Georgia Anne Muldrow is a light that never goes out. I’ve been listening to her since the 2006 release of her EP Worthnothings, and her music is a bottomless pit of awe and inspiration. She’s got a full, gorgeous singing voice, and she’s a skilled multi-instrumentalist who plays most of the instruments on her records. Her musical boundaries are endless: She drops funk and soul gems, Afro-futuristic beat meditations, sweet ballads, and intellectual hip-hop, often performing with her husband, the rapper/singer Dudley Perkins.
Muldrow’s latest album takes it all back home. Performing under the name Jyoti—given to her by her spiritual and musical mentor, the late Alice Coltrane—Muldrow composes sweet jazz numbers using electronic instruments. She’s been writing music since she was 10 (her father, Ronald Muldrow, was a celebrated jazz guitarist, and her mother is the singer and songwriter Rickie Byars Beckwith).
Denderah, her second Jyoti album, out tomorrow on Someothaship Connect, is so skillful it’s hard to tell she even used electronics—it sounds like a bunch of people in a nice warm room playing instruments together, but it’s all Georgia. We recently spoke about never conforming, being positive and productive, and overcoming fears. She was really lovely.
JULIANNE: I think a lot of young people don’t find jazz very accessible these days—how do you feel about that?
GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW: Jazz is a real part of my life, because both of my parents had a relationship with jazz. At the end of the day, I love music. I see it as a powerful tool that can bring people together—I don’t care about the colonial terms attached to the business about genre and stuff. I know about feeling, about expression, I know about pain, I know about love. If I worried about fitting into a label, I think I’d miss experiencing half of the world.
Your Jyoti project feels a little more traditional than your work as Georgia Anne Muldrow.
Oh yeah, it’s straight-ahead. For this album, I had to translate jazz to an electronic music format. I made this record as a tribute to my dad, who loved the simplicity of straight-ahead jazz. When he passed away, I started capturing the feeling of the organ trios I’d seen in New York and L.A. when I went to clubs with the old folks. As a kid I rebelled against that sound, but I made this record in his memory as a way to connect to those feelings of safety and warmth, or familiar things that remind me of my dad. I want it to feel like a warm blanket.
Speaking of warmth, you have a song on the album called “Turiya’s Smile,” which sounds so good, especially now that autumn is here. What is the song about, and who is Turiya?
Turiya is Alice Coltrane, who has been an important person in my life—just really inspirational. This was the first real jazz song I did, so when this song came out of me I dedicated it to her because the bass line reminded me of how she just really dove into her songs. I’ve been very gifted to have her presence in my life, and the presence of my auntie who introduced me to her when I was little, little, little. The knowledge they gave me was lifesaving. They inspired me to be myself, to not conform, and to trust what my inner thing was saying, even if it was abstract and didn’t look like what nobody else in the classroom was doing! They just inspired me to dream.
Now I like the song even more!
I wasn’t even looking for that—it’s just how it came out! My father passed away. Alice Coltrane passed away. And my auntie passed away, and she was the first person who paid for studio time for me in a legit way, just because she believed in me. I’m still dealing with her passing away—I had a dream about her, and woke up with the song “Theodosia.” When I was recording the guitar parts, I felt my dad’s hand on my shoulder, which was wild. I also played some solos between recording this record and Ocotea, which helped a lot.
Taking solos helped you cope with your loss?
Absolutely—especially in building my confidence. I’d been playing music for a long time, but I never played solos. It felt like a blockage, and I had to get past some of the emotional blocks that made me doubt myself as a soloist. That was a lot of growth for me. I realized that before this could be a real jazz record, I had to have a solo!
When I listen to your music, you seem like someone who’s absolutely not afraid.
Oh, I do? [Laughs]
Yes! It’s interesting to hear that you still have fears to overcome, even with your experience and talent.
It’s empowering to just go on and do it—you have to push through the fear! Scatting is one of my favorite things to do, but recording a solo on a synthesizer and trying to make it sound like a guitar is something else entirely! I couldn’t tell if I was being authentic or trying to be innovative, so there was a lot of fear there. But getting past it and figuring out how I wanted to communicate? That really opened me up. ♦