Ariel Pocock made a memorable debut in 2015 with the release of her album Touchstone, which offered a mix of original compositions, arrangements and reinventions of jazz standards. JazzTimes described it as “an album of equals, of profound mutual respect, of generously shared spotlights” between Pocock, her band and the musicians she draws inspiration from, like Randy Newman and Thelonious Monk. And this artist certainly caught our attention: Pocock was one of the musicians featured in “The Fierce Young Women of Jazz,” a best-of article for this year.
But while Touchstone is a significant creative achievement in itself, it also functions as a highly decorated road sign pointing musical travelers in the direction of even more artistry. For Pocock, it whetted her appetite for the more varied career she seems to have her eye on: one that includes live performance, touring, teaching and regular collaboration with other new and exciting artists.
During a recent visit to the DePauw School of Music, Pocock spoke with Mark Rabideau about her work on the album as well as the vision she has for her career.
On the importance of making your first album …
I think that the way the world is right now, it’s pretty integral to have an album. You can try to book yourself with clips or with an EP, or with videos, but I’ve found that most major festivals and clubs were really adamant that I have a whole album. So once I had Touchstone out, it made it a lot easier to get work. You know, people say it’s a really fancy business card when you have an album. That’s how I think of it. It’s a way for people to get a sense of you on a broader spectrum instead of just one clip or one quote.
On pushing yourself to collaborate with the best …
I was really lucky. I got to work with some of my heroes for [my album]. I got to work with Larry Grenadier playing bass, Eric Harland on drums, Seamus Blake on saxophone and Julian Lage on guitar.
… One of the things that I was concerned about was that it would sound like the band was pulling me along and that they were doing me a favor by playing with me. So that was a big concern going to the studio. I had all these weird insecurities. But the moment I stepped in, it felt super easy to play with them, the way they were generous both personally with their time and musically. I felt like all of our playing elevated each other rather than, “oh these guys are playing with this kid,” you know? So it was incredible. And I felt a real sense of teamwork to make the music come alive, which was fun for me.
On being a female jazz artist…
When I was younger, I did feel a bit resentful of organizations and groups that highlighted [women] – “Oh, look it’s weird that these women are playing jazz.” That’s how I thought of it back then – things like women-in-jazz festivals or all-female bands or all-female albums or whatever it may be. You know, you’d never have a men-in-jazz festival – because that’s most jazz festivals!
So … it just annoyed me because I thought, well, why should I have this weird label? I just want to be a musician. But then as I got older, and I started to do more teaching and working at camps where I was around younger kids, I did see this bizarre disparity in so many boys coming in to play instruments – and the girls would either be singers, or there would be one girl, and she’d be the only instrumentalist in this sea of teenage boys. It’s like, why is this? Why is this happening? So I don’t know why it is, but when I started to see more young girls coming up and just being surrounded by a roomful of guys and feeling isolated, and I did start to have conversations with some of these students – I can think of one girl in particular, this last summer, where I taught at a camp. [She was a] trumpet player, and she was great. She played the socks off of everybody. And we did talk about it. “Have you always been the only girl in the band?” And she said, “Yeah, but you know, I’m glad you’re here.” I said, “Ah, OK.” So, maybe I do need to pay more attention to this type of thing. … It’s important to be a presence.
The above excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.
To learn more about Ariel Pocock or to buy Touchstone, you can visit her website here.