Gwen Sampé is a jazz singer for whom the art of improvising is an integral and indispensable part of her musical soundscape. Born into a family of singers in Houston, Texas her approach to jazz singing is rooted in the past yet unapologetically modern.
Nurtured on John Coltrane and Betty Carter, she brings surprise and daring to her performances. Her artistic background is rich and diverse. As well performing on the jazz circuit, she has also performed in, and directed, contemporary jazz inflected mixed media theatre pieces, including a self-produced one woman show, “From the Fields to the Concert Hall,” first performed in Italy.
Upon receiving her AGSM from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, Gwen immediately started performing in jazz venues in and around London. She also directed and composed the music for Turnings, a theatre piece based on Wole Soyinka's A Shuttle in the Crypt. In 1990 she took the role of God in Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde, the first woman to play the part. In 1994 she joined Ariya opera company and played the part of ‘Spirit’ in Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas. Yet through all of these wonderfully diverse experiences she continued to concentrate on her main musical interest, jazz, performing in clubs and festivals in England, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, and Germany, releasing her first album, Water Gazing, in 2002, a mixture of her own compositions as well as songs from the standard repertoire.
Gwen has worked with many musicians and artists over the years, from pianists to kora players, flutist to cellists, dancers and plastique artists, such as John Betsch, Peter Giron, Bobby Few, Jobic Le Masson, Harry Swift, John Stevens, Dudu Pukwana, Bheki Mseleku, Aldridge Hansberry and Mehdi Farajpour among others. Her duo project with pianist Jobic Le Masson resulted in an album the Conversions, released the fall of 2014. The album, a mix of compositions and standards “revisited,” is a reflection of the improvisational work they do together, a reflection in her belief in the ephemeral nature of sound and its transformative powers. While continuing her work with Jobic, she is also involved with other projects — a duo with the bassist Harry Swift, “Flowers for Strayhorn,” the songs of Billy Strayhorn, the African Jazz Quartet with José Pendje and the eponymously named Gwen Sampé Quartet
Recently she has been involved in a collaboration with Iranian dancer choreographer Mehdi Farajpour, who, seeing Gwen in concert and being inspired by her improvisational approach, asked her to perform a duo with him. The performance “Yet Untitled,” conceived and choreographed by Mehdi, was awarded best performance in the International Theatre Festival (PUF 2015) of Pula, Croatia.
This spring she will release her first book of poems, Flowers For My Hair.