Jack-of-all-trades jazz musician releases EP ‘Jelly Cleaver and The Forever Presence’ : NPR

Danielle Kurtzleben chats with London jazz musician Jelly Cleaver about her new EP, ‘Jelly Cleaver and The Forever Presence’.


Musician Jelly Cleaver is a jack-of-all-trades. She is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who is making waves on the south London jazz scene with her band and their self-titled EP, “Jelly Cleaver And The Forever Presence”.


KURTZLEBEN: Cleaver also plays guitar in an all-female disco band, All Day Breakfast Cafe, which released its debut EP last month. And she has been recognized for her music, winning the 2020 Steve Reid Innovation Award, a scholarship for emerging musical artists.

Jelly Cleaver joins us now from London. Welcome to the program.

JELLY CLEAVER: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

KURTZLEBEN: So we were listening to the title track of this project, “Forever Presence: Pt. 1”. What does this sentence mean and what does this composition mean?

CLEAVER: This composition is quite important to me because I wrote it after losing a loved one. And while coping with grief, it made me think pretty deeply about, you know, how we view life and death and how love survives when someone passes by. And so the idea of ​​eternal presence is this idea that the kind of love is eternal. It exists outside of, you know, normal time and space, and love can survive death.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. And I think a lot of people listening can relate to that idea of ​​collective grief right now, a year and a half into a pandemic. How can music advance our grief and the processing of our grief? How does that move it forward for you?

CLEAVER: Well, that was really the point of recording and releasing this EP for me. Through writing the music, it was kind of a cathartic way for me to at least look at my emotions and then try to start processing them. And I think the beautiful thing about music is that it’s a way for humans to connect. And obviously, I think grief can be very isolating. It may just throw you off completely. And so I really hope that – you know, with music, with art in other ways – that it allows people to connect, on the one hand, and maybe start to examine some of these emotions difficult to treat.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, if I understand correctly, this EP was recorded in one day.

CLEAVER: That’s right.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes. I mean, what kind of synergy does that require between all of you in the studio together?

CLEAVEUR: Yeah. Incredible musicality from my whole band. It’s the first time we’ve played together as a band. So it was really kind of – I put the music in front of them, we played it once or twice and then we just hit record. So it was extremely current, and it was very natural. So I was really lucky to work with these people.

KURTZLEBEN: Ok, I want to come back to music. Let’s listen to another song called “Black Line”.


CLEAVER: (Singing) Black line from the belly of a gun. Black line spread across the seabed. Black line…

KURTZLEBEN: It’s a very haunting song. And if I understand correctly, it is the fossil fuel industry. What is the message?

CLEAVER: Well, I mean, the black line is symbolic, I guess, of the line that we’re about to cross in terms of irrevocable change on our planet, and there’s no going back. It’s also – you know, I just think the black line is very symbolic of, like, death or the end. And unfortunately, that’s kind of what the fossil fuel industry has done to a lot of communities, especially indigenous communities, poor communities, people of color. And I’m specifically referring to the Ogoni Nine and the Standing Rock Sioux. But, you know, right now there are the Line 3 protesters trying to stop the oil spills in their territories. So it’s a really ongoing fight, unfortunately.


KURTZLEBEN: Well, to switch gears here, let’s talk about this other band you’re in. As we mentioned earlier, you’re in this all-female disco band called All Day Breakfast Cafe. You all released an EP in October called “Builder’s Brew”. Now, I guess – is that a reference to Miles Davis?

CLEAVER: It is, yeah (laughs). We all met on the London jazz scene, which is simply extremely eclectic. You know, in the jams we played, you know, maybe, I don’t know, John Coltrane, definitely Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard – you know, all the greats. We also like to listen to people like Chaka Khan, Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu. You know, we kind of listen to jazz and soul through the ages.

And I DJ sometimes, and I just had a burning desire to create the music that I was mixing – which is all, you know, soul, funk and disco – as a live project. And, you know, I was sort of interrupted by the pandemic. But I’m so happy that I got to have a band of my, you know, closest friends and, again, amazing musicians. And we can just make really, really fun, happy, joyful music together.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well, I want to get into happy, happy disco music. Here is a piece of a song called “Old School Struggling”.


ALL DAY BREAKFAST CAFE: (Singing) We’re just old school hustles. Yes, I’m just trying to do that. We’re just old school in trouble. We’re just old-school hustles. Yes, I’m just trying to do that.

KURTZLEBEN: Tell me about this song. It’s such a happy song.

CLEAVEUR: Yeah. Well, that was actually our first single that we released, and the track is inspired by the fact that, you know, we’re all in our twenties. Many of us have day jobs alongside music. So we’ll practice in the morning, rehearse in the evening, get some sleep, and maybe a meal at some point. And, you know, at the end, we give all our money to our landlord and start counting the pennies for the next month. And, you know, while it’s, you know, young and romantic and all that, it’s also a lot of work for young creatives to make a living in a lot of big cities. And so I just wanted to kind of put this universal message for a lot of young people in a way that we can dance.

I think that’s what disco was so amazing about doing in the ’70s. You know, there were a lot of communities, like gay, LGBT, and black–colored communities, and they got together on weekend and they were singing about the grief and about how – you know, how difficult their life was. But they would just party, be merry and have a good time. So that’s what we’re trying to do now these days.

KURTZLEBEN: It’s artist Jelly Cleaver. His new EP is “Jelly Cleaver And The Forever Presence”. Jelly, thank you very much.

CLEAVER: Oh, thank you so much for inviting me.

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