JazzTimes has described vocalist Katie Bull as "as a jazz prism, refracting musical light in endlessly unpredictably ways." On November 10, 2015, the New York-based artist presents her latest musical adventure, All Hot Bodies Radiate (Ashokan Indie). It's her fifth album and the latest with The Katie Bull Group Project, which features the singer alongside some veteran kindred spirits: saxophonist Jeff Lederer, keyboardist Landon Knoblock, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller, all jazz improvisers with whom she has collaborated for many years. The band has honed its adventurous interplay over residencies in such New York hotbeds as the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village and the Arts for Arts Evolving Music Series at Local 269 and then Clemente Solo Velez on the Lower East Side, as well as shows at Nublu, Greenwich House, University of the Streets, Brecht Forum, JACK, Firehouse Space and the Whynot Jazz Room. Sheila Jordan - one of Katie's great vocal mentors, along with Jay Clayton - described Katie's performing, poetic art as "making the vocal jazz of the future."
On All Hot Bodies Radiate, Katie and company explore 12 of her high-flying originals and two standards, with a hip take on "If I Loved You" by Rodgers & Hammerstein and a wildly dramatic interpretation of Harold Arlen's "Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead" from The Wizard of Oz. About the sessions, she says: "When this band works with charts in rehearsals, we talk down the forms, exploring images or stories that inspired the tunes. Charts are like maps - and the music is a voyage to the uncharted. In each performance, the songs grow with a live audience, so their energy is ultimately part of this album, too. What you hear on All Hot Bodies Radiate are first and second takes, with the album having the synergy of a live performance."
Katie was steeped from a young age in the vintage Manhattan scene of downtown jazz and avant-garde dance and theater. Fittingly, the sound and sensibility of All Hot Bodies Radiate ranges far and wide, from bop, swing and groove to hints of experimental indie-rock - see the track "I Guess This Isn't Kansas, Any More," with its distorted synth and pop-art sense of melody. The album abounds in all manner of vocal virtuosity, as well as episodes of free-jazz instrumental poetry - dig Lederer's wailing solos in "Drive to Woodstock." Another album highlight, "Ghost Sonata," shows off the range of Katie and her band in a single tune, from the spectral to the swinging. About the interplay of The Katie Bull Group, the singer says: "We have developed what I like to call 'a hive mind,' where we start to think and react alike, spontaneously. I wrote and arranged the songs, but we're a led-collective, so the songs are really ours, as the guys have their own ideas for arrangements and the tunes become our collective expression. Jeff, Landon, Joe and George have this beautiful sense of both tradition and adventure - they can play straight-ahead or take it out."
Throughout Katie's life in downtown Manhattan and Upstate New York, her family home was the site of bohemian gatherings of musicians, dancers and theater artists around the dinner table, with evenings capped by jam sessions of jazz and dance. Such cross-genre alchemy would be an enduring influence. Among his many artistic pursuits, Katie's father - a dancer, teacher and jazz pianist tutored by Lennie Tristano - worked with avant-vocalist Meredith Monk; she even lived for a time with the family, so young Katie grew up hearing performers "doing incredible things with their voices," she recalls. "Eventually, Lou Grassi gave me a Betty Carter tape - and that rocked my world. I also spent my young years going to see artists like Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, so I listened closely to instrumentalists - with that improvisational ideal in mind. So, for me, singing has never been about being upfront as much as it has been about interacting in the mix.
"Something I'm in love with is the Mingus Big Band, where the music is rooted deep in a groove but is also flying wild and free," Katie adds. "Nature is a big part of my consciousness - environmental activism is part of what I do - and I experience nature as the combination of organic order and a beautiful wildness. I wrote these new songs at a moment of life change and evolution for me. So I hope that's what people hear with the new album - a blend of order and wildness, along with a sense of possibility."
When writing the songs for All Hot Bodies Radiate, Katie was ruminating on love, nature - and the nature of love. "It was a time of transition for me, between old love and new love," she says. "I went to the mountains, with the hummingbirds and dragon flies around me in the warmth of the sun. Then I sat under the glow of the moon as it filtered through my window at the piano. Songs arrived, and through the songs, my heart began to heal. At this time, I was also on the climate activism trail, drawn by a love for the nature that sustains us all. I believe love radiates from all directions."
Katie Bull was born in New York City, where she raised into an artistic family in the West Village. As a jazz pianist, her father used to let her tag along to jazz gigs and jam sessions, as well as run around on the edges of the dance floors when he was teaching improvisational modern dance at New York University. The family eventually moved to a small town Upstate, where the jam sessions continued with the likes of percussionist Lou Grassi, vocalist/composer Meredith Monk and others. Young dancer Bill T. Jones helped babysit young Katie while he was a student of her father at the State University of New York at Brockport. Some years later, she moved back to Manhattan, settling into a raw TriBeCa loft space - formerly occupied by Don Cherry - with her father and stepmother. Not only were free-spirited jazz sessions a regular occurrence at the loft, the family hosted all sorts of cross-genre artistic gatherings, as well as rehearsals for the likes of the Living Theater.
Having been raised in a world of the performance arts, Katie was just 15 when she got a weekly club gig singing standards. She was introduced to jazz singer-composer Jay Clayton and singer Sheila Jordan, both of whom took Katie under their wings. After gaining more experience in Manhattan clubs, she attended the State University of New York at Purchase, entering as a music major but graduating from the theater conservatory. In recent years, Katie has focused on the hybrid-arts, or inter-arts, movement, writing and directing many experimental productions with her company, The Bull Family Orchestra, enabling her to integrate her background in music, dance, writing and directing. She works as a whole-body vocal coach, along with singing in experimental theaters and jazz venues from New York City and New England to such international locales as Argentina, for the La Plata Jazz festival.
Katie has collaborated with such esteemed musicians as pianists Frank Kimbrough, Michael Jefry Stevens and Joshua Wolf; percussionists Lou Grassi, Matt Wilson, Harvey Sorgen and George Schuller; and bassists Joe Fonda, Martin Wind, Hill Greene, Cameron Brown and Ratzo Harris. Her discography includes Freak Miracle (2011); The Story, So Far (2007); Love Spook (2005); The Bull-Fonda Duo: Cup of Joe, No Bull (2005); and Conversations with the Jokers (2002). Katie invests increasing energy to environmental activism, initiating Climate Force and volunteering for the likes of 350.org and Food & Water Watch. She splits her time between Manhattan and the Catskills, near Woodstock.