is still going strong. She has played with some of the greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Pete Fountain, Little Richard, and Fats Domino, and has worked with many local stars over the past few decades. She has a weekly gig at Haiku in the Short North Saturday nights with her quartet (Bob Mills – piano, Terry Douds – bass, Matt Wagner or Joe Ong – drums), where you can hear her inspired interpretations of standards and tunes of many types. I recently had a great phone conversation with Salvador, where she shared some stories and updated me on what she has upcoming:

When and why did you start playing music and jazz?

Louise Salvador (LS): I was introduced to jazz many years ago, back in the 60s. There were just a few people that I was really passionate about – one of them was Ella, I guess she was the “mother of invention” as far as I’m concerned. Of course, there’s all these other people, like Billie Holiday and all these other folks. I was actually educated to be what they call a “legitimate singer” – I was being groomed for theater, and light opera, and all that kind of stuff. The reason I was introduced to jazz is because I was being coached by a person that was in the jazz idiom, but at the same time was a musical director at a theater in Houston, Texas, which is where I’m from.

I started out in musical theater when I was 15 or 16, and from there on, I eventually went on the road. I actually wasn’t doing what we call “jazz,” I was still doing musical theater and also reviews in supper clubs. I was on the road with people like Sally Rand and the Ames Brothers. I opened for Ray Bolger, I opened for Mickey Rooney, I opened for a lot of these old stars. The reason I’m bringing up all of these old people is that I’m kind of old. I’m 69, and I’ll be 70 in August.

[Regarding why she started playing jazz] I guess it appealed to my passion – you could do anything. Jazz is so multi-colored, you can pretty much take it and make it your own. You can take a tune and interpret it and make it your own. I enjoy doing that, I enjoy being independent with music, and I enjoy being able to present – I’m a presenter of other people’s work. I’ve never really done anything as far as composing on my own, and people say, “You should, because you have a knack for creating and improvising.” But it takes time, which is an issue with me.

Who are some of your main influences in your playing/performing?

LS: In the present, I’m very influenced by what I hear. And I’m influenced mostly by musicians anymore. Singers I love, you know, we all want to be singers, but there comes a time when if you’re going to improvise, or scat, and that’s kind of what I do, you need to listen to the people you’re working with, and horns. Horn players and how they treat a piece of music is kind of what I listen for. Just everybody that I’m working with, and people that I’ve jammed with along the way.

What is your fondest musical memory?

LS: What made a big impression on me – I’m very fond of a gift, first of all – was when I was working at an after hours spot in Houston, when I was a youngster. I remember Liberace would come and wait for me, it was kind of like a jam session. He would come to this place and have coffee or tea and drinks or something after his show – you have to remember, this was back in the 60s. I would go there after my thing and hangout with musicians and theater people, and I would jam with them. It wasn’t a paying gig, but I remember he would almost wait for me to get there: it was a very fond appreciation of what I did. He told me that I could go far, and all of this sort of thing, and [wondered] why I didn’t pursue a more legitimate musical role, versus jazz. But he said I could do anything, and that was a very fond feeling. His appreciation, also audience appreciation – people knew that he was kind of listening for what I was doing. That was big stuff for me at that point. And it also increased my interest in myself. It created the self-esteem I needed at that point, and that’s very fond to know that.

What are you listening to today? What’s on your playlist?

LS: Mostly I’m listening to things I have to learn. Sometimes it’s not all that pleasurable to listen to, but you have to listen and write it down. I still do it the old way – write the lyrics out and interpret them my way and put some ownership on them. Mel Torme – I’ve been listening to him quite a bit. I go back and forth.

What inspires you about the Columbus Jazz scene?

LS: There are a lot of good musicians here – they’ve come, they’ve gone, some have passed, and I would get involved with them, and that’s an inspiration, to just work with these people. And I continue to work with them. Being able to work and feel good about your work here. Granted, it’s not New York, Chicago, or L.A., but we get the feeling, we get to know what’s here, and that’s inspiring.

What are you working on for 2015? Any new projects, exciting shows or releases?

LS: I do this thing at Haiku every Saturday night, 7-10pm. I’m going to be doing a show at OSU in April – I’m going to be sharing the bill with Jeannette Williams and Mary McClendon. [Director of Jazz Studies at OSU] Ted McDaniels called and mentioned that it’s a tribute to the local divas. [This show, Divas Night, will] open the annual OSU Jazz Festival, Thursday, April 9th at Weigel Hall.

For more info on Louise Salvador, click here.

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