Tara Minton is an Australian jazz harpist and vocalist, whose signature style mixes elements of jazz, folk and soul together, with a focus on storytelling through lyrics and music. She is often compared to Joni Mitchell and Ella Fitzgerald, and draws inspiration from renowned harpist Dorothy Ashby.
Could you tell us about your musical background? What drew you to the harp in the first place?
I was musically inclined from a very young age. I took up piano lessons at seven and I loved it. I also learned the flute and singing. I was as obsessed with music back then as I am now. When I was ten, I saw a Marx Brothers film. It’s the first time I remember seeing a harp. I can’t explain why or how, but that’s when I knew I would be a harpist. I took classical harp lessons, played in youth orchestras and at weddings on weekends as I progressed, and finally in my early 20s (after a three year detour to do a degree in musical theatre) combined my love of songwriting and jazz with the harp. The rest is history.
Who are your musical influences, and are there any artists currently around who you consider to be particularly innovative or unique?
My grandfather made me a mixtape of classical music when I was a child and told great stories inspired by the works – Rachmaninov, Grieg, Debussy. I loved the romantic composers and the great French impressionist composers. I have a lifelong love of Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Django Reinhardt and Herbie Hancock, as well as Bernstein and the incredible lyrical wit of Cole Porter.
In terms of the songwriters who stand out to me – number one will always be Joni Mitchell, followed by Leonard Cohen, Ricky Lee Jones, Janis Ian and Tom Waits. The artists who excite me today are Esperanza Spalding for the incredible freedom and joy she brings to jazz, Lisa Fischer because she as an absolute master and vocal goddess, Billy Childs for his beautiful album Map to the Treasure and London-based musicians / arrangers / composers Phil Merriman, Tim Boniface, Evelina De Lain and Alice Zawadzki, whose work always inspires and challenges me.
What has been the highlight of your performing career thus far? Are there any concerts that particularly stand out in your memory?
The highlights of my performing career thus far? I played the Alchemia Jazz Club in Krakow with guitarist and dear friend Tristan McCoppin. That will always stand out as one of my proudest memories. The club was full to bursting, we played with great connection and integrity, and were honored to receive a standing ovation and three encores.
Other highlights include a concert in Palanga, Lithuania by the Baltic Sea, where the audience were so generous and willing to be taken on a journey, an absolutely insane concert on a traffic island in Lecce, Italy with my gypsy jazz band, Harp Bazaar, and just recently, the 606 Club in London. Playing there has been a goal of mine for years.
How often do you bring your own harp along to live performances? Do you have any tips and tricks for moving such a hefty instrument from place to place?
I am very lucky to be endorsed by Camac Harps, and often for international concerts they provide me with a harp. However! If you want to be a harpist, you have to make peace with long hours driving in the car, double parking out front of venues and dragging the harp up and down flights of stairs. I’ve driven to Lithuania, Ireland, the South of France and the South of Italy for tours! My tips? Podcasts and squats!
What’s in the pipeline for the future? Are there any projects or collaborations that you’re particularly excited about?
I’m very excited about my original jazz trio with Ed Babar on double bass and Tom Early on drums. We are touring more and more concerts and workshops in jazz harp. It is the greatest joy of my life to make music with those two. I also adore playing with Harp Bazaar – my Gypsy Jazz project with Filippo Dall’Asta on guitar and Duncan Menzies on violin. We’re writing our own music now and are touring Italy again later in the summer.
Other than these two projects, which take up the bulk of my time, I run the London Jazz Harpers Association with Zannah Evans and Brenda Dor-Groot. We hosted the first ever jazz harp jam last month and are creating more and more events and opportunities for jazz harp to flourish in London.
What can we expect from your show in the Elgar Room on Thursday 6 April? Have you been to the Hall before?
I am joined by a rather large ensemble – my core trio as well as Filippo Dall’Asta on guitar, Duncan Menzies on violin, Phil Merriman on keys, Tim Boniface on horns, Lilia Ioncheva on percussion and Serena Braida on backing vocals. We are planning to recreate the sound of the album in a live setting as truly as we can.
There will also be space to celebrate the various musical influences we all bring to the ensemble and showcase the specific talents of each member. At the heart of it though, we are celebrating an album we are all very proud of, and launching it with a bang! This will be my first time playing the Elgar Room – another dream of mine. 2017 is shaping up to be an exciting year!
Tara Minton plays the Elgar Room on Thursday 6 April as part of Late Night Jazz at the Royal Albert Hall.