Hot Club de Paris: An Interview with Georgia Cécile
Did you always know that you wanted to be a singer?
From a young age, I always knew that I enjoyed singing and I felt good whenever I sang. Music has always been a big part of my life. I have a big family where everyone plays musical instruments. On the weekends, we would get together and have parties and we were always encouraged to sing or play something.
I was encouraged to take an academic route. I actually studied law for a year when I left school just because I felt that all the adults in my life were saying, "if you study something like law, you'll have more options for your career." Music was more something that I would do on the side for fun. It wasn't until I was a lot older that I realised it could be a career, and something that I could actually make money from. I could get paid to do something that I really liked.
If a child or a young person shows an interest or talent, that's usually a sign that it's something that they should pursue. Without the arts, we as a society can't function. We need the arts. If everyone was a banker or a lawyer or a doctor, the world would be a very dull place. The arts bring so much joy to society.
Were you a part of any groups or clubs that helped you focus on your talent growing up?
I would sing in church choir and school shows. My friends and I had a band together and we would out on wee shows at the weekends. Being in a group of musicians, especially in jazz, is for me, way more rewarding than doing it on my own. I love playing in a group and collaborating with other people. I think that's where we find our best work. Being in choirs and performing in school shows gave me that foundation.
Was it the group element of jazz music that drew you in to that style of performing?
That's certainly one of the reasons. My grandfather was a jazz piano player and had a big, eclectic taste. I was always listening to him play and I was immersed in that kind of music from a young age.
I found it on my own as well as I was getting older. I realised I was getting curious about jazz. The jazz singers who really drew me in were Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, and Nancy Wilson. I spent a lot of time thinking oh, that's really interesting. Those melodies, those sounds are quite sophisticated. They took me further and inspired me to learn more about music than more simple pop songs that didn't really challenge my mind.
What is it like being a jazz performer in a world mostly dominated by pop music?
As an artist, you want to create music that you love and lifts you and hope that it will resonate with others. We don't sit down and think okay, we're gonna write this sort of song. We don't really give ourselves a genre label from the onset. We just create something that is honest and authentic and that feels right and good. It comes from somewhere else. I don't know where those ideas come from, but they come from within and then you out that out into the world. Then, before you know it, other people label it for you. As long as the music you're making is authentic to you, then you're doing a good job.
How do you go about the writing process when you're putting together a new song?
For my debut album that I released in 2021, I co-wrote the songs with my piano player, Euan Stevenson. I would maybe start off with a melody idea or an idea for lyrics, or Euan would come to the table with a groove idea for the piano or some chords that he'd come up with. We'll just sit down and organically he'll play, and I'll start to sing and then, before you know it, we've got a song. Then we go back and refine ideas where we'll think that could be better or let's change this lyric here. Working with someone gives you that process whereas on your own it's probably easier to just say "okay, that'll do." Having that honesty with someone when there's no ego involved means you can create something that's beautiful and distilled.
When does inspiration strike?
I've got a little notebook and every day I'll just jot down some things that are inspiring to me or some ideas I've had. Often, I'll get a thought in the shower, and I'll have to quickly run out the shower to record it on my phone.
What has been your favourite performance that you've done so far?
That's easy. It was the Royal Albert Hall where I opened for Gregory Porter at four of his shows. It was incredible. It's probably one of the most amazing venues in the world. Every singer wants to perform there. I got the opportunity to do that and open for one of my heroes. That was a dream come true.
What was it like working with Gregory Porter?
His voice is like liquid gold. He's got this aura when he walks into a room, he radiates this special energy but he's also very down-to-earth, very humble, and very sweet. He was really supportive.
Who has been the biggest influence throughout your career?
It's so hard to pin down one person. As a vocalist, I've learned way more form Nancy Wilson than I have from anyone else. As an entertainer, someone like Frank Sinatra as his showbiz techniques and his command of a room are amazing. Or someone like Stevie Wonder, who just brings pure joy and uses his performances to make other people feel good. That's what I want to do with my music.
I've also learned a lot about music from my partner, Fraser, who is a piano player. He's taught me so much about the importance of melody. He's also introduced me to a lot of songs and singers that I now love. I think there's a lot of different influences. Even my Auntie Ann influenced me. She was an amazing jazz vocalist - not professionally, but she just had this amazing voice. Even from a young age, I remember listening to her warm, rich vibrato and thinking oh my God, I want to sound like that.
A lot of major jazz icons have rich, long-lasting legacies. How would you want to be remembered 100 years from now?
Well, if people are still remembering me in 100 years, then I've done a good job! I just want to make a contribution to the music industry, as well as to everyday people. I want my music to bring people joy. I want to be able to move people with my music. I want to make music that is timeless so that when people do listen back in five, twenty, fifty years, it still sounds relevant and there's still something in there that can be taken away and people can resonate with.
We've just been shooting in Paris for The Whisky Shop's 30th anniversary issue of Whiskeria. There are strong jazz ties in Paris. Could you tell our readers a little bit more about that?
In the 1920s and 30s, Paris was really popular for all kinds of artists. A lot of artists moved there - it was a real melting pot of visual arts and music. Throughout the 40s and 50s, a lot of big jazz artists like Miles David wanted to move there. A lot of underground jazz clubs were formed. It's always been a home for the artist. Paris has always been associated with art and jazz is an art music more than, say, pop music. So that's why they all felt quite at home there.
The shoot was your first time in Paris. How did you find it?
I loved it. I felt like it was a homecoming for me. I felt like the beauty of the place was so overwhelming. Everywhere you looked, there was beauty - the buildings, the architecture, the landscape. It was very much style over function. As an artist, you're always looking for beauty to be inspired by. That's why we always go to the mountains or the river. We go to these places because they inspire us to write beautiful music so I can understand why a lot of artists went to Paris.
Another thing that ties into the jazz scene is whisky. The Rat Pack and Frank Sinatra were very into their whisky. Could you tell us more about this?
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and other incredible jazz artists were always on stage with a glass of whisky in their hand. It sort of became a signature prop. It had an association with coolness and charisma. It would take away the stiff seriousness of a show because it would let the audience know they were relaxed and having a good time. I think that's what they were trying to do.
Before that, a lot of performances were quite stiff and formal. They were some of the first to create an informal, relaxed camaraderie with the audience. The audience then felt part of this bigger party that was going on all because of this little prop.
Even now, you'll still see jazz musicians with a drink in their hand on stage. I think that just lets the audience know there's a unity and that they're all together in this celebration. It's not one and then a brick wall and then another - they're all in this one room and are sharing this moment together. That's the power that something like this can have.
Do you think it makes the performer a little bit more relatable?
Yes. It makes the artist look like a normal person with normal habits. When audiences can relate to you as a human being, you get a lot more intimacy as the night goes on.
Do you have anything you do to put an audience at ease?
I always have a wee joke up my sleeve. I make eye contact with people. I get people singing along sometimes. I like to make them feel at ease and involved. Showing your human side and that you don't take yourself too seriously always relaxes people.
Do you ever deal with nerves? How do you handle them?
When I perform, I don't make it about me. I try and think okay, they've paid money to come and see me so I'm going to give them a good time. I'll always try and take the focus off me and onto the audience and make it about them. No one's there to see you mess up. Everyone's there to see you do a great job.
You tasted some drams at our boutique in Paris. Do you remember the first whisky that you ever tried?
Jack Daniel's and Coke was always a popular drink when I was at university.
I remember a few years ago when I was about to do a show and I had a bad cold, my mum told me to have a hot toddy and I remember it being warming and really helping me feel better.
My way of getting to know really nice whisky for the first time was when I went to the Islay Jazz Festival in 2018. That was quite a significant experience and introduction to whisky for me. I got to try all these amazing kinds of whisky and started to actually appreciate that it was an experience and why people love it so much.
What kind of flavours do you enjoy in a whisky?
I really like a whisky with a smoky aftertaste that's quite deep and warming. Maybe something a little bit chocolatey.
How do you feel about being on the cover of Whiskeria that celebrates The Whisky Shop's 30th anniversary?
It's a real honour. Being invited to be part of such a big celebration with a legendary company like The Whisky Shop is such an honour for me as a Scottish woman. As we've touched on, the association with jazz and whisky are historic. It's nice that I can be part of the celebration. Getting to see the beautiful shop in Paris - which is just stunning 0 was just a total pleasure and privilege for me. I'm so grateful to be a part of it all.
What can our readers expect to see from you next?
I have a duet album that I recorded with my partner, Fraser Urquhart. It's all our favourite jazz songs that we have loved over the past four or five years. It's just piano and vocals, very stripped back. That'll be out soon.
I'll be releasing new original music in the New Year. I'll be performing plenty of shows in the UK and Europe and hopefully America. I look forward to seeing you all at a show real soon!
The original feature is from the Winter 2022/23 edition of Whiskeria, delivered to the door of W Club subscribers and also free with any Whisky Shop purchase in store or online.