© Natalia Alonso
© Natalia Alonso

Clarinetist, singer and composer Carola Ortiz is… eclectic: quirky jazz-inflected pop covers in her Minimal Hits duo, Balkan-influenced performances with Moussakis, harmonising with Iberian percussion orchestra Coetus, original compositions with various incarnations of AxisOrca, singing jazz standards with the Jp Balcazar Trio, and numerous other ‘outlets’… the common thread seems to be a process of restless exploration and incorporation into a highly personal musical vision.

1. What was your first musical instrument, and what did it mean to you?
Not that long ago my nanny told me that the first time she ever saw me I was about 2 years old and I was singing the melody and lyrics of “El Virolai” (a Catholic song about the Virgin of Montserrat) while sitting in my child’s basin! And as you see in the photo, my Father took it a long time ago, I am sitting in the c-bout of his huge double bass!IMG_20150924_182506 (1) These were my two first instruments, and also my lovely tiny xylophone. Apparently I was meant to be a singer and have several duos with double bass players, the first ever with my father and the latest with Jp Balcázar who actually plays a xylophone in our Minimal Hits set list! I just right now realized that synchronicity!

2. Who is the most inspiring person you’ve collaborated with, and why?
Well, I guess again my father. I have been listening him playing the bass and singing ‘scat’ solos since I have had memory. He is a multiple and extremely creative artist, apart from being an active jazz musician, he is also an amazing abstract painter, drawer (he can make a photo-like portrait with a pencil), a photographer (a legacy from my grandfather who made his living from photography) and a scientist too. He has taught himself all of these arts. He also doesn’t like to go to the doctor and he tries to heal himself with natural remedies, healthy food and attending to Nature. He is also an extremely sensitive person, and that sometimes can make him a bit depressive too… Well, you can imagine that to have a father like that is something inspiring! We are really similar in a lot of aspects. I think he really inspired and encouraged me to trust in my intuition, with music and life (also my amazing Mum!). Probably, that’s why I feel confident with different types of musicians, scenes, cultures, languages, and I’m curious about several artistic expressions too… One funny thing that I strongly remember is that my father told me when I was 18 and said that I wanted to become a professional musician, that I had to study hard, be the best and play with amazing musicians and bands… that gave me a little pressure, but I’ve always enjoyed studying music very hard, and nowadays, I’m happy with my professional career. I also don’t like regular doctors and I try to heal myself, and sometimes even my friends, with my intuition, natural remedies, movement… I eat very healthy food and practice yoga, meditation and several holistic therapies.

3. What’s the starting point for a composition? (assuming you have one!)
People I love, dreams, heartbreaks, the water, a landscape, the moon, the night, the flowers and their smell, to travel, shamanic experiences, Björk, Joni Mitchell, live concerts, NY City, all the groups I’m in and the amazing musicians and people I’ve played with… The best songs come when I’m walking relaxed, late at night, or in the shower, melodies that just come out very spontaneously. I think I channel them, and then I don’t have the feeling that they are mine.

4. What’s the balance of preparation vs. improvisation for the average live set or recording?
It totally depends on the band. In some bands like Coetus, my role is completely prepared and stipulated by the fact I’m doing vocal harmonies most of the time. In some other bands there is more place for improvisation or even total improvisation. But my preference is when I’m in the middle, singing my own ‘interpretation’ of a song and playing a melodic or abstract solo on the clarinet, then every time, with the same song, the difference is very subtle and it depends on the emotion you connect with in that particular moment, then it surprises me and that’s when it gives me goosebumps!

5. You spent some time in New York recently – what do you think of the music scene there compared to Barcelona?
I always want to make Barcelona more NY when I come back. Last time my wish was to create a 3-day festival in Barcelona with live bands, dance, live painting, art, video, and lots of interaction between them! A festival of alternative, underground and multidisciplinary art. But I found a lot of obstacles that made it pretty difficult to be as I imagined… I had this idea because a week before, when I was in NYC at the beginning of 2015, with my friend Naomi Jean we organized two shows with several amazing artists. We had Hitomi Nozawa, a Japanese dancer; John King, a guitar and viola improviser who worked 10 years with John Cage; Albert Marquès, a Catalan pianist from the NY jazz scene; Brandon Lewis, an amazing drummer doing trip-hop-world-electronic grooves. The second night we also had Kenny Woellesen, John Zorn’s percussionist; Takuya Makamura and Doug Wieselman, two of Coco Rosie’s arrangers, and even Yacouba Sissoko, a Malian griot kora player, among others. All of them at the same spot the same night!!! Those were great nights! That was in Spectrum and Nublu, both places in the Lower East Side.

L-R: Albert Marquès, Carola Ortiz, Naomi Jean, Brandon Lewis, Hitomi Nazawa, John King.
L-R: Albert Marquès, Carola Ortiz, Naomi Jean, Brandon Lewis, Hitomi Nazawa, John King.

In NY a lot of artists, no matter their career or fame, want to make art and music for the fun of experimenting, make new connections and be inspired, they are really interested on who you are and what is your sound, no matter your experience. The city totally supports that in a natural way too, with space to create those meetings. For me that’s essential to developing a scene, a new way of making art, an artistic movement… I totally dig the Lower East Side artistic movement, I think there is the avant-garde, new jazz, the music of the future. In BCN that’s very different. There’s a lot of incredibly talented artists but the city doesn’t offer enough places to have those meetings… Also, even if it’s changing for the better, the musicians in general are divided into small groups of scenes, clubs or ‘styles’ of music and it is also very difficult to find programmers who are interested on those kind of boundary-crossing experiences. The only ones I know that support this are the LEM festival, and they are having a lot of problems just surviving nowadays, since the Spanish crisis started…

6. Where do you stand on the streaming/downloading/file-sharing/musicians-not-getting-paid-for-their-music debate?
It’s very, very sad, I think the likes of Spotify and free-download programs have caused a lot of problems for musicians and underestimate our work and all the hours we invest in mastering our sound. The only good point is that music is available anywhere to anyone. Also the TV and Spanish radio make a lot of noise against real artistic expression happening right now. People who see the media too much are too focused on politics and don’t think enough about the real importance of the culture. The first big change could be to have a TV channel like the French Arte, for example…

7. If money and time were no object, what would your next project be?
I would travel to India, Mexico and the Amazon. Also I would live in cities like NY, Paris, Buenos Aires, DF… traveling, playing and recording albums of experimental, jazz, pop, folk, electronic music… I would make a long surrealistic film with amazing photography, also acting and composing the soundtrack! I would like to be a therapist too. Maybe when I’m older… Dreams are not a problem for me, I have too many, but a few of them have already come true! And that works for everyone, we all should be more connected and focused on our dreams.

To finish, here’s a preview of one of Carola’s forthcoming projects, a duo with Edurne Arizu:

Minimal Hits “Ramona” is available on Spotify; albums by AxisOrca can be found on Bandcamp.