If you are looking for freedom, self-expression and late nights, jazz is the place, pianist Zoe Rahman tells Peter Bacon.
For many people living outside that friendly little country called jazz, it was the Mercury Prize last year that brought the name Zoe Rahman within their radar.
When the short-listed artists played at the televised awards ceremony, it was Zoe's performance with her trio that drew even more attention from those watching at home.
Not only did she seem to provide an oasis of focused and transcendent music-making amid the hubbub and hysterics of the occasion, in an interview during the programme she was just so radiantly delighted to be there and part of it all.
This is clearly a musician who understands that you don't have to be cynical or appear unimpressed to be cool, and it's probably these same characteristics that draw a wider audience to her music.
It is so unashamedly joyful, the playing grabs at life and celebrates it, and all in the most subtle, yet accessible, way.
You will be able to experience all this in person on Thursday evening at the Midlands Arts Centre when Zoe and her band explore not only some jazz standards and her own compositions, but also interpretations of the Bengali music that forms another part of her heritage.
Of course, there was a lot of Rahman life before the Mercury Prize.
I asked Zoe what it was that first attracted her to jazz, and what it is that keeps fanning those flames of interest? After all, there are lots of easier ways to make a living, and achieve fame as well as fortune.
"I remember going to see the occasional gig where I grew up in Chichester and I loved hearing - and seeing - the spontaneity of jazz," she says. "I'd played classical music from when I was four years old, which is about learning to play what someone else has written.
"For me, jazz is about freedom, self-expression, late nights. It's not about making a living or achieving fame and fortune, it's about making music, and if the other things happen along the way, great."
Zoe had quite a lot of formal training behind her. She studied music at Oxford, and then jazz at contemporary music's most illustrious educational institution, Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Past Berklee students go all the way from John Abercrombie to Joe Zawinul. Zoe studied there with pianist JoAnne Brackeen.
She recorded her debut album, ironically titled The Cynic, in 2001 but that sunk virtually without trace. It was her 2005 release, Melting Pot, that drew the attention of the Mercury judges.
So is the rest "history"? What effect did winning a place on the Mercury short list have?
Has her lifestyle been transformed, the cramped hatchback dashes up and down the M1 that are the jobbing jazz musician's regular commute replaced by limos between airport first-class lounges?
And does teaching still have to play a part when the gigs are sparse? "All of the above," Zoe replies with seize-the-day enthusiasm.
"That's what makes being a musician so great - you never know what's going to happen next.
"I work with lots of different artists, which keeps life interesting and helps pay the bills. As for perceived success, I've been lucky this year to have had some wider recognition through the Nationwide Mercury Prize for what I'm doing, and as a result have had a fantastic year of gigging, which is what it's all about.
"Unfortunately though, jazz in general just doesn't have the financial support or media presence that it could do with, especially instrumental jazz, so it's still a hard slog for everyone, including myself.
"I've worked with musicians who tell me they still get paid the same fees for gigs that they were getting 20 years ago."
So, what will we hear on Thursday? "I've just recorded an album with my brother, Idris, which focuses on Bengali music - mainly songs that my dad has listened to for years but that we only discovered recently through transferring some old worn-out tapes of his to CD.
"Many of the songs were originally from 1950s films, especially the music by Hemant Mukherjee, so they're very atmospheric."
You can hear an example on Melting Pot - the final track is a lovely Mukherjee song called Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli.
"The music we'll be playing on the gig will be our own jazz-inspired interpretations of some of these Bengali tunes, as well as some other jazz music by people like Abdullah Ibrahim and Thelonious Monk played by myself on piano, Idris on clarinet, Kuljit Bhamra on percussion, Gene Calderazzo on drums and Oli Hayhurst on bass."
Can Zoe contain the energy of such an explosive player as Calderazzo?
"Well, Gene is fantastic to work with - I wouldn't want to contain him. It's great working with all of the other musicians too - very inspiring."
Finally, I tried to get Zoe's views on why it is that no matter how eclectic the music - and jazz absorbs other influences and is played by a wide range of musicians - the audience remains predominantly just like me: white, middle-aged and male. I get a diplomatic and, again, optimistic answer.
"I think that the music world is too often divided up into separate worlds. For me, it's all music and I like hearing and playing many different styles. I get all kinds of people coming to my gigs and I especially hope that I can inspire more women to get involved in playing jazz - it's about time."
Inspiration is certainly to be found at a Zoe Rahman gig.
* Birmingham Jazz and sampad present Zoe Rahman and her band at the mac on Thursday from 8pm. Tickets at £9 (£7 cons) from 0121 440 3838 or on www.macarts.co.uk Zoe's new album, Where Rivers Meet, will be released next year. Keep an eye on her website - www.zoerahman.com - for details of that. You can also buy Melting Pot, and the reissued The Cynic there. Or, presumably, at the gig.