Simona Smirnova is a Lithuanian born jazz vocalist, composer and kanklės player based in New York City. She’s a fixture in the New York live scene with her quartet when she’s not touring the world, including Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Smirnova’s genre-bending style has a unique theatrical flavor and uncanny vocal improvisation techniques. She deftly implements chamber music, Lithuanian zither – kanklės and folkloric chants into foundations of jazz and rock.
Smirnova’s second album, Joan of Arc, for String Quartet, is an original composition written as a soundtrack for the classic Carl Dreyer silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). The album is a cinematic landscape of chamber pop, jazz and folklore. Simona's latest work, it's her third album "Bird Language" which was released on April 8, 2022. The record combines jazz and Lithuanian folk music written for jazz quartet, string quartet, vocal ensemble, zither and saxophone. You can hear Simona performing her "Bird Language" act in the New York jazz scene on a regular basis.
Classically trained on Lithuanian zither – kanklės, Smirnova earned her BA in jazz vocals at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater. Shortly after receiving the European Touring Scholarship, she moved to the United States to study at Berklee College of Music where she earned a degree in Contemporary Composition and Production. Simona is a very active member of the musician community around the globe; she is an Alumna of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, a mentor at Berklee Alumni Mentorship program, she is a voting member of Grammy Recording Academy, a mentor at Grammy U program, and a composer member of New York Composers Circle (NYCC).
SIMONA SMIRNOVA (LONG BIO)
Simona Smirnova wants to show you who she is. On her recently released LP, Bird Language, the Lithuania-born, New York-based vocalist/composer forgoes the fictional narrative elements that characterized her previous releases, instead crafting a sonic portrait of the artist and the world that has shaped her. “Both of my previous records were inspired by a fictional or historical figure,” says Smirnova. “For this third album, I wanted to represent myself as I am. Rather than shielding myself with a fictional character, this record is meant to expose me as a person and musician.”
Smirnova has been creating Bird Language for the past three years, writing and arranging compositions at her piano, demoing and recording alongside a jazz quartet, reworking and performing the arrangements, and ultimately teaming up with co-producer Maksim Perepelica and engineer Mike Marciano at Samurai Hotel Recording Studio in Queens, NY to record the album. Though Smirnova is the core vocalist, composer and songwriter, her ensemble for Bird Language also includes saxophonist Berta Moreno, pianist Caili O’Doherty, drummer Maxime Cholley, violinists Adrianne Munden-Dixon and Caroline Drexler, violist Carrie Frey, cellist Julia Henderson, background vocalists Takuma Matsui and Harini "Rini" Raghavan, and Perepelica on bass. To put the finishing touches on
Bird Language, Smirnova sent the album to Grammy Award winning mixing/mastering engineer Dave Darlington, best known for his work with Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, and on the HBO series Oz.
Although Bird Language is a more personal record than Smirnova’s previous LPs—2017’s A Hunger Artist and 2020’s Joan of Arc, For String Quartet—the new album doesn’t rely on purely confessional songwriting, but rather explores Smirnova’s relationship to the natural world, nature’s relationship with humanity, and humanity’s relationship with one another. “This whole album is nature themed,” says Smirnova. “I’ve always been very connected to nature and now in my daily life I advocate for the green movement, conscious living, and things like that, but I wanted to create music that shows an appreciation for nature from a deeper perspective.”
Bird Language kicks off with its title track, opening with fluttering avian vocalizations before developing into an avant-garde piece of Eastern European-tinged jazz/exotica that sets the stage for the remainder of the album and introduces Smirnova’s unique style and affection for the natural world. The following track, “Volcano Dreams,” channels groundbreaking artists like Bjork and Joanna Newsom while exploring the ways that humans are connected through the physical land beneath our feet. “Just like tectonic plates, people might be sometimes very close to each other but constantly shifting,” says Smirnova. “When plates collide, they form explosive volcanoes, and I always saw that as a good representation of people’s relationships to one another.”
Elsewhere on the album, the theatrical, piano-driven “Dandelion Time” celebrates the magic of Springtime, as well as resilience and the renewed sense of life following a harsh Winter. “Solstice,” meanwhile, is an ode to the Summer solstice and the celebratory festivals and traditions that surrounded Smirnova throughout her childhood in Lithuania, and interpolates melodies and harmonies from a traditional solstice folk song. The following track, “Intuition” is a mood-altering jazz track that defies straightforward interpretation. “Instrumental music is more abstract and open to interpretation,” says Smirnova. “Just like intuition itself, it’s not clearly defined, we just feel it in our bodies. So I wanted to capture that theme musically, and I thought a more abstract arrangement would aid that.”
Growing up in a small village in Lithuania, Smirnova took to music at an early age, attending music school and learning to play the zither when she was only six years old. In her teen years, she relocated to a bigger city, took up the guitar, and founded a punk festival when she was seventeen. She earned her BA in jazz vocal performance from the Lituanian Academy of Music and Theater before moving to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music with a focus in contemporary writing and production. Bird Language exists as a culmination of Smirnova’s eclectic background, an inventive jazz record combining Baltic folklore, theatrical and pop-influenced vocals, and chamber music into an exciting, unique sound all her own.
Bio written by John Graffo, Baby Robot Media.