Ella Fitzgerald

Quick Q and A with Jane Ross Fallon

As you will find out in this interview, Jane Ross Fallon is an inspirational person with much experience relaying her thoughts and feelings in prose and music. Her professorial work in colleges and a myriad of life experiences converge as we discover what makes her tick and create. Her live shows explore a variety of genres that suit her style in a reflective and sometimes witty way.

To learn more about Jane, visit her website.

Here’s an example of a recent “intentional song written by Jane. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQ3p3bJiOzY

Jane will be appearing at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on Friday, April 6. She opens for folk legend, Bill Staines.

Your bio says that you came from a musical family.  What are your earliest memories of making music?

My memories of singing go back as far as any memories I have. My mother sang daily, and I remember making up songs and singing them to my dolls as a very young girl. My sister and I would sing two-part harmony as we did dishes. My extended family always sang at any gathering, and since both my mom’s and my dad’s families were musical, that was a lot!  We sang in the car going to church, four-part harmony, with daddy singing the lead. When I was in my early teens I was in a trio with my sister and my cousin and we sang at all of the Baptist youth rallies in California.

Your musical stylings range from traditional folk to jazz to show tunes and beyond.  Can you walk us through the various genres and tell us what inspires you from each of them?

Folk – That is how I learned to play guitar. I picked up a songbook of the old Appalachian ballads with simple accompaniment and sang them. After that came the 60’s folk tunes. I think folk music forms the basis of most of my writing. From folk music, I learned how to spin a good story and the importance of melody and repetition. I also think that being of Arkansas heritage, I have natural folk roots.

Jazz  – My first vinyl record was of  Ella Fitzgerald. My parents weren’t into jazz, and I guess it was mostly Ella’s voice that drew me. I learned to love to experiment with scat. Who needs words! Ha. Because my voice is my instrument, I guess it just followed that I would have fun using it as such. Although I am not a jazz musician, I have an ear that sometimes applies certain jazz-style techniques to my songs.

Show Tunes – What’s not to love? Showtunes allow for lots of rhyme and I do love rhyme. I wasn’t taken to Broadway-style shows as a child since we lived out in the country and wouldn’t have had money for that, but when I got into my high school years, I got to perform in several stage productions and of course, the high school choir and select ensemble I sang in would perform show tunes. I think the composers I admire most are from the Great American Songbook, and most wrote for the stage. George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, and Cole Porter were among my favorites. I think that through show tunes I learned that one can write intentionally. One doesn’t have to wait for the “muse” to descend. I think I missed my calling. I should have been around one of those tables saying, “Ok, we have to have a song for Mary Martin to sing in the third act. Let’s go!

Can you name some of your musical heroes and why they’re so important to you?

It’s funny. I don’t think I was ever totally swayed by any particular artist of my generation. I didn’t hear any music outside of my family and church until I was probably 13. I know I was exposed to popular music. I remember I used to be the “singer” out at the playground at my elementary school. The kids wanted to dance and I sang “Sad Movies Always Make Me Cry” and “The Tennessee Waltz”! But I didn’t have a radio until I was a middle school student. Out at the ranch we could get just a few stations. Then, in college I found myself singing a lot of Joni, Judy, and Joan of course, and very much loved the collaborations of Elton John and Bernie Taupin – one of the best popular composer/lyricist combinations. Later, I think I identified with the female singers I often get compared to today such as Ann Murray and Karen Carpenter. I loved their smooth voices and included their tunes in my repertoire. But my mom and my Aunt Drothey (my dad’s sister – I told you I got it from both sides!) were probably my heroes. Beautiful voices, perfect pitch, great timing, and delivery. I am fortunate in my musical lineage.

Your ability to write songs about a wide variety of topics has taken you all over the United States and even to Ireland.  You have won over two dozen prizes in songwriting contests and have been invited to play your winning songs at these events. What are your favorite memories related to these contests?

Oh, so many good memories. I am so fortunate to have been able to do this. As a folk artist, I couldn’t help but be in awe of winning the Woody Guthrie Songwriting contest and going to Okemah, Oklahoma to sing a full set on the Pastures of Plenty stage. I was also able to visit my dad’s history while I was there, as I drove on the original Route 66 that he would have traveled on as a child going to California.

Ireland, of course, was amazing. I had never been. My roots are not Irish, but my husband’s are and I took my son, Patrick, with me and he performed with me at a pub gig. The competition was in a beautiful chapel in the birthplace of the Clancy brothers. It was just an amazing experience.

In a different vein, my song “Before the Fire” which won at both the Will McLean and South Florida Folk festivals is very special because of the response I got for telling this old story of racial unrest to local people and having them embrace it so. I was later able to travel to the site of the incident and it meant so much to me after having sung the song so many times.

Your experience as a college instructor in both English Composition and Public Speaking inspired you to write a book to help other musicians with their approach to songwriting. Can you tell us a bit about Beyond Reason: Songwriting on Purpose?

 As I mentioned earlier, show music taught me that songs could be written “intentionally” or “on purpose” as the title of my book says. Freshman composition is often taught using what is called the “Modes of Development” – structures like narration, description, and example. In addition, I taught argumentative writing and persuasive speaking. These are based on rhetorical appeals such as logic and emotion that go back to Aristotle. Because all communication stems from these tools, I found that if I brought my guitar into class and used one of my songs as an illustration, for instance, a song that told a story, or had vivid descriptions, or used examples, the students perked right up. This worked in public speaking as well. It was also so much easier to explore logical and emotional approaches through song. Also, the importance of purpose and audience, which is so important in music, is also important in all types of written and verbal communication. So finally, when I had the time, I tried to explain this in a book. The book is not meant to be a textbook, but rather tries to explain what might seem academic to the layman. Most will read it and realize they instinctively know it, they just never thought about using the tools “on purpose”. The book is most helpful to those who wish to write songs with a specific purpose and audience in mind. It was great fun to do.

Your creative spirit knows no bounds.  You also published a book and CD package called Seven Songs in Seven Days. I imagine this particular project was a labor of love since it revolves around your relationship with your remarkable father. 

 Oh yes. My dad loved that book. In fact, he had it in his pocket when he took his last trip across the country from Oregon to see me at Christmas the year he died. He was showing it to all the stewardesses! I didn’t really intend to write a book,or put it together with songs, it just happened. My dad moved to Washington state and lived near my brother after my mother died, and I would take him on a long trip to California, stopping to see his old friends and family. I had known about his background, but like many of us I guess it took me awhile to appreciate what that background was, and know that I wanted to capture it. So, I started while I was staying at his house, and then continued on our trip, for a total of seven days, asking him to tell me his stories of growing up a sharecropper’s son in Arkansas, traveling across the country to California during the Great Depression, and coming of age in California. Meanwhile, I just wanted to challenge myself to write a song a day. The songs aren’t about each individual memory, but about anything that got sparked by the stories or the trip. He really enjoyed talking about it all, and I am so happy to have these memories to pass down to my kids and his grandchildren.

Do you have any musical aspirations that you’d like to explore?

Ah, funny you should ask! I am currently embarking on my first novel with music.  I won’t give it away, but I think it will be a quite unique approach to the genre. In fact, I don’t know of any other book quite like it. That could be because others have tried and no one wants it! Ha. But it will be a challenge for sure.

I also think wouldn’t it be great to turn Seven Songs into a movie script? I could see a Tommy Lee Jones/Diane Lane kind of combination. Dad and daughter road trip with song! People always tell me how visual the book is. I am thinking of reaching out to those with scriptwriting experience and see if anyone wants to take that on with me.

Other than that, I just tend to write and create and usually, music fits in the picture somewhere.

Thanks, Kathy, for allowing me the opportunity to share my thoughts on creativity. One of my favorite books is The Courage To Create by Rollo May, a therapist.  He suggests that creativity is not just some kind of frosting on life, but rather it is the nucleus of where all human experience begins. He quotes Picasso who said, “Every act of creation is at first an act of destruction.” This means that true creativity requires that new ideas often replace forms that people “believe are essential to the survival of their intellectual and spiritual world.” By that definition, I don’t believe I have achieved the most I can. I, like most people, rely on what I know and what has come before me. Do I have the courage to truly create? I don’t know. But, perhaps that is why I resist the pressure of today’s success driven world to write for specific goals such as radio play. I don’t think about whether something will be a success when I write it and don’t care whether it will make the charts or be sung by somebody famous. I get in my car, or I take a walk, and I let my mind wander and what comes, comes.

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