• 2005-02-21

    Interview: Cassandra Wilson (simulation from video


    Gang Wu, Jour 607, due October 12, 2004
    When Cassandra sits in front of you, she does not look like a star with a dozen albums shining behind, including a Grammy award winner. It is not that she becomes plain without commercial package of light and dress, it is her modesty that draws you close. You see her beauty in her intelligent eyes during a chat.
    “I’m concerned about the health of Jazz today,” she says. “It has become more and more institutional, cut off from the African American community where the music originated.”
    She is also worried about the influence from downtown, and even European countries where Jazz is getting more popular. The influence seems unavoidable though many people are striving to keep its connection to the black community, she says. She is one of those people.
    In 1960s when every one was listening to R&B, Cassandra sang a jazz song in the school’s talent show, which gave the boys and girls a surprise. Actually she has been singing and performing since she sang at her brother’s kindergarten graduation at the age of five.
    “As a woman from the south, I heard all kinds of music, including blues, Jazz, rock & Roll, and R & B,” Cassandra says. “It’s difficult to decide which kind of music is more legitimate.”
    She chose Jazz. She formed a musical group with two young men in her last years in high school. She performed late night singing at clubs of her home town Jackson, Mississippi.
    After obtaining a degree from Jackson State University in mass communication and then a brief assistantship at a television station in New Orleans, she moved to New York in 1982.
    Initially she sang with Steve Coleman’s New Air group. Then she also sang on other innovative projects for other singers. By 1993 she had sung on ten albums produced by JMT records with a wide variety of New York musicians.
    Cassandra’s emotional range and tone variations impressed many critics, audiences and fellow musicians. Her music has often been compared to artists like Betty Carter, Nina Simone, and Shirley Horn, whom she also considers to be some of her musical influences.
    In her 12th CD Travel in Miles, she paid attribute to Miles Davis, another musician who gave her great influences.
    She says she likes Miles’ music, because he “has the ability to cope with all kinds of music, and inspire personal vision.”
    Sometimes she believes this album is a chance for her to explore herself, her story, as well as the story she and Miles have in common.
    “Miles is a musician who is always reaching forward while keeping his fundamental sound,” Cassandra says. So is she. She has long been well-known for innovating with her Jazz music.
    “I’m interested in crossing boundaries,” she explains. “to be able to operate in several worlds at once is the result of being open minded, whether in music or some other part of experience.”