Sue Ryn­hart has mixed feel­ings about be­ing held up as a role model for fe­male mu­si­cians in Ire­land

A love of im­pro­vi­sa­tion has helped en­sure Sue Ryn­hart is now con­sid­ered one of Ire­land’s top jazz vo­cal­ists, writes

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - GUINNES CORK JAZZ FESTIVAL - El­lie O’Byrne

am who I am. I’m just do­ing what I love, and us­ing my voice in a way that feels healthy and nat­u­ral, and that’s my style and my sound.”

Dublin-based vo­cal­ist and com­poser Sue Ryn­hart’s first al­bum, 2014’s

Cross­ings, a stripped-back col­lec­tion of self-penned songs for voice and dou­ble bass, was widely lauded.

The fol­low-up, Sig­nals, re­leased last April, is any­thing but stripped back: with nods to early mu­sic, more than a dash of folk, and a haunt­ing spo­ken-word piece, ‘The Tree’, it’s an eclec­tic cel­e­bra­tion of Ryn­hart’s dis­tinc­tive ap­proach to mu­sic. Her voice has a crys­talline qual­ity more as­so­ci­ated with folk singers like Joni Mitchell than the husky tones nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with jazz greats like Nina Si­mone and Cas­san­dra Wil­son.

If any­thing an­chors

Sig­nals in jazz, it’s the space left for im­pro­vi­sa­tion, Ryn­hart says. “When it comes to record­ing, a lot of the songs don’t have big ex­tended im­pro­vi­sa­tions within the songs, but some­times in per­for­mance I want to im­pro­vise,” she says. “A lot of the songs don’t take that for­mat un­less I feel a space for it. There are lit­tle spa­ces in the songs where it’s pos­si­ble, but it de­pends on the per­for­mance and the au­di­ence. That’s where the jazz comes into it, for me: work­ing with mu­si­cians who are able to make those de­ci­sions and have those con­ver­sa­tions on stage.”

Made on a shoe­string, with some tracks recorded at home and just one day in Wick­low’s Mead­ows Stu­dio,

Sig­nals is an al­bum of which Ryn­hart is jus­ti­fi­ably proud.

“I’ve been very true to my­self. I think I was very au­then­tic, and that’s what’s most im­por­tant to me, to be au­then­tic and to keep the magic of cre­ativ­ity where it should be.”

Clas­si­cally trained, Ryn­hart grew up in a mu­si­cal fam­ily. Her fa­ther plays in a rock and roll band, her mother played the or­gan and her grand­fa­ther was a trad fid­dler. As a stu­dent, she tran­scribed and vo­calised Char­lie Parker so­los, and took an in­ter­est in me­dieval mu­sic. She lis­tens to Prince and Dolly Par­ton. “It’s im­por­tant not to close your mind off to any type of mu­sic or any art, be­cause I think you are what you eat,” she says.

Ryn­hart is mar­ried to mu­si­cian Dy­lan Ryn­hart, who founded jazz orches­tra the Fuzzy Logic Ensem­ble. She’s cur­rently a full-time mother to the cou­ple’s three boys, aged eight, six and 11 months. Pre­dictably, it’s a mu­sic-filled house­hold.

“The baby and I trade fours,” she laughs. “I’ll look at him and go (Ryn­hart pro­duces a glo­ri­ous but un­tran­scrib­able spon­ta­neous lit­tle vo­cal trill) and he looks at me and starts laugh­ing. It’s a con­ver­sa­tion; he’s learn­ing to sing be­fore he can speak.”

“There is no more som­bre en­emy of good art than the pram in the hall,” English writer and critic Cyril Connolly once wrote, but Ryn­hart doesn’t sub­scribe to this no­tion.

With au­then­tic­ity her aim, she weaves her creative life and her home life to­gether, and sees this en­rich­ing to her art rather than im­pov­er­ish­ing; most com­pos­ing is on-the-go, singing into her phone as ideas hit her.

“I have to find time to sit down and tran­scribe what I’ve sung and tailor it, but that’s a small, prac­ti­cal space. What I do the rest of the time is in­cor­po­rate my life and my kids into what I call writ­ing.

“I don’t get much quiet; some­where in my sub­con­scious, I’m hav­ing a lot of thoughts, and big dreams as well, and when I get some quiet, there’s an aw­ful lot there. It spills out, and I record it.”

Sul­try di­vas made aloof by sor­row, or sassy, so­phis­ti­cated bright sparks: in jazz as much as in any other mu­si­cal genre, the pedestal on which fe­male singers have his­tor­i­cally been placed has been high but nar­row.

As a mu­si­cal ed­u­ca­tor and scholar as well as a com­poser — she lec­tured on the jazz de­gree at New­park Col­lege in Dublin but has taken a break to fo­cus on fam­ily — Ryn­hart is happy to be con­sid­ered a role model for a gen­er­a­tion of young fe­male com­posers for whom any so­ci­etal stric­tures will have been lifted.

“It would be great if I didn’t have to be a ‘woman in jazz’, if I could just be a hu­man be­ing cre­at­ing mu­sic,” she says.

“But you can’t be what you can’t see, that’s true. I think we prob­a­bly do have to get through a phase of high­light­ing that women are com­pos­ing, and writ­ing, and that there are women who im­pro­vise, and that we women are vis­i­ble in the mu­sic.

“Any young singer who wants to write and get out there and per­form, that should just be com­pletely nat­u­ral for that per­son.”

At the Guin­ness Cork Jazz Fes­ti­val, Ryn­hart will be ac­com­pa­nied by longterm col­lab­o­ra­tor Dan Bod­well, the dou­ble bassist with whom she recorded Cross­ings, as well as drum­mer Shane O’Dono­van and pi­anist Dar­ragh O’Kelly.

“I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to it,” she says.

Sue Ryn­hart ap­pears at Triskel Christchurch as part of a dou­ble bill with the Michael Wollny Trio for the Guin­ness Cork Jazz Fes­ti­val on Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 29 at 8pm. guin­ness­jaz­zfes­ti­val.com

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