Cristina Morrison is an actress, singer-songwriter and producer. Her mother is from Ecuador, and Cristina was born in Miami. In the acting world she is known for her role in Holiday (Feriado), Los Sangurimas and the latest one Nobody’s Watching (Nadie Nos Mira), in recordings, her album include I Love and Baronesa, and she also supports an educational program through the arts in the public schools of Isabela Island in the Galapagos.
Cristina joins us in this exclusive interview on her music journey, collaborations and experiences.
What drew you so deep into music, and how did you start off?
I started singing when I was very young and apparently I had said I was going to be a singer! Later, in my teens, I was inspired by two musicals and that’s when I really knew that I wanted to be a performer, to be onstage. I formally studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and now flow between music and acting. Actually, my latest film just opened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
Which artistes would you say are your leading musical influences?
When I was young, I listened to a lot of rock and then in my 20s started listening to jazz. I of course was inspired by Ella and Billy and Etta — but more contemporary artists I love are Jamie Cullum, Amy Winehouse, Cassandra Wilson and Diana Krall.
How did your band get formed? How did the musicians know each other?
I work closely with Misha Piatigorsky, who is my pianist, arranger, composer and producer since 2012. He’s my partner in crime at the moment. Basically, he writes the music and I write the lyrics and sing.
Then I have some close musicians who we work with but they come and go as they have their own projects too. So we have to be open always to work with different musicians and that’s what we do. I’m really a solo artist.
How have the connections between Latin music and jazz evolved for you over the years?
I think it comes from just being American but having a Latin family on my mother’s side and living between Ecuador and the United States has made it natural to merge different genres and do fusion of some sort.
It also comes from a certain moment when I feel I want to do something in particular or a certain concept I have in mind and so who you are comes into play.
You have a wide range of tracks! Some of the ones which really jump out are La Del Estribo, Stand Still, and Red Mafia & Jass. Can you tell us how these tracks were composed?
It’s a collaborative adventure between composers who write the music and myself writing the lyrics. We work together, sometimes I write the lyrics to their music and sometimes vice versa.
I write about cities, people I love, or about everyday situations and fun things, or about falling out of love, or about my actual dreams as I have a deep connection to them, like Spanish Dreamland Inquisition.
How was your overall experience at the Java Jazz Festival? What were some highlights?
Java Jazz is a wonderful festival in every way. Being in Asia, the people and musicians you meet, the warm audience, the organisation and attention, the venues, the hang, the parties: everything is awesome!
The greatest highlight to me this year was to have been invited to sing at the Festival’s Opening Gala Night and have shared the stage with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sergio Mendes and Arturo Sandoval. I was quite nervous but everything went well!
What are the challenges you face as a singer and artist?
Growing, challenging oneself with the music, finding opportunities, brewing new concepts, getting gigs, writing something worthwhile and making it into music and not letting yourself be beaten down by the downside of being an artist. Perseverance and passion is the game!
How do you blend different musical influences and genres in your performances?
My stage performance for the Baronesa album spins off the recording concept which was to bring in my actor side to the music in the way that I interpret the songs. And so little by little, I incorporated some props and then visuals and mapping into the show — so it’s a bit theatrical, more of a journey.
How would you describe your musical journey and how your albums have evolved and changed over the years?
I think one never stops growing and learning. Evolving has to do with experience, and the moment that you’re at in your life also determines what kind of material you want to do or need to do.
I’m interested in finding my own voice and style and navigating through different genres but with a sort of a trademark. My first album was all in English, my second very eclectic and in four languages, and my third will be more in Spanish.
Tell us of some of your educational initiatives in Ecuador – how did those come about?
I support Arteducarte, which is an educational program through the arts in the public schools on Isabela Island, Galapagos. I have a very tight connection with the islands as I lived there in the 90s and that’s where I still spend time nowadays.
Much of my work when it’s in the creative or developing phase takes place there. Part of my record sales supports the program. Children are the future!
What are some dream projects or visions you are working towards?
A couple! I love developing projects and turning them into reality. I’m a big believer in that. Now I’m working on my own line of hair and body care called Baronesa Essentials and it will hopefully to come out later this year. And I’m working on another project in the Galapagos.
What new album or video are you working on now?
I’m very excited about my new album but I just started working on it. All I can say is that it’ll be mostly in Spanish and I’m thinking of doing duets. Hopefully it’ll be release in the first quarter of 2018.
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Interviewed by Madanmohan Rao
Editor & DJ, World Music and Jazz;
Bangalore Global Correspondent for Jazzuality.com