Hockey Night in Canada, Klezmer Music, Shopping Is Good and All That Jazz

By Filipenko, Cindy | Herizons, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview
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Hockey Night in Canada, Klezmer Music, Shopping Is Good and All That Jazz


Filipenko, Cindy, Herizons


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She bops! She grooves! She swings! She also does a dozen other things to ensure that the bills get paid on time. She's the Canadian female jazz singer, and while her survival may seem precarious at times, she's a tenacious creature. After all, she's been making significant contributions to the cannon since the art form's inception, as evidenced by Vancouver-based Mother of Pearl's new CD sheBOP!.

Subtitled "a century of jazz compositions by Canadian women" sheBOP! features some truly great tunes, including Ruth Lowe's "I'll Never Smile Again" and Jane Vasey's "Trying to Keep Her 88's Straight." While many of these songs--not to mention their composers--are virtually unknown in the country of their origin, sheBOP! is breathing new life into the long-forgotten Canadian female jazz singer. Conceived originally as a concert piece designed to showcase the female composers who cropped up on Mother of Pearl's playlist, the recording was released this past March. The choices on sheBOP! are inspired and playful. You can practically hear people saying, "I didn't know that was written by a woman" or "I didn't know that was jazz," with the recording's opening chords of Dolores Claman's Hockey Night in Canada theme. This is a well-rounded collection that provides an exciting introduction to a genre that has long been pigeonholed.

To the casual listener, jazz may be nothing more than a smoky-voiced female singer interpreting the songbooks of Cole Porter and George Gershwin. Nanaimo-born Diana Krall's career is a testament to this. Until the explosion of Texan Norah Jones' career, Krall was jazz's bestselling artist. Combine the success of Krall and Jones with that of the film Chicago--which paid homage to jazz's red hot mamas--and it looks like we're in the making of a new jazz renaissance. Krall's combined album sales have topped two million, Jones recently picked up five Grammy's for her five-million-unit-selling debut, Come Away with Me, and Chicago cleaned up at the Oscars. So what do a couple of superstars and a hit movie mean for the typical woman jazz musician?

The website for Canada's furthest reaching jazz program, CBC radio's After Hours, confirms that while most people have a male-identified view of jazz, what's pouring into their ears is different. The Listener's Top 10 Jazz Albums Of All Time is dominated by John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and, with the exception of Canadian Oscar Peterson's Night Train, is entirely comprised of work by African-American male musicians. However, of the dozen titles featured on the site's Top Picks, half of those featured are women, including Canadians Joani Taylor, Molly Johnson and Carol Welsman. Carol who?

Despite critically well-received projects, most Canadians would recognize Taylor and Johnson's voices from their commercial and backup work. Johnson is the voice behind the Bay's "Shopping is Good" jingle and Taylor's 1979 regional hit "You Look Good" was used to hawk Buicks in the early '80s.

Multi-lingual singer/lyricist Carol Welsman, named Vocalist of the Year at the 2002 National Jazz Awards, is hardly a household name, though that may be about to change. Like Johnson and Taylor, Welsman has done her time on the jingle scene, as both a writer and a singer.

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"I made about $20,000 a year singing jingles in French. I did the Sears campaign for Quebec," says Welsman, an anglophone who also sings in Portuguese and Italian. "I also did voice-over work and operated my own label for more than 10 years."

Despite the challenges of a career in jazz, Welsman confirms that it was a good choice.

"The popular music world is a short-lived world. If you are signed to a label you get one kick at the can. If you're not added to radio in a major way within eight weeks of your album coming out, it's over," according to Welsman.

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