Jazz with Fulton

Q&A with singer and pianist Champian Fulton


(Photo by Antonio Narváez Dupuy, contributed by Champian Fulton)

CHAMPIAN FULTON, an Oklahoma-based jazz pianist and singer, started playing and singing at an early age.

“I always sang as a child and I began playing piano before I could walk, taking serious piano lessons from age five,” Fulton says. “I began performing around age eight and working professionally from age twelve.”

She was mentored on the world of jazz musicianship by Clark Terry, a trumpeter, flugelhornist, educator, and composer.

Now, Fulton performs all over the world, and Wilmington will get a chance to hear her at the fortieth annual North Carolina Jazz Festival, January 23-25.

She will be the first female jazz pianist to play at the festival.

What motivated you to start singing and become a pianist? And specifically, why jazz?

“I’m from a musical family, and my father is a jazz flugelhorn player, trumpet player, and drummer. I was always around him and his friends, and it looked like they were having so much fun, I wanted to have fun, too! Being a jazz musician, you are always surrounded by a party, and you get to meet so many wonderful people.”

What is one of your favorite performances?

“When I was ten, I played my first paying gig: Clark Terry’s seventieth-fifth birthday party in Iowa. Clark and my father were best friends, and at that time, I had a band that played only Clark’s original tunes and songs he loved. He asked us to play a few sets at his party. After the gig, he paid me and taught me how to pay my band members. It was a wonderful experience for so many reasons. I love all my gigs — I have really enjoyed being able to travel and perform around the world.”

Which pianists and singers inspire you?

“My favorite pianists when I was little were Red Garland, Sonny Clark, Count Basie, Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, etc. If the music was swinging, I loved it. I also loved Jay McShann, and I loved that we were both from Oklahoma. I like to think I am part of that tradition of swinging blues pianists like McShann. My favorite singer has always been Dinah Washington — I have spent a lot of time studying Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams, and Jimmy Rushing, too — but Washington is always my favorite.”

What can attendees expect from your performance at the North Carolina Jazz Festival?

“This will be my first time to perform in Wilmington, but I have always loved the Carolinas. Whatever songs we play, they will be swinging!”

Can you talk about some of the jazz education initiatives that you participate in? 

“Like Clark Terry, I believe it is important to educate young people — and older people! — about jazz, not only to create jazz musicians, but to foster a love for the music in young people. I often give masterclasses and clinics around the world, and most recently I partnered with the New Brunswick Jazz Project to give a jazz concert to a public middle school. We played jazz for about 150 fifth graders, and then took questions! It was great sharing this music with them. I am always ready to advocate for jazz.”

More on Fulton at www.champian.net

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Categories: Culture