One of the most anticipated debut acts at this year’s Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival is Jacob Collier, a multi-instrumentalist based in London. When I reached out to SPAC, they could not stop heaping praises on Collier’s work. When I listen to his album (In My Room) and watched several of his videos on YouTube, I understood their enthusiasm – he is a remarkable talent. As SPAC notes, Collier is “one of the world’s most distinctive, inventive, and prodigious young musicians.” That sounds about right. His performance at the Festival is bound to be a weekend highlight. Collier was kind enough to answer a few questions for The Alt.
The Alt: Your music has been described in many ways – joyful, mind-blowing, genius, multi-dimensional. It’s clear that people (see also: writers like me) have a hard time putting labels on it. How would you describe your approach and your sound?
Jacob Collier: These days, I think the idea of labeling music is quite outdated – at least, I hope that’s where we’re heading! All my favorite music combines elements from all sorts of different kinds of music, and I definitely strive for that in my own work. I don’t think labeling helps the music move forward – it helps to sell it. If I were to put my own musical approach into words, I’d say that playfulness and joyfulness certainly play a major part in my creative process, but that underneath the sense of fun is a real attention to detail – I’m a completely unabashed perfectionist when it comes to creating things, but I always try to be careful to keep the humanity intact. I tend to use mostly acoustic sounds, not electronic ones (even if I do electronic things to those acoustic sounds) – so it’s a sort of orchestral, acoustic, multi-layered, joyous, broad-genred homage to being alive as Jacob, and a human being!
Alt: On a similar note, you are most often referred to as a Jazz musician / virtuoso (as well as composer, arranger, and so on), but there’s no doubt your music has a cross-over appeal. Do you consider yourself a Jazz artist first? If so, what does that mean to you?
Collier: I don’t think of myself as a Jazz musician, although much of my harmonic and rhythmic understanding comes from that school of thought. I don’t listen to a huge amount of Jazz, but it’s certainly omnipresent in my music as a language, along with lots of other kinds of music. In some ways, Jazz is the largest umbrella for multi-genre music to exist in – because Jazz itself is fed by lots of different things. Quincy Jones always says that Jazz is the classical music of pop; I definitely agree.
Alt: The depth and breadth of artists that are mentioned when someone writes about you or tries to describe your videos and your songs is amazing in itself – from pop names like Michael Jackson to jazz names like Herbie Hancock to minimalist composers like Steve Reich. Who are your influences?
Collier: All three of those are huge heroes of mine! I’d add Stevie Wonder, Bobby McFerrin, Take 6, Earth Wind & Fire, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Deerhoof, Dirty Projectors, D’Angelo, Beach Boys, Keith Jarrett, J Dilla, Sting, Benjamin Britten.
Alt: Building on that question, what was it (which artists, what music) that drove your curiosity at a young age? Given the background of your parents, I understand music has always been part of your life, but when did you know that this was what you wanted?
Collier: I never thought about it! I suppose I found myself creating before I could decide to or not to create, which made it simple. I fell in love with listening, playing, recording, singing, harmonizing music, all before I was 10. If there was one artist that summed up the inspiration for me, it would be Stevie. He’s the culmination of joy, skill, soul, humor, personality, chops, and humanity, and that captured me very early on.
Alt: What does your involvement in the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival mean to you? What are you looking forward to?
Collier: Festivals are always that wonderful mixture of sharing and discovering – aside from performing, I always love to wander around and see what catches my ear! It a real honor to be asked to join the fun.
Alt: Lastly, I’m wondering if you can talk a bit about the importance of YouTube as a platform for artists. Obviously, you have a breathtaking talent that is immediately heard and seen when you watch the videos or listen to In My Room, but it was YouTube that provided the initial exposure / ability to share that talent. How important were the videos to your launch? And how do you see yourself interacting with YouTube and your followers going forward?
Collier: YouTube is an immense platform. The wonderful thing about it is that everybody’s equal. You can do whatever you want, however you want, on your own terms. When I began to share content in my teens, I was very drawn to the freedom it gave me. I’ve never felt the need to wait for somebody to endorse the things I’m doing to get started, and YouTube was that calling card. It was also an enormous learning resource. As a mostly self-taught musician and thinker, I could listen to everything, and follow trains of musical thought, at all times. That’s truly wonderful, and it made me want to create.