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13 Feb 2009

Eltonites... Please get up, stand up and welcome the fabulous... NATALIE JACKSON!!!!!!!!!

This is the last chapter of the interviews of the three wonderful ladies series. It's the turn of Natalie Jackson. I still remember when Elton introduced the three backup singers then, in the World Tour (1988-1990) or "The One" Tour (1992). I think Elton felt comfortable with the three ladies and thought they were special, because he recreated with them as he never had done before. After every introduction, Elton kissed the girls. But when it was Natalie's turn, she was who kissed him, a big kiss in his face. Now, we have Natalie here. I am so proud she accepted the invitation too, because I always have been a fan of the three ladies. So, it's my pleasure to welcome the one and only, the fabulous... Natalie Jackson!!!!

Hello Natalie, many thanks for the acceptation. Let's start for the beginning... "Classical was the way to go" once you said. But you've got your commercial music start in jazz recordings, when you received a best jazz vocalist award. What do you remember of those beginnings, including when you starred as Madame Butterfly at thirteen years old?

I was born and raised in a classical music environment from my church and a jazz environment since my parents only had mostly jazz recordings around our house. I sang a hymn for my second grade teacher’s wedding. It was at that moment that my parents were told to put me in private lessons once I reached the age of ten years old. Any singing that I did at that time was strictly classical. I was told, that’s who I was and that is all that I could ever be. I accepted that and went on. Once I got to college, I got the nerve to try something different. Jazz was the easiest transition vocally, while I was still training in classical. I had also loved singing in private for my father and sometimes to myself. I wanted to be Sarah Vaughan or Al Jarreau at that time. I loved the challenge of scatting.

Great!!! You have been a backup singer for almost 20 years, singing with Anita Baker, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan, Jeffrey Osborne, Sting, Joe Cocker, Ofra Haza, Bette Midler or Diana Ross, to name only a few. Have you been privileged to meet those people, have you?

Yes, I met all of them accept Diana Ross, Ofra Haza, and Bette Midler. I toured with Anita Baker, Chaka, Jeffrey, and Natalie, so I know them more on a more personal basis, since we were on the road together. I met Joe Cocker when we sang on his record. He was in the studio. It was just he, Marlena, Mortonette, and myself. I did a live performance and a television show with Sting. I met and spoke with him during the rehearsals. Great guy. Team player/musician. Treated me as I should be treated, as a fellow musician. He’s cool. I believe it was Don Was who produced the Ofra Haza. WE only worked with him. Unfortunately Ofra was not there. Arif Mardin produced the Bette Midler record. She wasn’t there for that one either. It’s like that sometimes. Sometimes it’s just the producer and the musicians, not the artists.

Right. You defined as "a rock'n'roller at heart". Who were your inspirations and influences in rock 'n' roll?

I heard Joyce Kennedy, lead singer with “Mother’s Finest” from my boyfriend when I was in high school and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I would give anything to sound like that! She was my first inspiration. After that, I was a big fan of Def Leppard, Guns N Roses, Motley Crue. Then, when Seattle’s grunge hit, I found my voice in Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarten. So many. I was also a fan of Terence Trent D’arby and Radiohead.

Fantastic!! Could you tell me how you got involved with Elton and how you ended up recording and touring with him? Also, how do you value that experience from a personal point of view and was it a good starting point for your solo career? And have you been an Elton fan before?

I knew “Bennie And The Jets” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, and “Sad Songs” before I had worked with him. I love and respect his music. After having worked with him over the years, I truly respect his musicianship. He is so amazingly talented. My most valued experience with him was watching him write songs. I treasured his support of me as a songwriter. I knew that he appreciated my singing, but to have him say he liked my songs was “icing on the cake”. In saying that, it was a great boost for my confidence that I should attempt a solo career. I was at Jeffrey Osborne’s house singing on one of his recordings, telling him that I really wanted to do rock music. It was plain luck that the next day, a friend of Elton’s would come to Jeffrey’s house to drop off a song, and mention to Jeff that Elton was going back on the road and needed singers. Jeffrey Osborne suggested my name. I got the call to send in my picture, resume, and tape, in those days. Later, I was called to do a benefit concert with Elton. Little did we know that it was an audition. The rest is history.

Great history, really. "The One Tour", in my opinion one of best Elton's ever tours, found the band collaborating with the designer Gianni Versace, on the dresses, the lights, the set design... How Gianni Versace was to work with? Any anecdotes you could share with us?

He was as you would think, “fabulous”. I was a bit intimidated because I am not a model. But, he was cool. The only thing that was nuts was when he decided to suggest some dance moves. That was a bit over the top.

Oh! Years after, we could find you as Kudisan Kai, working with Pat Leonard as a producer, on Elton and Hans Zimmer's "Road To El Dorado" sessions, backing vocals on "16th century man" and on the fantastic should-had-to-be-a-single "The panic in me". On "Songs From The West Coast" session, again, you were backing vocals in "I want love" and "This train don't stop there anymore". How it was to reunite again with Elton and how it came up the idea?

That was shear luck. I had always worked as a session singer in Los Angeles and Patrick Leonard had always called me in to do many of his sessions. I think it was just ironic, I don’t know. You would have to ask Patrick about that one. I never saw Elton during the recording of those cd’s. I did see Davey Johnstone and the guys. I have always kept in contact with Davey from time to time, to check in on the family and to say hello. I think Davey may have suggested me to do “Songs From The West Coast” though. Nevertheless, it was great to stay “in touch” in some form with the band.

Sure!! Do you remember how many songs you'd been recording for those albums session? And some of the titles that didn't see the light?

It’s been too long. I’m afraid I don’t remember.

Thanks. And you decided to be Kudisan Kai. Which is the meaning of the name and why Natalie Jackson found an alter ego?

Two reasons. I wanted an African name that meant something to me. Second, I wanted to do my music that would be a separate career from my background singing career. Kudisan means “you are blessed, or holy, or lucky”. Kai means “you are loved”. The person that gave me these names told me that I am to always remember this.

I was so impressed to listen your beatiful 2004 EP "Confessions", a must to have for everyone who loves music, for those fantastic tracks, specially "Layla's Dream", my favourite. Which is the story behind this record?

Thank you. I appreciate that. “Layla’s Dream” is named after my daughter (Layla is her nickname). She used to have these dreams that she met God and spoke with God all the time. She used to tell me that she was an angel, sent from heaven. It used to unnerve me. I thought she was going to die, or that it was some sort of omen, forecasting such an event. Anyway, that is what influenced that song.

Oh!!! Your career has been an incredible journey from opera to alternative metal, really...

Yes, I know it sounds crazy. But, hey that is my life.

Hahaha amazing live, afterall... Mortonette told us that you teaches in the voice department at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Berklee College of Music was founded on the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music is through the study and practice of contemporary music. "The voice is one of the most flexible and expressive instruments" reads the statement of the College"...

Yes. I wanted to get off the road and raise my child in a reasonably normal environment. And yes, Berklee does express that one can sing any number of styles. It is one of the few places to truly acknowledge this.

You've got the pretty good idea to kicking out "Women In Rock" symposium at Berklee, as a annal event at the school. "African American women rockers do exist" you told. What do you wanted to offer with this cellebration and why do you think this is a higher mountain to climb?

Answer: African American female rockers have always existed from Betty Davis to Joyce Kennedy, to Tina Turner. I want to offer to women of color, the possibility of being whatever you want to be, and if it’s rock, there is support for you. It is a high mountain to climb. For whatever reason, this market of black female rockers rarely gets recognized. Usually, it’s a cool underground thing. I hope that the time has come that the world is ready to grasp this awesome group of women on a mainstream level. Now, cool underground things get brought into the foreground. We all have a story that needs to be told and deserves to be heard by the masses.

Ok! Could you advanced us some of your other future projects, please? Any other collaboration with Elton, in the future?

I am currently writing a new cd. Since the Women In Rock concert at Berklee, the collaboration with Cindy Blackman (former Lenny Kravitz’ drummer), Me’shell Ndegeocello, and Felicia Collins has inspired me to do some rock performances this summer. So, I’m working on booking that right now. As for EJ, I don’t know what’s happening with him these days. Since I’m in Massachusetts these days, I don’t get to see the guys as much.

Oh, could you tell me your five favourite Elton's songs in running order, for my AllSongsList? Thank you.

Wow. Ok. “Rocket Man” (I wouldn’t mind recording that one myself.), “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, “Bennie And The Jets”, “Blue Avenue” (from “The One”).

Finally, Would you want to add some observation or suggestion, or something you want to say to other eltonites?

We were given a first class ticket to see the world, meet celebrities, entertain thousands of people. It was a blast. I still speak with Marlena and Mortonette so, they already know I got nothing but love for them. I’m sure we will be doing something together in the near future.

That would be the greatest new we could receive. But hey, it results that Mortonette and Marlena said the same thing so... that's an idea it could be realized then!!! If someday that was so, I would like to be there, really. Just dreaming, excuse me. Well, I didn't want to finish without preparing you a surprise. Someone you know very well, was so kind to send me some words for you, so... I hope that make you smile. All the best, Kudisan and good luck with your projects too.

Marlon Saunders, Assistant Professor from the department's voice of the Berklee's Faculty: "I have had the pleasure of working with Kudison Kai in the voice department at Berklee College of Music. I am truly proud to call her friend and I am a big fan of her voice. Not only is Kudison an amazing musician, she is also an incredible spirit. Kudison and I both come out of the session singer world of the music industry so I certainly knew of her work with artist such as Elton John, Chaka Khan, Anita Baker and so many more. I am no longer teaching on the campus of Berklee but I smile when I think of the lunch dates Kudison and I would share over Indian food. The deep spiritual conversations followed by moments of complete hysteria because of something that one of us had to tell the other about what had happened during the week. Not to mention the numerous times one of us would knock on the other’s door when we were teaching just to get an “amen” about something we were explaining to a student. Word on campus was that Kudison makes the only gumbo and I just want to say Sistah Gyrl I still am waiting for my bowl!!! I could go on and on talking about Kudison Kai. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t experience something that makes me think of her. As a matter of fact I think I need to call her because it has been a while since Kudison and I have talked with no worry of the time, and it always seems as though we pick right up where we left off. So Kudison this is a little sumthin’ sumthin’ to let ya know that I love you very much and I miss that smile, that joy filled laugh and that warm sultry voice…not to mention them beautiful soprano high notes!!!!! Peace… Love… Marlon"

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