While growing up in a housing project on New York’s Lower East Side, Indra Rios-Moore ’03 was shuffled from school to school in search of a good education, but the one constant in her turbulent childhood was jazz. She was raised by her music-loving mom, and she remembers going to hear her dad, jazz bassist Don Moore—who played with the likes of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman—perform at Sunday brunch gigs. But when Rios-Moore came to Smith—after educating herself through a homeschooling program and courses at the Mannes College The New School for Music—she turned her focus to academics. While pursuing her American studies major, she kept her voice in shape by taking private lessons through a scholarship from the music department.
It wasn’t until after she graduated that Rios-Moore found her way back to jazz. With plans to pursue an advanced degree in school counseling, she was working as a server at a New York City café when she met her future husband, the saxophonist Benjamin Trærup. The two decided to move to his native Denmark, where they started a jazz trio and began recording and playing professionally. They have released two CDs (Indra and In Between) of her jazz versions of American standards. A new album, Heartland, is due in March on Impulse/Blue Note, the legendary jazz label.
Your new album moves in a different direction. How would you define it?
I was looking for music that connects, whether it’s a jazz standard, a gospel song, a rock cover or a Spanish love song.
How did signing with Impulse come about?
I’d listened to Joni Mitchell’s album Turbulent Indigo probably a million times. I loved the production on it. There’s a kind of richness there that doesn’t overwhelm, and I noticed that the producer’s name was Larry Klein. I wrote to him, and a couple of months later he let us know that he liked our sound and wanted to work with us.
How did you develop your sound?
I am, in part, influenced by the fundamental sounds that were in my home growing up. Luckily for me, that was a really diverse collection of sounds. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were dominant in my mom’s collections, and salseros such as Hector Lavoe and bolero singers like Tito Rodriguez. A lot of instrumental jazz was played in the house. I don’t think there is a singer or instrumentalist on the planet who is not unconsciously or consciously influenced by the sounds they take in, but I don’t ever aim for anything. I just open my mouth and sing. I don’t plan my phrasing ever, ever, and I have no idea how I am going to sing a song until I sing it. Usually it just comes how it comes.
How is your approach to other styles of music different from your approach to jazz?
I approach almost all music the same way. Classical pieces take longer to internalize and thus longer to make my own, but for all other music I look for songs that flow easily from me and tell stories that I can inflect with pieces of myself.
Abe Loomis is a freelance writer and singer-songwriter in western Massachusetts.
Spring ’15 SAQ