‘Jazz Success is being able to play my guitar’

Jewish Telegraph, October 2003

ASK Amy Winehouse how her debut single, Stronger Than Me, is fairing and she answers: ‘‘I don’t know.’’
It’s the same response when you ask the 20-year-old singer whether she will be releasing her stunning album, Frank (Island), in America.
But Amy is not being difficult or acting the diva — she is just overjoyed to be doing what she loves.
In fact, the down-to-earth London youngster does not chart success by record sales.
She says: ‘‘Success for me is being able to play my guitar. It’s incredible that this little white Jewish girl can make records.
‘‘I’ve been into music since birth. I can’t remember an exact moment when it became important to me.’’
Amy, who has written most of Frank herself, adds: ‘‘I used to write songs to challenge myself. I would include tricky melody lines.’’
Amy was given her first guitar when she was 13 and would strum along to folk songs that her Brooklyn-born mother would listen to. But she was more drawn to her father’s jazz taste.
She earned a place at the Sylvia Young stage school in North London but was expelled for ‘‘not applying herself’’ and having her nose pierced.
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She then attended an all-girls school, which she hated. So each breaktime, she would lock herself in the music room and play piano and guitar.
Amy attended a few Jewish youth groups but admits: ‘‘I hated going. I didn’t like Jewish teens.’’
By the time she was 16, Amy was appearing with a youth jazz orchestra. But as word spread of her talent, she landed a management company and producers. Then major label Island came knocking.
‘‘They knew who I was,’’ she said. ‘‘I performed a showcase at their offices and signed for them. Other record companies were after me but I chose Island.
‘‘By the time Island were involved, I had a large body of work. And they gave me complete control over Frank.
‘‘There are two songs on the album which I didn’t want on, but that’s just how it goes.
‘‘Even when I went in the studio, it didn’t really sink in that I was making an album. I was just excited to be recording my songs.’’
She adds that her father is like a typical Jewish dad — ‘‘he’s so proud of me and doesn’t shut up about it’’ — while her mother ‘‘doesn’t bat an eyelid. She’s just happy that I’m doing what I love’’.
Older brother Alex is also in the entertainment business as a sit-com writer.
Amy says that she is ahead of her own aims and is already thinking about her second album. She will keep the jazz feel but wants to incorporate gospel.
‘‘It’s the truest expression there is; it’s a musical love of God,’’ she said. ‘‘But jazz will always drive me.’’
She also revealed that she has not read any of the music magazines’ reviews that have heralded her arrival with five stars.
‘‘I’m just too busy,’’ she said. ‘‘Although I don’t know if I’m yet fully in the music business or not. There have been a lot of ups and downs. If I was in any other job that was this stressful I would have quit by now.
‘‘But all the stress is worth it because I love doing it so much.’’
As well as jazz, Amy is heavily into hip-hop, citing acts such as The Roots, Outkast and Missy Elliott.
‘‘I love the beat,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s so raw as opposed to polished.’’
And she’s looking forward to her three date tour which starts at The Arch in Manchester on Tuesday.
She said: ‘‘I’m very excited about performing live. You own that moment; it’s all yours.’’

Jewish Telegraph deputy editor and arts editor. Email Mcohen@jewishtelegraph.com with your Jewish arts stories