Pianist Brittany Anjou divides her time between her Brooklyn home and a long-term gig in Kuwait, where she teaches jazz theory and more to kids and adults. "The students are hungry for jazz, and want to understand theory. Any time I travel and play abroad, people are really listening, it's like you're valued more there," she says. "In Kuwait, the people are focused on the melody. At house concerts, people care in a different way" than in other locales and venues.
One listener worried that Brittany's music might be too avant-garde for Kuwait. He urged her to stick to straight-ahead renderings for fear that the audience would think she didn't know the tunes. His comment inspired her "try a little gentle social work to open minds and ears" by organizing the musicians in the audience into a New York-style open improv vocal jam. The participants hesitated at first, trying to bow out because of tired voices and the like. But they soon got the hang of it and had a great time. "This is the true spirit of jazz," enthused one happy participant—the same guy who had shared his concerns earlier.
Brittany has been active on the New York jazz scene since moving here from Seattle 16 years ago. Her new recording, Enamiĝo Reciprokataj (Origin), is her first release leading a jazz ensemble.
The album title is in Esperanto, a constructed international language developed in the late 19th century by creators hoping to forge an international means of communication that could be used among people of all nationalities. Translated as "Reciprocal Love," the album's original compositions reflect Brittany's love of mainstream jazz piano giants such as McCoy Tyner, Oscar Peterson, Red Garland and Ahmad Jamal, presented from her own unique musical point of view. Stravinsky was a further inspiration for the five-movement title suite.
"I care about the layout of the record, I'm not with the digital trend these days," Brittany notes with a laugh. "I only ever wanted to make a CD. It has to be 60 minutes long or people aren't getting their money's worth." She's looking forward to the release gig at (Le) Poisson Rouge on Feb. 25, with bassist Gregory Chudzik and drummer Shirazette Tinnin. "I'll focus on music from the album, I want to give the music a chance to live and breathe, to share that with people in a big way." There's a chance they're going to mix in new music Brittany's working on in Kuwait, and possibly a vocal composition, "How Many Women Are In Your Band."
In addition to English and Esperanto, Brittany knows a mix of other languages including German, Czech, Spanish, and Arabic. She could also be considered fluent in a range of musical languages in addition to jazz. "In New York, you wind up doing a million things," she notes, including working with the cult band The Shaggs. "They were the grandmothers of punk, it was such a gift to work with them." The controversial band, originally founded in 1967, was a favorite of Frank Zappa; the members continue to reunite periodically, to the delight of an extremely dedicated fan base. "You could call their music a train wreck or you could call it glorious. There's such a deep sense of belonging and community around their music. I have all the songs in my head."