Ariana Smith ’21 and Flora Hamilton ’21, members of the Bowdoin jazz program, are creative partners in writing and performing original music on campus. Smith is a singer-songwriter, and Hamilton is a jazz pianist.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Bowdoin Orient: What brought you to jazz at Bowdoin?
Flora Hamilton: I started jazz when I was a junior in high school. The jazz program itself teaches me music fundamentals, but what I really get out of it is learning how to work with other musicians.
Ariana Smith: I’m classically trained; I didn’t do anything with jazz before coming to Bowdoin. I write music, and Flora is so incredibly talented that she can bring the things in my mind to life and spice them up. Make them actual jazz. We’re a team—I can’t do it without her.
Q: What has been a favorite collaboration or performances?
AS: Last year, while performing in the Pub, there was a moment at the end when Flora and I just happened to do the same thing at the same time. Not planned at all, but it worked. I’ll never forget how great that was—how much of a privilege and a blessing it was to express a song I had written—to perform with such talented musicians.
Q: From where do you draw inspiration?
AS: So fun fact, I can’t read music. I’ll write a song and lyrics, bring it to Flora, and we’ll jam together. The song “November Solitude,” I penned it as a cry out to God really. ‘Are you going to leave me here, please stay, because I need you, I can’t do this alone.’ I draw inspiration from my lived experiences and those of others.
FH: I was a classically trained pianist, so breaking out of the classical shell is still happening for me. And I’ve really grown in that sense, using my ear and intuition.
Q: Can you share any upcoming projects? Hopes and ambitions for the future?
AS: Over the summer, I worked on a collection called “Seasons,” one song for every season. We’re working to bring those to life.
FH: I would love to start writing. That’s very scary, but that’s my personal project. It would also be great to see an all-girls band.
Q: What does it mean for you to champion women in the arts, especially jazz?
FH: I’d say that women working together is something new to me. I’ve really only worked with men in jazz ever since I started.
AS: There’s power in women working with women, in Flora and I being like, ‘Hey guys, want to play with us?’ Women have voices and things they want to express, and I think that jazz is so ethereal that it’s a great medium to express those feelings.
Q: Thoughts on how jazz has shaped your Bowdoin experience?
AS: There is so much talent—the caliber is actually mind-boggling. And it’s a way for me to set my goals high, but also, I get so much genuine joy watching talented musicians do their thing. It just warms my heart and life to see Flora go off on a run.
A lot of times, people view women in the same spaces as competitors, but for me, as a woman, I’m not competing against any other women. I’m me. That’s what I bring to the table. And that’s something that we stand for.
FH: Ariana provides space for me to choose. People would choose my songs for me growing up, since I accompany most of the time. Now, I’m trying to understand what I want to do musically.
Q: How has jazz has been formative in your life?
FH: Having a musical voice runs parallel to having a voice in any environment. Before I did anything with jazz, I was afraid to speak in class. But 10 seconds of soloing is—in a way—equivalent to speaking up for 10 seconds in a room full of strangers.
AS: Jazz has definitely been a channel for growth. It allows me to bring my individuality to the table, outside of the classroom and outside of my friends, and really just be myself; Flora is being herself, and we’re ourselves together, and we work.
Q: Any closing thoughts?
AS: Women are freaking awesome!
FH: And we have a lot more to learn and a lot more to say.