Leïla Olivesi is one of the young jazz stars at the Parisian and French firmament but perhaps not known enough outside France except in the international Ellington community.
She is a person with many talents but foremost she is a pianist, a composer and a bandleader. She frequently performs with her different groups at jazz clubs in Paris and jazz festivals in France and most of the time they play her compositions.
She has a Master in musicology and philosophy with a thesis on “The role of the piano in the Duke Ellington orchestra” and she is currently working on her doctorate.
On top of this, Leïla is a music teacher both in schools and conservatories. She has also taken upon herself to bring jazz to young people. Her Sunday afternoons for children at the Sunset jazz club in Paris are quite fascinating.
Leïla got her breakthrough as a composer in 2013 when she won the first prize for her composition “Summer Wings” in the Big Band “Ellington composers” competition in Paris.
This led her to get a commission to write what was to become Suite Andamane for symphonic orchestra, jazz big band and choir.
Until now, she has recorded five albums, mostly with her own compositions.
Her sixth album – Astral – will be released on 18 November.
But already on 28 October, a single will be available to give a first taste of what is in the full album.
Both the CD and the single can be ordered before release dates at https://bfan.link/astral-6
I talked to Leïla some days ago and here is what she had to say.
The new album is in many ways her most ambitious venture. As the previous album Suite Andamane, it is recorded by an octet/nonet formed by her regular group plus some guest artists.
In his liner notes to Suite Andamane, the late Claude Carrière wrote: “Here Leïla appears, best as ever, as architect of her imaginary world … and her ear incessantly tuned to new trends in the music world”.
I am sure he would have said the same thing about Astral but also noted her compositional development during the three years that has passed since Suite Adamane was released and her more Ellingtonian positioning of the piano in the music.
Astral is a tribute to Carrière, who passed away last year. Leïla was very close to him and she remembers and honours him with the Missing CC Suite. It has two movements, Portrait and Missing CC.
Here is Missing CC from a summer concert in 2021.
The Missing CC Suite is of course Leïla’s own composition and so are the other songs in the album except Scorpio (track 5), which is the well-known Mary -Lou Williams composition. Astral and Au feu des rêves are co-compositions with drummer (and partner) Donald Kontomamou.
Astral is an appropriate name for the new album because it has a strong interstellar and cosmic dimension. Possibly, Mary-Lou Williams has inspired this with her Zodiac Suite but it might also reflect personal dimensions. In his review of Suite Adamane Claude Carriére talks about Leïla as an “architect of her imaginary world”.
Is it a coincidence that Astral opens with the song Astral followed by Mary Lou?
She also has a strong literary strain. Already in the quintet album Utopia , she demonstrated this and followed it up in Suite Andamane by including two poems – one by herself (Black Widow) and one by her mother (Les Amants) – to which she had put music.
This time, she includes in the new album two poems by the French poet and writer Lucïe Taïeb – Soustraire à la lumière and Au feu des rêves to which she gives musical interpretations. A instrumental version of Black Widow is also included.
Leîla is very knowledgeable about Duke Ellington as demonstrated in her Master thesis and in her many Maison du Duke presentation. However, she seldom includes Ellington compositions in her records. I have only found two – Prelude to a Kiss in TIY and Satin Doll in Suite Andame. That’s a pity because she is well positioned to give new life to Ellington’s music. Perhaps the international Ellington community could fund a “Olivesi meets Duke” CD?
More about Leïla can be learned from her website http://www.leilaolivesi.com. There one can also listen to many of the compositions in her albums. She is very active in social media.