Canadian pianist Laila Biali lives the hectic life of a jazz musician in New York City, stringing together gigs and working to market herself to a wider audience, even as she works to compose new material. So she says a relaxing two-week stay at Serenbe as part of the Artists in Residence program is just what she needs to prepare for her next album.
When Biali arrives at Serenbe August 4, she will be given the creative space to work as she pleases; the only items on her calendar are a house-concert performance August 9, a public interview and a welcome potluck.
All this free time is by design. After all, the stated mission of the Serenbe program is to allow artists to create as they see fit by giving them “uninterrupted time, space, stipend and a welcoming community within which to create.”
The program, now in its ninth year, awards eight artists with residencies throughout the year. Artist Ying Zhu, pianist Zack Brock, illustrators Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston, sculptor and video artist Adejoke Tugbiyele, spoken-word artist Sarah Kay and photographer Andrew L. Moore represent the 2014 class.
Biali typically writes in the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life, mostly out of necessity, but there’s a part of her that is simply geared toward working in hectic circumstances, she says. This writing usually takes the form of arrangements for her Requestomatic concept, in which she asks audience members to request new songs via Facebook or email before each show with the promise that she’ll produce a new arrangement for the show they’re attending.
“You can imagine when you start to get lots of requests, you have to be working very, very quickly, and there’s a lot of pressure,” she says. “It’s like I really enjoy the challenge of it.”
On her last disc, 2012’s Live in Concert, Biali showcased midtempo tunes, laying her smoky, pliant alto atop extended chords. Biali is fond of moving toward whisper-singing territory for emotional effect and giving the end of her phrases a rounded, wide-open tone.
The pianist will be releasing a recording in 2015, but it’s in an alt-pop-rock style, which “is quite a departure” from her normal fare, she says. She will use the uninterrupted time at Serenbe to start feeling out her next jazz release.
Though the residency at Serenbe is a welcome change of pace, she admitted that the prospect is also a bit scary. “The openness can be daunting or intimidating,” she says. “But I do feel like one can establish a different sort of a focus in that space because there’s more time.”
For her house concert, the pianist will be playing in a trio format accompanied by an Atlanta-based bassist and drummer. She prefers these small, exclusive settings as opposed to concerts in large venues because it’s easier to make a personal connection with the audience.
“I think the possibility of a sort of collective experience is greater when it’s a more intimate group,” she says. “Between the new band and a new environment and one that is intimate, I think some exciting and fresh things will happen.”