Zara McFarlane’s five favourite female jazz artists

MOBO- and Jazz FM-awarded, Zara McFarlane is one of Britain’s leading jazz vocalists, combining the rhythms and consciousness of her Jamaican descent with a soulful jazz foundation to potent affect. With two Brownswood albums to her name in the eight years since her debut, her work has had a direct impact on many of London’s young jazzers shining bright today. Not short of influences and admiration herself, she picks out five favourite female jazz artists.

Zara plays Ealing Jazz Festival (28th July), alongside Tony Allen, Vels Trio, Gwyneth Herbert, Nerija and Armed KwaLu.

Who were some of the female jazz artists you grew up listening too?

Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone are big influences to me. I remember hearing Nina Simone’s voice in a movie and going out of my way to find out who it was. I remember, I thought the voice was a male voice at the time! I had of course heard the likes of Billie Holiday and Ella. 

Can you pinpoint one in particular who inspired you to pursue music seriously?

Nina Simone is such a powerhouse. I’m inspired by her uniqueness and how she channels life experience through her music, which is always something I strive towards. 

Have you been fortunate enough to meet any of the above as your career has developed?

Unfortunately not…maybe in my next life!

If you could pick one to duet with, who would it be and why?

I feel that Ella is the Queen of Duets. She is a such a legend and would love learn directly from her. 

Who are some young jazz artists you’re particularly excited about at the moment?

There are so many it’s difficult to say, can I say all of them?! I’m enjoying Cassie Kinoshi’s SEED Ensemble and Kokoroko. Moses Boyd, who produced my Arise album, is such a wonderful talent building an incredible career!

Sarah Vaughan – Mean To Me

This song is the epitome of a stunning jazz voice, which is why I love it so much! I’m inspired by the lyrics that really paint a picture of love story and is filled with emotion and soul.  

Nina Simone – Love Me Or Leave Me

Everything Nina Simone stands for reflects what I admire and aim for as an artist. She’s bold and pushes boundaries in her sound, going against the status quo, which I think is so admirable.

Nubya Garcia – Lost Kingdoms

Had the good fortune of seeing this incredible artist play quite a few times now. This track in particular feels like one that will be played in 20 years time and more, defining an important time for young musicians in jazz. 

Emma-Jean Thackray – Ley Lines

This track also inspires a new sound in jazz with a great combination of production and live instruments. Emma is such a talent and this really inspires me. 

Charlotte Dos Santos – Red Clay

A classic jazz track cover reimagined and given a completely different spin. I really enjoy her soulful voice and ethereal composition. 

Zara plays Ealing Jazz Festival (28th July), alongside Tony Allen, Vels Trio, Gwyneth Herbert, Nerija and Armed KwaLu.

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