Being around Jimetta Rose, even for a short while, is inspiring – but also daunting. Such is her torrent of creative thought and positivity that emerges in response to any stimulus.
Not that she is some indiscriminate ranter, mind, or naive Pollyanna. Ask her about an aspect of her life or work, and you will get chapter and verse, root and branch, but with not a word wasted.
The answers below have been edited – but only for space, not because there was anything superfluous. All the connections made are relevant, all the information imparted useful and compelling.
And Rose is extremely connected. Over almost two decades, as a vocalist she has worked with the cream of exploratory hip hop and jazz music – indeed, Los Angeles born and bred, she’s quietly become a lynchpin of the Californian “beat scene”.
She’s worked with names to conjure with like Georgia Anne Muldrow, Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Shafiq Husayn, Quantic, Marc Mac and Kamasi Washington.
Her solo work has attracted respect too, but this year she seems to be taking a couple of large steps towards the centre stage.
First came The Gift – Around the Way Queen, an album of hip-hop soul which she’d begun with producer House Shoes in 2016, but only now finished and released.
Then came one of the records of this summer: Jimetta Rose & The Voices Of Creation’s six track How Good it Is.
This mini LP is created with a massed choir of friends, many untrained singers, and draws on deep traditions of gospel and spiritual jazz to create an experience of pure praise. Its laid back funk grooves and massed voices clearly singing for the joy of it have to be heard to be believed, and can transform the atmosphere wherever it is played.
We called Rose at home – or rather in her car, where she preferred to sit and get a good signal – to get that chapter and verse about how she got to the point of making How Good it Is.
And, yes, hearing her talk is as joyous as the record.
You’ve released two quite different records this year – do you like to have diverse projects on the go at the same time or do you prefer one main focus?
I guess I've never had one main focus, so I don't know what that’s like. Whether it’s back in the day when I was providing vocals for a lot of my musical peers and musical masters around me like Miguel Atwood-Ferguson or Kamasi Washington, or collaborating on something new now, I always have to activate my creative ways of being in a different way in each case.
I guess the choir has been the closest thing to a single sustained focus, because at the time that I was really focusing on it, I was not doing any solo shows or anything else for about three years and was entirely about the choir.
And that’s been good but I think it’s great to have multiple things because it activates those different parts of the brain – so with one project you might be writing your own stuff then suddenly you're an arranger too.
Or in Abbey Road with Kamasi I suddenly became everybody's art director just from telling someone what'd look better in a photo. But everything’s creative, everything teaches you how to be creative, and I'm always looking for new inspiration.
Talk us through what led you to focus on the choir – you’ve always worked with hyper accomplished musicians, was there a conscious urge to bring in more untrained singers?
Well it was more of a thing where I came to a place of thinking about what life would be like if I stopped singing. I came up against the fact I’m not a spring chicken any more – I may look young, but I'm getting older – and people were saying, “With your talent, you should have made it by now”.
And that’s tough, it was a hard thing to think about, but I am good at picking myself up, and quite quickly I thought, no, that’s not the point.
The point is how music makes you feel, it’s its ability to provide something to you no matter whether you feel anxious, sad, angry, whatever.
Through music you can make a conscious choice about how you want to feel. And people singing and making music from their hearts can really make you feel something more, it can make you feel love.
And the moment I thought about that, I realised that completely outside of “career” or anything like that, I still wanted to give voice to a lot of these things.
So I finally got the faith in myself, and the kind of music I wanted to hear, and I realised it would be music with a lot of voices, to make this kind of community choir.
Then I connected with Jack Maeby when we were working on a tribute to Sly Stone, he’s a great organist and musical director, and told him the idea for the choir and he was totally with it – so with it that I had to hold on tight because he was coming with so much ideas and energy.
I went off to Chicago to do some work – that’s where I met people like Angel Bat David – and by the time I came back, I was ready to go!
And did you decide in advance that the choir was going to be influenced by spiritual jazz and gospel?
Well I’d been inspired by spiritual jazz for a very long time. When I found out it was a genre when I was younger, it was like discovering the bridge between lots of different things.
Like, this was a music that was about creation and giving and positive messages, it could have really strange rhythms and melodies but also very simple direct expression. In our lives we buy into so much greed and selfishness, but here was something that is about what you put back out into the world.
I had never been a full on jazz singer, I had never trained in jazz - I learned my craft in the church. But I liked singing like a horn, I liked doing what I found out later was scatting, I liked doing that much more than the kind of ad libs expected for the kind of rap records I was usually singing on.
So then when I found this style, it completely connected. It was about being strong, powerful, not having to talk about sex, talk about drugs, but talk about something much more, to make other people feel better and inspire them.
Of course back when I was a kid this felt like a weird interest, like it was my own odd thing - and a lot of what I’ve done since has been trying to merge it into all the other work I’ve done.
But working with Kamasi Washington and other things like that were a chance to put these ideas into practice, and now this is me taking it further.
The reception has been great so far, but what I really want to see is how much this works for people over time, seeing if it can raise their vibrations, make them feel stronger, make them feel better in hard times – I want to see if we can give that to people.
I can testify that, having played this album at a primary school barbecue, it really lifts people's mood – and the kids reacted instinctually to it...
Yeahhh! It's so great to see the babies dancing. As adults we can over think, our responses can be tempered by all the weight we carry, but there is something so important about that immediate reaction and expression, that’s what we should strive to get in touch with always.
That’s part of what having untrained musicians is about... that's the source!
That’s what music is about: training and technique as a musician should only about how we articulate that, about finding new ways to express it – not a distraction from it. That’s probably the greatest aim of all, to make more people feel they can react to the music, get to that source, and create for themselves – to think, “What can I add to this world?”
Finally, can you tell us a bit more about what it’s been like watching the Californian scene around you expanding – people like Flying Lotus, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Thundercat are taking incredibly psychedelic, exploratory, spiritual music global... how has it been watching that?
Well I have been saying for the last 15 years that this is a renaissance. For some of us, we knew we were in a situation where you could see Mozart playing in a little piano bar on the corner.
But not just that but you’ll walk across the road to another little bar and Bach’s playing. And to be part of it, so you're not just a witness to it but you’re in it too, that understanding is... wow.
Just wow. And then to see that get recognition, to see, say Kamasi Washington go literally from those small piano bars in LA to reaching the entire globe – that is stunning, it’s incredible.
Of course, that takes more than talent, it takes vision, it takes business understanding, and it also comes with the will to bring everyone up together.
Same with Anderson .Paak, who I met when he was Breezy Lovejoy, when we was both working with Shafiq Husayn – he proved that he can uplift his talent and all of our talent. It proves it’s not a race against each other, but a race against time, because you don’t know how long you’ve given.
So yeah... with all of these people, I feel excited. I feel excited to see how far it can go!
Back when I was 17 and banging all this spiritual jazz music, I felt like I was born in the wrong time, like I should've been living in the 1970s, but then finding myself a part of all this I realise I was born exactly the right time!
And I feel excited for how other people can see this and realise that with the right combination of talent, vision, belief, and work there ain’t no limit to how far incredible music can spread.
Because it’s not just LA. It's Chicago with Angel Bat Dawid and Art Ensemble of Chicago and so many more people. It’s London with Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia and Ezra Collective. This renaissance, not just of music but of thoughts, words, ways of being, ways of understanding the world is real, and that is a glorious thing!
Cover Credit: Collective Flow
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.