An Interview with Champian Fulton

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CHAMPIAN FULTON - Lyrics, Playlists & Videos | Shazam

Over the last several years, I’ve really dug into Jazz. I grew up on Oldies and Classic Rock, and over time, I had investigated just about every corner of the genre. Once I started collecting records again, things changed. The natural side effect of collecting records is more records. Eventually, you start moving into and through other genres previously unknown. For me, that was Jazz.

I started in the obvious places. Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. Once I had absorbed that, I dove into all the side men that ever played with them, and then all the side men who had played with the previously mentioned side men. I could go on, but I digress. The point being that I fell down the proverbial rabbit hole- and still haven’t hit the bottom. The thing about Jazz is it’s endless. Soon, I began diving into labels: CTI, Impulse!, Atlantic, Prestige, Verve, Pablo, Black Lion and more. After that, I began to really dig into Modal, Hard Bop, Free Jazz, Fusion and once I had done that, I basically just started buying albums that looked cool, because maybe the best part of being a Jazz fan is the instinct you develop. What’s better than a blind buy turned gem?

All told, my Jazz collection is pretty awesome at this point, but I know there’s a long way to go. I’ve still got a long road of discovery ahead. The most recent sign marker I’ve hit is the modern age. There is a entire generation of amazing Jazz musicians out there today who are making fantastic new and inspired music not only in the vein of their influences, but something entirely fresh and truly invigorating to the long standing canon of Jazz. One of those artists is pianist and vocalist, Champian Fulton.

If you haven’t guessed, I’ve got Champian Fulton “in the house” today. I’d like to start by saying that you should most definitely check out her music. With influences like Charlie Parker and Dinah Washington, you simply can’t go wrong. That said, Champian is not a clone of her predecessors, no; her music is fresh, inspired and vibrant. I could say more, but it won’t do it any better justice and so I would say that you simply need to hear it. If you’re interested in learning more about Champian Fulton and her music, you can head over to her website here. Folks, this is a solid interview. Jazzheads will dig it. Cheers.

Andrew:
Champian, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Champian:
Yes, 2020 has certainly not been what I expected! Normally I spend a lot of time touring, but this year I have been home almost exclusively. I began my online concert series, Live from Lockdown, at the end of March. I broadcast from my living room every Sunday at 5 PM Eastern Time and we have been going solid for more than 35 weeks. It has been wonderful to be able to connect with people virtually once a week!

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. How did you get into music? What was the gateway so to speak?

Champian:
My father, Stephen Fulton, plays trumpet and flugelhorn, and when I was a little girl, I thought it looked like so much fun. He was always rehearsing and practicing and playing gigs and listening to records, and I thought, that is what I want to do! I knew I wanted to be a Jazz musician from a very early age and I began working and performing as a professional at age 12.

Andrew:
As an artist and pianist, who were some of your earliest and more important influences?

Champian:
First of all, as a newborn baby, my parents only played Charlie Parker’s album Bird with Strings. On repeat. For a long time. They thought it was the most beautiful music in the world and they wanted me to know that before anything else. So naturally I am a huge Charlie Parker fan. Later, when I began picking out CDs and records, I fell in love with Dinah Washington, Count Basie (especially the Decca recordings), Red Garland and Wynton Kelly.

Champian Fulton on Twitter: "Such a blast DJing on @WKCRjazz tonight. NBD  but Lou Donaldson listened & he said I did a good job. #birdlives  🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼… https://t.co/aLrU5xKxdx"

Andrew:
You’ve had the opportunity to play with some amazing musicians such as Jimmy Cobb, Lou Donaldson and Scott Hamilton. What was it like sharing the stage with them?

Champian:
It is always amazing to share the stage with your heroes. There is no better comper in the world than Jimmy Cobb and getting to play with him and accompany Frank Wess on tenor was really amazing. I will always remember every moment of that! I first performed with Lou Donaldson at the Village Vanguard and I didn’t sleep for DAYS after that because I was so excited. Meeting Scott Hamilton in 2017 on tour was really so great because not only did I love his playing, we really became good friends. I would say, when you get to play with people whose music you love and admire, it’s like reconnecting with an old friend.

Andrew:
As a band leader, you’ve consistently released new music since 2007, and you’ve got a dozen albums under your belt. How do you stay inspired?

Champian:
I love making records. I think it’s important to have a project (recording project or performance project) to work on; that keeps me focused and motivated to practice. I also love releasing new music because it’s a fun way to share things with your listeners. This year, 2020, I hadn’t expected to record anything because the year really threw me for a loop, but in November I recorded 2 new projects: a duo album with Stephen Fulton and also a trio album with my Scandinavian Trio. It was great to have the opportunity to make these records and I was glad to feel inspired.

Andrew:
You’ve got a new album out, ​Birdsong.​ Tell us more about the album. What was the genesis of the material? Where can we get the album?

Champian:
Birdsong is a celebration of Charlie Parker’s Centennial; Bird would have been 100 in August 2020. Since he is one of my biggest musical influences, I have always wanted to make a record for him, and I felt his centennial was the perfect time. The album features my longstanding working band: Fukushi Tainaka on drums, Hide Tanaka on bass, and Stephen Fulton on flugelhorn. We have been working together consistently since 2004. We also wanted to have a special guest on this album and when I mentioned the project to my friend Scott Hamilton (tenor sax), it seemed like the perfect musical match. You can find the album on all digital streaming services, and autographed copies on champian.net.

Jazz Singer Champian Fulton At The Palace - The Morning Call

Andrew:
Creatively, what’s changed for you compared to your early days? Are you a better player now than ever?

Champian:
Haha, yes I hope so. I hope I continue to evolve and get better always. I think my artistic vision has been consistent since I began as a musician, but I am always striving to get better at executing that vision.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the state of music in general a bit. In your opinion, what’s the state of the music industry these days? What are some things that need to change?

Champian:
Well, this a tough question for 2020 because the state of the industry is…gone? Disappearing? Missing? Many venues are closed right now, temporarily or permanently, and that has been devastating to the entire industry: musicians, agents, promoters, techs, staff, etc are out of work. I hope we can get back to performing and touring soon. In a more general sense, I think the digital world helps and hurts the music industry. Being able to control your own narrative via social media is so good for so many artists, and I am thankful for that, but at the same time, I see how digital streaming sites like Spotify devalue the recorded music we release and sell, and that is problematic. Not only because the pay is low, but because it removes the listener from the album in multiple ways: there’s no physical product to connect with, important details like musicians are left out of liner notes, and if your music is in a playlist, you get good spins, but people don’t even know anything about the music they’re streaming. So I think we have to find a way to combat those issues and make music personal again. I think collecting physical CDs and vinyl definitely connects the listener with the artist in a more tangible way. I love my music collection!

Andrew:
In the world we live in today, we are more or less dominated by the never-ending barrage of social media. How has this affected music as an artform? Is an artist’s ability to get their music out there hindered by all this, or helped?

Champian:
Well, as I said, I think the ability to control your own narrative via social media is good for a lot of artists. I love being able to connect with people on FB, Insta, Twitter, etc. I can say what I want directly, and reach people that way. But that means an artist has to be a publicist, a marketer, an ad agency, and more, all at the same time. That’s quite difficult. It also means there is a barrage of music on social media and it can be hard for people to find the music they will really love, and similarly hard for artists to find their right audience. But I appreciate the challenges of the situation and I think in the end it will be beneficial, in a general sense.

Jazz Pianist & Vocalist Champian Fulton

Andrew:
Who are a few artists, past or present that mean a lot to you?

Champian:
Dinah Washington is a constant inspiration. Her music is almost like a Rorshach test – whatever you’re feeling will be reflected back to you by the sound of her voice. No matter what’s on your mind, Dinah’s music will bring it to the forefront. Because of that, I feel almost like I know her personally, although we never met. I listen to her, hear her voice, and she knows me, so I must know her too! I think she is the only artist I really feel this way about.

Andrew:
Aside from music, what else are you most passionate about and why? How do your other passions inform and inspire your music?

Champian:
I live and breathe Jazz, alllll day, every day! I also really love reading, and I spend a lot of time not only reading but visiting bookstores and growing my ever-increasing library. Traveling is a big part of what makes me love being a Jazz musician – I really love touring so I can visit places and meet new people, seeing the world. I have performed in more than 20 countries and I feel that traveling and moving keeps me inspired. One of my favorite things to do on tour is just walk around – I love long walks in the city or the country – so you can really get the feel of the place you’re visiting.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Champian:
I really miss cassettes to be honest. I loved tapes. They never skipped and something about the fast-forwarding and rewinding made me feel really connected to the music. I think transcribing from tape is the best. I still have all my tapes, but I don’t have a tape player anymore. I have a lot of CDs and still play them at home and in the car. My vinyl collection of about 4,000 records resides in Oklahoma, where I am from. I just don’t have the space in New York to store them! I can’t get rid of the LPs because some of them were never released on CD or digitally, and to be honest, LPs are just beautiful. I love to shop for music at independent record stores when I am on the road. I just got back from Copenhagen where they have one of the best record stores left in the world: JazzCup. I always bring home a lot of CDs from there! I won’t lie though, I use Spotify almost every day because it’s easy, especially on the road.

Andrew:
What’s next for you once COVID-19 calms down?

Champian:
Well, I will have 2 records being released in 2021 and also I hope to get back on the road and back to touring! I also recently became a Yamaha Artist, but because of Covid-19, I haven’t been able to check out the Yamaha Artist Studio in Manhattan yet. I am really hoping to be able to perform there and do some recordings from there in the next year.

Andrew:
Last question. In a world that’s been so confined by the constraints of big business and the alienation caused due to the internet age, how do artists find their footing these days? What advice would you have for younger artists?

Champian:
Being a musician is a noble profession and a good way to spend your life! But be sure you are in it for the right reasons: to connect with your fellow humans and to share some good feelings. If you’re in it for money or adulation, I think you will find yourself always frustrated and never satisfied. Being a musician requires a lot of discipline and is a big commitment every day, a commitment to practice even when you don’t feel like it, to persevere even when faced with failure, and to stay motivated and inspired. Also, learn some basic business skills like how to negotiate and budget money!

Jonathan's Pick of the Week: Champian Fulton | New Standards | WNYC

Interested in sampling the music of Champian Fulton? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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