Renee Rosnes on the combined powers of Artemis

Artemis is a multi-generational, internationally represented supergroup made up of seven of the most acclaimed musicians in modern jazz.

The band comprises pianist and musical director Renee Rosnes, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, clarinetist Anat Cohen, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, bassist Noriko Ueda, drummer Allison Miller, and featured vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant.

Each member has received awards and accolades, each is a renowned composer and bandleader in her own right, and each is considered a master of her instrument.

Blue Note president Don Was says “their musical conversation is sophisticated, soulful, powerful, and their groove runs deep.”

In their relatively short history, they’ve been featured in Vanity Fair, on NPR’s Jazz Night in America and at standout stages like Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Fesival. They’ll release their highly anticipated self-titled debut album on Sept. 11.

Rosnes spoke to us about how the band came together and explained their collaborative approach to making music.

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What was the motivation for creating this group?

It actually started in 2016. A French promoter invited me to put a band together to celebrate International Women’s Day in Paris and Luxembourg. I put a band together of almost the same group we have here now, [but] with Terri Lyne Carrington and Linda Oh being the rhythm section. We had a great time and we decided to continue to play together. The next thing we did was a summer European festival in 2017, and we spent about three weeks on the road with Allison Miller and Noriko Ueda. That’s when we decided to continue playing together. We really enjoyed it, we had a wonderful chemistry, we were well-received, and it just kind of clicked. That’s when we became Artemis.

There is a lot of buzz. There are people saying they’ve been waiting for a group like this, a record like this. When you got this group together, did you get a sense that it was going to be something special?

I did, I did, just because of the chemistry involved. You can’t create that. That happens naturally, and I knew that we had that. I felt it was special right away. It was also wonderful to be on stage playing with other women, and such high-calibre musicians. It was just a blast. We also had a lot of fun off stage, just travelling and hanging out together. It just felt like, “Yeah, we’ve got to do this. We’ve got to keep this going.” Of course, all of us are leaders, too, so we have our own careers outside of Artemis, so it’s a challenge to find times when all of us can make this happen. So, it’s special that way, because it’s not something that we can just throw together at any moment. It has to be well thought-out in advance, and people have to save time in their schedules to make it happen.

That’s something I was going to ask you about, because you are all leaders and you’re also very busy playing in other ensembles with other artists. Everybody in this group is very much in demand. How do you plan it?

It’s about reserving a block of time where the booking agency is going to concentrate on that and put a tour together, and then we save that time and that’s how it happens.

A lot of stuff has been put on hold. It’s a challenging time to put out a new release. How much of your plans have changed?

Everything. Everything went down the tubes. We had a nice European festival tour in October, and of course that’s gone. We had SFJAZZ, we had the Hollywood Bowl, I could go on and on. We had a lot of things scheduled, and obviously it can’t happen right now and we don’t know when it’s going to be able to happen again. Hopefully sooner than later, because all artists, we’re in a precarious time, and it’s difficult to keep the art going. We do it in our homes and sometimes we do it live-streamed from a club, but there’s nothing like playing for a live audience and having that connection and that energy. We need it. We need the music so much, especially here in America where it’s a crazy time with an election coming up. People are very emotional right now. We need the music. Music is important.

The artists are the ones who are probably going to be out for the longest. But we keep going. That’s why as jazz musicians, it’s good that we improvise.

That’s correct!

Everyone in this group writes. You’re all composers. How much thought did you put into that when you were looking at the different players you wanted to be involved in Artemis?

It was just a natural thing. When we began to look at putting an album together, I invited everybody to bring in a piece that they wanted to record. Some of these pieces — not all of them, but most of them — we didn’t perform live before we went into the studio with them. So, a lot of it is new repertoire.

Are you still working together, despite the break? Do you write something right now thinking it’s going to be an Artemis tune?

Oh sure, yeah. I’ve spent a lot of my time writing and composing. I can’t say exactly what everyone else is up to, but we’re all honing our craft at home and waiting for the time when we can all play together again.

Big Top, the tune you wrote for the group, explores the idea of women as a novelty. More and more as I look at the number of women who are breaking into this business, travelling the path that’s been forged by artists like you, the idea of an all-women band isn’t a novelty anymore. But there’s also a very strong sense of womanhood, of the feminine, from the name of the group to the songs like Frida and Step Forward and Big Top. How do you balance that line between focusing on the feminine energy and elements of the group, but not going into that idea of it being a novelty act that’s all women?

We’re all women, but I really don’t think about it. We’re writing pieces from our hearts, and if that happens to deal with femininity, then so be it. I like to let the music speak for itself, and by the power of our playing. Music has always transcended gender, so women who play jazz — or any other kind of music, for that matter — shouldn’t be viewed any longer as the exception. We are instrumentalists, we are composers, we are leaders, and I think the band is just a powerful example of that versatility.

Well, congratulations to you and all the members of Artemis. Thank you for taking the time to shed some light on it and get some of our listeners excited. They’re already there, but you just lit the flame even more.

Thank you, and I should mention that all being well and we can cross the border, we will be in Toronto in February at Koerner Hall. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that things change between now and then, and we can get back out there and play for everybody.