It’s the best of
all trades, to make song;
and the second best to sing them. Hillaire Belloc
He who sings prays twice.
DAYS ARE SO GOOD AND FREE
the instruments that are called upon to express and articulate
the language of jazz, none is as immediate as the voice, which
often plays second fiddle in jazz festivals, in part because the
voice can’t go where other instruments make their home –
especially in the newer and more exploratory genres of jazz: Bebop,
free-form, expressionism. In the 1920s, Louis Armstrong introduced
Scat, the singing of nonsense syllables, which allowed the voice
to mimic the more fluid and capable sequences of notes produced
by all other musical instruments, but it was ultimately found
wanting, though in the hands of its most formidable practitioners,
such as Ella Fitzgerald, it gained legitimacy as a mode of jazz
expression, albeit which audiences did not particularly cotton
voice came into its own through the standards, many of which were
written for musicals and later turned into jazz: Billie Holiday,
Carmen McRae, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn,
to mention a few among the legends.
Montreal International Jazz Festival offers a full
schedule and panoply of female voices in jazz, covering everything
from The American Songbook to jazz that has fused with the musics
of other countries and continents, such as Brazil and Africa,
to post-modern jazz that incorporates elements from soul, hip-hop
and even folk.
by far and away most jazz voices are feminine is an on-going subject
of speculation, to which I’ll add my own 12-bars. The sheer
physicality involved in playing and mastering the saxophones and
trumpet is a challenge that many women are not up to, while the
unwieldy guitar, for the most part, has always been man’s
best friend. In jazz, women are disproportionately attracted to
piano and voice. If we can agree that constitutionally, women
are more generally more comfortable in their emotional skins than
men, the voice -- the only instrument that doesn't require external
mediation -- will
quite naturally be their first choice. When we look to the language
that speaks to the human heart, la condition humaine,
and that crazy little thing called love in all its guises and
disguises, it is surely the voice that best speaks that language.
I go at a maddening pace, and I pretend that it's taking your
but what else can you do at the end of a love affair."
the very best and versatile of the voices performing at this year's
jazz festival belongs to Lizz Wright, who, on July
5th, will be performing songs from her latest CD,
Freedom and Surrender, as well as the standards. Her
astonishing, probing version of “The Nearness of You”
must rank near to the very best.
preternaturally clean and powerful voice tilts to the soul side
of jazz. She can take any lyric and turn it into a liquid for
Sun Nah returns to Montreal for a third time June
28th. Her delicate but delectable and purposeful
vocalese belie the empathy she pours into the lyric. Audiences
everywhere have found a place in their hearts for her very particularized
takes on The American Songbook and heartfelt, compelling original
29th) and Kandace Springs (June
30th) are new voices soon to become familiar voices.
Both accompany themselves on the keyboards. Rubinos, with Cuba
pulsing through her veins, is all energy and sublimated upset.
She’ll be presenting original material, most of it from
her just released Black Terry Cat. She looks up to Nina
Simone for daring to combine music and the politics of race in
her repertoire. Springs brings a more conventional sound to her
music, and is equally comfortable performing pop and jazz.
needs no introduction to Montreal. Also back for a 3rd time (July
5th), she combines great intelligence and
restraint with a staggering vocal range transmuted into a mother
lode of haunting original material that evokes both Africa and
growing up absurd in the contradiction that is America. If you’re
looking for raw nerve and confession, Somi is the real deal.
there’s the deep-throated, dirt-road flamenco voice of Concha
Buika who brings her life long experience to Theatre Maissonneuve
4th). She’ll be performing songs from her
just released Para Mi. Nota bene: flamenco guitar
aficionados will not be disappointed. In the same rich flamenco
vein that is southern Spain, singer Rosalía and guitarist
Raül Refree will open the show in what promises to be a memorable
evening under an Andalucian sky.
voice to which we should lend our ears is that of Lisa Simone
6th). Yes, Nina’s daughter, who discovered
her love of jazz relatively late in life, but she brings to the
art form considerable Broadway experience. In the time it takes
to flick a switch, you’ll discover that she doesn’t
need any lineage boosts or publicity favours. She’s her
own voice, her own soul on spice.
everyone's radar, make a point of checking out Catherine Russell
3rd) who will be backed up by gifted guitarist/singer
John Pizzarelli, one of the greats of his generation. He’s
the recommendation a singer can only dream of. If too many singer’s
are guilty of pouring too much voice into material that can’t
support the weight, Russell’s understatement-restraint is
a welcome change of pace, while her voice shines like a beam of
light on whatever lyric she’s working out. She'll be paying
tribute to our Lady in Satin, the one and only Billie Holiday.
it comes to voice, best said by Ella: “The only thing better
than singing is more singing.”
all that jazz and more, keep your calender open from June 28th
until July 8 for the 38th edition of the mother of all festivals,
the Montreal International Jazz Festival.