A question of taste: Meilana Gillard, jazz musician

Jazz saxophonist Meilana Gillard has been based in Belfast since 2012. She plays Phil Grimes in Waterford on Wednesday, June 7, as part of her album release tour, writes Des O’Driscoll.

Best recent book you’ve read: The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor.

Best recent film: Hacksaw Ridge.

Best recent gig you’ve seen: I recently saw the Robert Mitchell Trio and The Comet is Coming in the same week! I was spoiled to hear what were probably my two favourite gigs of the year so far and in such a short space. Both groups are trios which I’m partial to at the moment. The writing, interplay, energy were all at the top on both shows. Really original music that is expansive but still connected to its audience. I’m feel fortunate to have heard them.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately (new or old): I listen to so much different stuff and what ever is the ‘best’ to me is whatever best serves the moment. This weekend I was really digging Maggot Brain by Funkadelic. The cinematic quality to that album really appeals to me.

First ever piece of music or gig that really moved you: When I was nine years old, I heard Smokey Robinson at the Marion Popcorn Festival in Ohio. It was so inspiring! I was already playing piano by this stage but after hearing this, I was sure I wanted to be Smokey (before that it was Michael Jackson and Madonna).

The best gig or show you’ve ever seen: Lincoln Centre ‘Jazz Jamboree’ featuring The Dave Holland Quintet, Michael Brecker Quartet, and finishing with the Wynton Marsalis Septet featuring Joe Lovano. I thought I had won the lottery! Then Chris Potter sat in also with Wynton, Joe Lovano and co. I still get chills thinking about all that music. It made being on a really awkward date entirely worth it.

Tell us about your TV viewing: TV is killing it right now, there are just so many great shows. The following is just a selected ‘viewography’: Master of None, Fargo, The O.A., Game of Thrones, Trailer Park Boys, Line of Duty, House of Cards, Atlanta.

Radio listening and/or podcasts: I’ve just started checking out podcasts because my friend David Lyttle recently started a great one called Arts and Recreation. I listen to basically all the UK radio stations that play jazz, neo-soul, 70’s soul, urban contemporary and hip hop.

You’re curating your dream festival — which three artists are on the bill, living or dead? Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, Charles Mingus feat Thelonius Monk, and Lester Young.

Your best celebrity encounter: When I was seven or eight, I was with my dad in a hotel elevator and we both look over and there is Mike Tyson! This would have been like 1988/89 so he was in his prime physical shape and quite intimidating to look at. Unfortunately, both of us were too starstruck to say hello.

You can portal back to any period of human history or music event — where, when, and why? I would go to Toronto on May 15th, 1953 to hear ‘The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall’ featuring Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powelll, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. One of my favourite albums was recorded because of this show and to have been there in person to hear and feel that energy would be so powerful.

Unsung hero: I think educators of all types are greatly undervalued by society and should be supported, celebrated and loved a whole lot more. Educators sacrifice so much in order to better help their students. They give up their time, their own finances and put up with a lot of bureaucratic obstacles because they believe in their work and deeply care about their students.

You are queen for a day — what’s your first decree?

I would require streaming music services to pay artists and songwriters a fee that is actually sustainable instead of the current model which mostly only benefits the services themselves under the guise that the exposure from these services makes giving away music essentially for free somehow worth it.


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