Interview with jazz vocalist and ICMP tutor Katie Birtill
Our Vocals tutor Katie Birtill tells us how she found her way to the top of the iTunes Jazz Chart...
From musical theatre to writing and performing as a leading jazz artist, our vocals tutor Katie Birtill is currently enjoying something of a musical purple patch.
Her debut album 'Baby, Dream Your Dream' topped the iTunes Jazz Charts at the start of July while Katie has also been playing the role of Princess Hannah in 'The Knights of the Rose' at The Arts Theatre in London's West End over the summer.
Between gigs and performances, Katie found some time to talk about her new record, teaching and her advice for anyone looking to make a career from musical theatre...
Congratulations on your success in the jazz charts - how does it feel to top the charts?
Thank you very much. It feels great! Especially as it was self-released. I’m very grateful to everyone that bought the album and shared it with their circles rippling it out.
Could you talk a little about the album ‘Baby, Dream Your Dream’? What is the album all about? And who did you work with on the record?
‘Baby Dream Your Dream’ combines my two loves: jazz and musical theatre. Some of my favourite feedback about the album is that we’ve captured these musical theatre songs in a jazz style without losing their theatricality or their story.
As well as some musical theatre songs that are now jazz standards, I also chose some more contemporary musical theatre tunes that are rarely or have never been adapted for the genre before.
It came about following years of singing on records for bands. Instead, I wanted to do a solo record that helped give me clarity on who I am as an artist.
I wanted an album relevant to all elements of my career to show how I represent myself."
I collaborated with arranger James Spilling on five of the tracks but for the rest of the album, the musicians I had on board helped realise my vision in the studio. Pianist - Neil Angilley, drummer - Steve Taylor, bassist - Simon Read, trumpeter - Ed Benstead and Chris Fry on trombone. They are all incredible.
You're also in ‘Knights of the Rose’ - could you talk about this, how it came about and how the project is going?
Like all musical theatre jobs I had an audition and a recall and a final and thankfully, this time, they gave me the role. (You have to be used to rejection in musical theatre!) I was so excited about this project as it’s a brand new show so I got to create the role of Princess Hannah and the rehearsal room felt like a very creative space.
The rest of the cast are very talented and great people to work with so it’s a joy to go to work everyday. I also get to sing some corkers of songs like ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ by Bonnie Tyler and Meatloaf’s ‘Is Nothing Sacred Anymore?’. Now we’re into the run, the challenge is to keep it fresh and alive for every performance.
You obviously teach as a vocals tutor at ICMP - could you talk a little about your experiences with us here?
I have had the pleasure of taking Live Performance Workshop (LPW), and LPW prep classes as well as technique, sight reading and the evening short courses.
ICMP is a great place to work. I feel the students have an incredible amount of resources accessible to them and a wealth of wisdom at their disposal. I love witnessing the students’ progress and when you unlock something or you see the eureka moment it’s very rewarding."
How does teaching feed into your music? What have you learned from your time with us?
Teaching is a great way of staying on top of your craft. Often when teaching something to a student, you realise what you’re saying actually applies to you as well!
I see myself in lots of the students and I realise it’s important in your pursuit to get it right, to forgive yourself when you know you haven’t cracked it yet so you don’t get stuck on your failure. A lot of your success depends on your attitude to learn.
What's the best piece of advice you've heard about music and the industry?
Don’t be late and it’s not fair. Bring water and a pencil.
What would you advise anyone looking to get into musical theatre?
Don’t be late and it’s not fair! Also, you need to keep on top your craft and continue to develop your skills.
You have to be robust at dealing with rejection because you will get a lot of it no matter how talented and gorgeous you are."
It’s assumed that you are a good singer and can act it’s just whether you bring into the room what the director has for the vision of that role.
Also at the beginning of your career don’t be too picky, you will learn from any acting job. Most importantly you need to learn how to stay sane when you’re not in a job as well as how to survive financially. I know Olivier award winners who still have to have a side hustle.
What does the future have in store for you and your music?
I’m not sure yet. I’ll be continuing to promote and gig the new album and I’m seeing where it will take me! I’ve got some concerts with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and some other cool concerts lined up in the autumn but other than that I’m looking forward to seeing what comes in!
Visit katiebirtill.com for more. Catch Katie in 'The Knights of the Rose' until Sunday 27th August.
Listen to 'Baby, Dream Your Dream' .
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