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"Red Flags and High Heels" - interview with jazz songtress Fiona Ross

With her fifth studio album landing after Ross being named among the 100 Alternative Power Music List for 2020 by, the internationally acclaimed, London-based vocalist, pianist, composer, producer and journalist has garnered experience and expertise to cast a wide net to capture the dark, light and much of what lies between in this personal and very relatable new collection. We have conducted an interview with Fiona.

Jazz Weekly described your album as poetic resonating with Millennial Angst. What is the message you want to deliver with this album?

Well, my message as always, is that I am just writing what is in my head at the time to be honest. Red Flags and High Heels reflects on the emotional highs and emotional lows of this thing called life. The ‘Red Flags’ represent those things that just don’t sit right with you and although you are not always sure why and you don't always know what to do about it. The constant analysis. People’s ignorance. Those things you know you shouldn’t do, but you do anyway and you have no idea why you did them until after it has all gone wrong. But also the good things but with the inevitable highs it brings the lows. The ‘High Heels’ represent fun, sex and strength. For many, high heels bring to mind something sexy and playful, while for others they represent power, strength and freedom. So, this album has elements of all those things.

the album launch held at the famous Pizza Express live Jazz Club, in Soho, London by Ron Milsom
The album launch held at the famous Pizza Express live Jazz Club, in Soho, London by Ron Milsom

What other feedback have you received from music journals and from your fans about the new album?

I have been completely overwhelmed by the response of this album and so many wonderful comments from people who are not only my fans and supporters but critics. It’s always very hard when you release music, wondering if people will enjoy your work and it can be very emotional sending it out for review. I am always incredibly grateful for the support I have from so many.

‘Another excellent release from Ms. Ross that will brighten up the most dreary of winter days that lie ahead and leave you smiling’ Jazz Views

‘A probing album that oozes passion, punch and panache’ Jazz Journal

‘Her playing is lovingly understated, an impressionistic soundscape over which her vocals flow like a stream’ London Jazz News

My last album featured sleeve notes with the legend that is Maxine Gordon – she is a role model and a mentor to me. When I was thinking about this album, I thought it would be really incredible to have strong, fierce and inspirational women, who have inspired me, write the sleeve notes for each of my albums from now onwards, with Maxine leading the way. Celine Peterson instantly came to mind and I am so grateful for the time and understanding she gave my album ‘‘Being able to connect with a singer and song writer who can find the strength to share such deeply personal words with us in such a way that makes us feel safe, is rare’ Celine Peterson

Saxophonist Hannah Horton taken by Tatiana Gorilovsky
Saxophonist Hannah Horton taken by Tatiana Gorilovsky

You are working with talented visual artists. Can you tell us more about this cooperation?

I am always so honoured to work with so many incredible artists. I have loved the work of Tatiana Gorilovsky for quite some time and was thrilled that she agreed to shoot the cover for this album. We went to this amazing place called Craxton Studios, a beautiful house in London that has had performances from so many great musicians for many years. I was also thrilled that she was able to capture my album launch night too. Her work is stunning.

Chris Cunningham is a wonderful artist that I worked with on my last album ‘Fierce and Non-Compliant’. I love his artwork and wanted to have more! So, for this album, I sent him photos of my musicians and asked him to create something inspired by the photos. I was so thrilled with his work and included these pieces in the artwork for the album, along with his ‘Red Flags and High Heels’ inspired work.

Fiona Ross and Red Flags and High Heels by Chris Cunningham
Fiona Ross and Red Flags and High Heels by Chris Cunningham

You raise your voice in Mental Health and Equality issues. Why do you find these issues particularly important for you?

Having worked in the creative industries since I was very young, I have been surrounded by challenges my whole life. This industry is hard and it saddens me greatly to see the amount of people struggling with their mental health, which has always been a problem in this industry and has certainly been highlighted since the shutdown of live music and theatre due to COVID. One of the first things I did during the lockdown here in London, was to train to be a mental health first aider, as I wanted to see if I could actually help anyone. I am not one to just sit back and do nothing. Mental health is being discussed much more openly now, which is wonderful but it is still surrounded by stigma and a significant mindset shift is needed to see real change in our industry. In the theatre, you are trained to believe that the show must always go on and if it doesn’t you are a failure. Well, although this is many ways, is a good thing and helps to develop character, resilience and strength, sometimes the show really shouldn’t go on and taking time out for yourself and asking for support is a strength, not a failure.

As a woman working in the jazz industry, it is impossible to ignore the historic gender balance issues. This goes all the way back to the 1930s when women were very publicly told they did not belong in jazz and ‘can’t swing’ with articles such as ‘Can Women Swing?” (1936) and then 20 years later ‘Is there a place for women in jazz strictly on a merit basis’ (1958). It has always been a struggle for women and although since the #metoo movement, things are improving we still have a very, very long way to go. We still have gender imbalance in festival line ups, journalists, photographers, sound engineers, publication owners and so on. And of course, it not just about gender. Representation and opportunity for the LGBTQ community in jazz is a problem and the lack of diversity in the jazz journalism community is an issue. Many publications only have white writers. There is much work to be done to achieve a beautifully equal and diverse jazz industry.

Drummer Migdalia Van Der Hoven taken by Tatiana Gorilovksy
Drummer Migdalia Van Der Hoven taken by Tatiana Gorilovksy

This is already your 5th album. What are your plans? Will there be a 6th one anytime soon?

Well, actually I have nearly finished my 6th album. It’s just a little acoustic album that I wanted to do before I start my next big band album. I gave myself a task of writing seven songs in seven days, just to sort of go back to the basics of my own songwriting. It’s just a little bit of fun really, just me, guitar and the occasional trumpet. Once this is finished, I will start work on my next full band album. Can’t wait!

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