Made in Lora

Lora Szafran is an eminent Polish vocalist associated with jazz, which she likes and values highly, yet she will sing whatever pleases her and has good lyrics, as that is also of utmost importance to her in music. Lora has collaborated with a number of jazz ensembles and now her songs are written by much-talented artists. Her album where she takes on Leonard Cohen’s songs brought her much success and was certified gold. She was to be a lawyer yet - luckily for music - she has never become one.

photo by Jerzy Sawicz

An interview with Lora Szafran, a great jazz singer. 

Ireneusz Białek: There is lots of interviews with you concerning your individual records and much fewer about your concerts yet it is just in concert that Lora Szafran makes the biggest impression as she gives her all both to the music and the audience.

Lora Szafran: Yes, I prefer concerts to records. While I am recording, I try my best to make sure that is 100 per cent, i.e. no retakes, edits, polishing, so the way it sounds live. The human voice, however, that instrument of mine is imperfect and sometimes requires rework. Yet I am happiest when I am not bound by the requirement of sterility imposed by the record. Best are somehow those numbers which I record as first, and then fatigue with the material sets in.

I. B.: The arrangements on your albums seem to highlight the impression you sing as if during a live concert.

L. Sz.: Possibly, yet above all I like singing live. There are different emotions at play when you sing something from A to Z and different when you interrupt and correct things. And in concert, I simply go out there naturally and sing the best I can obviously, there are many factors influencing my performance – the mood I am in, the weather, the musicians and the audience. This is what fascinates me in music and concerts most: each time I can experience things anew depending on the conditions around me and my feelings too.

I. B.: Being in tune with the musicians must surely be an important factor?

L. Sz.: Exactly, particularly in jazz and being in tune is always important to me, it inspires me a lot. Although I have not been singing pure jazz for years now, harmonies, phrasing in jazz standards is something I always try to bring into my music and sensitivity.

I. B.: The bond you entertain with your musicians and your audience is well audible and visible during your concerts.

L. Sz.:  I like my musicians and though they are often much younger than me, we enjoy good relations  which helps when playing live. Still, I frequently go on stage very nervous, overwhelmed by stage fright and I need to hear first phrases and I then know whether we are in tune. Acoustics is also very important. And I always talk to the audience as I want to have an emotional bond with them, it really matters to me.

I. B.: I have been to hundreds of various concerts and building such a bond with the audience is not that frequent at all.

L. Sz.: Artists may think that what they convey by music is enough and they are reluctant to provide some input between the lines, yet I need it although when I remember my first concert in Opole, well, I was so ashamed that I positioned myself with the back turned to the audience. However, I later watched several live concerts  by jazz stars and I noticed how they had good fun with the audience in those clubs, how they told stores and how it went well with the music. And so I started to do the same.

I. B.: Yet Lora Szafran’s signature feature is not just the bond with the audience but also with the musicians, already mentioned, ambience, acoustics, all that makes a unique trademark-like whole – made in Lora.

L. Sz.: (Laughing). Repertoire, those harmonies, phrasing and lyrics, because for years now  it has been very important to me what I sing about, must somehow support that trademark, because it just must be mine. If I sing Cohen, it must be my Cohen. I must be sure what I want this piece to be, what I want to convey with it, how I express myself through it.

I. B.: It is good to have such a trademark feature in times when physical carriers of music disappear and the concert becomes a more important way to transfer culture.

L. Sz.: Indeed, to record an album was a great honour once, giving the artists an opportunity to present their craft further afield, and now anyone can record and release an album, and so it has somehow become an add-on to live concerts. Yet I am always happy when I can sell a record after the gig, sign it for the audience, talk to them on the occasion. In terms of numbers, much fewer records are sold now than before.

I. B.: It is regrettable, no?

L. Sz.: Maybe it is, yet on the other hand more people come to concerts. Even in small places people do come now to listen to good music performed live, which is cool, although obviously there are better and worse concerts.

I. B.: It is interesting that music that can be after all classified as niche is so much popular outside the big towns.

L. Sz.: I would rather not call these pieces niche, jazz or auteur music but rather let them be simply associated with me. Recently in a cafe in Sopot a twenty-year-old girl asked me about a number from my album “Before Sunrise” and that was interesting and uplifting for me to see someone at that age enjoying my songs.

I. B.: We are coming back to your trademark made in Lora (smiling).

L. Sz.: I try not to pretend being someone else and be myself, not to tell inflated stories about my private life, stick to expressing myself through music and  the good vibes with the audience you call my trademark.

I. B.: That trademark is also linked to your gold certification for The Secrets of Life by Leonard Cohen, a record full of highly original takes on his songs.

L. Sz.: This came as a surprise as first reviews were like “how can you possibly something like that to Cohen’s songs”. Some just think that they must be sung in their original interpretations, yet I decided to do my own thing the way I felt it and indeed managed to achieve commercial success with that record. The work was rather huge, though, we were selecting the songs for long, not all were fit to be sung by a woman. I wanted the songs to be Cohen’s evergreens and the entire preparation for the album took over six months. Cohen himself made those songs available on his website for a time, so maybe he liked them (laughing).

I. B.: These are masterly interpretations and they sound great in concert. Let me thank you for the interview and wish you further interesting explorations under the trademark of made in Lora.

L. Sz.: Thank you very much.


See a fragment of a concert of Lora Szafran given during the event "To Touch the Culture 2016" on Collegium Maius courtyard.