From bebop to swing to Brazilian bossa nova, Michele Faber knows all the tunes. A professional jazz pianist from the US, Faber played professionally in Los Angeles for 25 years before making her move to Barcelona five years ago. While Faber’s life in Catalunya is slower-paced than it was in LA, she still keeps busy playing weekly with the Michele Faber Trio and with Brazilian Magic, a group collaboration with guitarist Judinho Cruz and others.
Faber recorded Mar Vista Sessions in 1999, and has contributed to a number of other albums. She plans to record again soon, but this time the songs will be all her own, many of them reflective of her time in Barcelona. Earlier this year, she gave a solo concert featuring original compositions at Barcelona’s Ateneu. She has no plans to return to southern California, having found inspiration, appreciation and a new home here.
How did you start playing jazz?
I grew up playing classical piano, so I had a solid musical base. When I went to college, I developed an interest in learning to play jazz. Really, I had no idea how a person learned jazz and it seemed intimidating. In San Francisco I met a very talented jazz musician and asked him to teach me. He did, as did others. Eventually I started playing professionally.
I t’s uncommon for women to play jazz, outside of singing. What has been your experience as ‘the exception to the rule’?
When I was first starting out, some musicians would give me a hard time. They would look at me and assume that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the group, sometimes selecting little-known tunes in an attempt to slip me up. This happened to me a couple of times, when I was clueless to what I was being asked to play. In response, I made an effort to learn every ballad I came across. I memorised them. This way, I was always prepared no matter who I was playing with, or how obscure the song. In the long run, this additional pressure has made me a better, more marketable musician, in that my repertoire is vast.
I wanted a change and had a friend in Barcelona. Coming from car-centred California, I wanted to be in a city where I wasn’t driving from gig to gig, stuck in traffic and caught up in the big car, big house, big money mind-set that seems so prevalent in Los Angeles. Living in central Barcelona, I can walk to work. Also, I like the element of interaction here. I step out of my flat and I’m in the middle of people talking, singing, moving and doing things. This is such a contrast to LA where people go from car to house, and try to interact as little as possible. Plus, Barcelona is a pretty city.
What’s the main difference between playing in Los Angeles and Barcelona?
Appreciation. In the United States people treat jazz like it’s nothing but background noise. They talk through your songs and are too cool to clap. Here, on the other hand, people are excited about the music and see it as an important event. In Barcelona, people pay attention when I’m playing, which is gratifying and polite.
Where can you be heard?
Every Tuesday at Ferrum restaurant and also weekly at Arrel del Born. I also perform occasionally at jazz festivals and other special concerts around town.