Three-time JUNO nominee Elizabeth Shepherd is back in Halifax next week releasing her fifth album The Signal. We caught up with the Montreal based pianist and vocalist before she heads east for Contact East this weekend in Pictou, Nova Scotia. Here's what we chatted about.
Halifax Jazz Festival: What got you started in music?
Elizabeth Shepherd: I have an older brother (five years older) who started piano lessons when I was an infant. I can remember wanting to learn music from that moment on. I asked my parents if I could learn piano when I was about four, and was told I had to wait until I was six - the age my brother was when he started lessons (it's only fair). My parents (who were both Salvation Army ministers) were also musical, so I think music was just always part of me. I learned a brass instrument at church, sang in choirs, and on top of that I took piano lessons at the conservatory. Basically for as long as I can remember, I was making music every day.
HJF: What is your song writing process?
ES: I love ideas. I read philosophy for fun ... so I am always jotting things down - ideas, observations, notes - that then work their way into song lyrics (after a lengthy and difficult process - lyrics don't come easily to me). Simultaneously, I'm always writing musical ideas (composition comes much more naturally). Eventually, I pair them together later, when I feel either is ready. They are really separate processes.
HJF: What can we expect that is different for Signal than your previous albums?
ES: This is the first album where I really felt free of any constraint. For some reason before, I always felt this subtle pressure - to be good enough, to be "jazz" enough, to prove myself. Maybe it's having a child that has shifted my priorities and has made me more grounded. Regardless of the reasons, I don't feel that same need to prove myself. So I think the sound is more - complex? nuanced? Certainly it's less categorically jazz (or anything for that matter). I think that's also partly a result of having grown up in cities like Montreal, Toronto and Paris - surrounded by so many different types of music that invariably make their way into what I do. These are incredibly multicultural places, so that cross-pollination of genres is inevitable (and this is a good thing, I think!). This album has more guests - steel pan player Mark Mosca, guitar genius Lionel Loueke, upcoming vocalist Alex Samaras (to name a few). Also, the themes on this album are a little more dense and political (though I hesitate to use that word, because it implies some kind of agenda, which is not the case). Another difference with this album is that I really tried to optimize my time in the studio. There is an art to making an album, that lies in the choices of how to utilize all of the resources at ones disposal in the studio setting. There are seemingly infinite choices - what mic to use, where to place it, what effects to use, where to place the instruments in spatial relation to each other, what instruments to use, what treatment to give each voice/instrument ... and the art lies in how you make the decisions given all these options. And finally, this project was a complete vision, not just a collection of songs. I had a vision for the artwork, the album as a whole (that it play from start to finish with interruption), for the staging of the show.
HJF: How has making music changed since motherhood?
ES: In becoming a mother, life has changed in ways that I can't begin to list. The biggest shift I would say, is away from myself. Someone else has become my priority and her life, my responsibility. That's big. I began to think more about the kind of world she will grown up in, what life will be like for her, what kind of world I will pass down, how do I help her navigate this crazy new technology-driven era that is still so new and untested, in many ways. These were all questions that I attempted to deal with in "The Signal". It's a way of working some of these things out, of raising some questions, some awareness. And of offering something to my daughter (and others).
HJF: How old is your daughter now?
ES: She will be 3 in 2 weeks.
HJF: Wow! That's a busy age. How do you manage to keep a work life balance?
ES: I'm not sure I do. I try hard to do it all, but like most working mothers, I'm often burnt out, feeling spread thin, like I'm doing a poor job on all fronts. This is where it is tremendously helpful to have a husband step in, help me recalibrate, and tell me that I'm doing just fine.
HJF: Jazz is at the heart of Halifax Jazz Festival programming. How has jazz and jazz musicians influenced your work?
ES: To me, music is freedom. Jazz was something I came to a little later (in my early 20s), at a time when I was beginning to really explore that relationship between music and freedom. In discovering jazz, I felt this incredible relief and opening, as though I were coming to a new language that had infinitely more words than the language I previously knew. Jazz has informed everything I've done since; I also strive to make music accessible, to communicate with people, but at the same time, I bring the language of jazz to what I do. It is a sophisticated form that is demanding, and at times runs the risk of being esoteric and exclusive. I try to maintain a balance between remaining accessible and interesting.
HJF: What's on your 8 track/walkman/Ipod these days?
ES: Tiken Jah Fakoly - "Human Thing"
Tanya Tagaq - "Umingmak"
Eric Bibb - "Have a Heart"
Paul McCartney - "Temporary Secretary"
Joshua Redman - "East of the Sun"
Organized Konfusion - "Maintain"
Camille Saint-Saëns - "The Carnival of the Animals" (always on hand for my daughter)
Thomas Mapfumo - "Kwaedza Mu Zimbabwe"
HJF: Thank you for sharing Elizabeth!
The Halifax Jazz Festival and Scotia Festival of Music presents Elizabeth Shepherd 7 PM Thursday, October 2 at the Peggy Corkum Music Room. She will be joined by an all-star quartet of Canadian jazz musicians including trumpeter Kevin Turcotte. Tickets are $25/ $20 (students, seniors and Halifax Jazz Festival members) and can be purchased advance online or at the door.
Montreal pianist and vocalist Elizabeth Shepherd is back in Halifax releasing her fifth album The Signal at the Peggy Corkum Music Room 7 PM Thursday, October 2. Co-presented by Scotia Festival of Music and the Halifax Jazz Festival, this three-time JUNO nominee will be joined by an all-star quartet of Canadian jazz musicians including trumpeter Kevin Turcotte.
Pianist and vocalist Elizabeth Shepherd arrived on the international scene in 2006 when her debut album Start To Move was voted one of the Top 3 jazz albums of the year by the listeners of the Gilles Peterson Show on BBC Radio Worldwide. Since then, the Montreal-based souljazz innovator has released three widely acclaimed records and toured extensively in North America, Europe, Japan and Latin America. The three-time JUNO nominee has sold out legendary clubs from Tokyo to Detroit, played festivals like Montreal and North Sea Jazz Festivals, shared the stage with greats like Victor Wooten and Branford Marsalis and opened for Jamie Cullum at The Hollywood Bowl.
Join Shepherd as she presents music from her latest album The Signal. The subject matter for the songs covers topics as wide-ranging as Monsanto and motherhood, witchcraft and war.
Tickets for Elizabeth Shepherd are $25 ($20 for students, seniors and Halifax Jazz Festival members). The Peggy Corkum Music Room is located at 6181 Lady Hammond Road. Doors open at 6 PM and all ages are welcome. For more information and to purchase tickets please visit the event page or call the Scotia Festival of Music at 902-429-9467.
Halifax Jazz Festival fall season begins with diverse world rhythms from New York City's Banda Magda
New York City’s Banda Magda will make its Halifax debut Saturday, September 27 at The Company House. Presented by the Halifax Jazz Festival, local duo Magnolia opens the night starting at 8 PM.
"This is one of those rare musical opportunities you don't want to hear about after the fact,” states Laura 'Lulu' Healy, Halifax Jazz Festival Artistic Director. “Magda has a unique charm and obvious passion for the beauty in life, and the pool of talent in the band is immense"
Banda Magda is a four-piece, led by Greek-born singer, accordionist, film scorer and composer Magda Giannikou; Giannikou has caught the attention of everyone from the Kronos Quartet to Louis CK. Banda Magda's music is a blend of Greek dance rhythms, French pop, jazz manouche and more. Sung in six different languages, their songs hearken back to the golden age of Brazilian bossa and the lush chic of vintage French pop, all while drawing on the band’s global background. Some members of Banda Magda will be familiar to Halifax; in 2009 bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo and percussionist Keita Ogawa performed at the Halifax Jazz Festival, and returned later that year to execute a live recording with The Secret Music Project at the Sonic Temple.
Banda Magda's Yerakina , set to release on September 23, vibrates with the same bright, bold strokes as their 2013 album Amour, t’es là? (which was named by NPR as one of the year’s best world music albums). Now, instead of Magda Giannikou’s wildly romantic originals, Banda Magda turns to traditional and classic tunes of love and devotion. Diverse rhythms and melodies from different corners of the globe cross-pollinate, giving chansons Afro-Peruvian sway or Greek folk tunes with a mad dash of Northeastern Brazilian beats.
Halifax's Magnolia opens the night with their unique blend of jazz, blues and folk. Comprised of Leanne Hoffman and Scott MacLean, the duo is busy promoting their first EP. In March 2014 the group was pick of the week by CBC national radio host Tom Power. Magnolia is a restless act with influences spanning from Feist to Paul Simon to Nina Simone. Their sound brings together pop, smoky country and swing to create something unique, with an irreplaceable organic feel.
Tickets for Banda Magda | Magnolia are $20 ($18 for Halifax Jazz Festival members).
From the legendary Mavis Staples to rising acts Banda Magda and Elizabeth Shepherd to the Christmas classic Tales of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Halifax Jazz Festival's 2014 fall line-up showcases the diversity of jazz.
The New York group Banda Magda takes the stage at The Company House 8 PM Saturday, September 27 with new songs from their second album Yerakina released earlier that month. Charismatic and multi-talented vocalist/accordionist Magda Giannikou sings in French, English, Greek and Portuguese to original Greek dance rhythms and samba beats, creating a fun and fresh show. Opening the night is Magnolia, a Halifax duo that gained notoriety when it was pick of the week last March by CBC national radio host Tom Power.
Montreal pianist and vocalist Elizabeth Shepherd performs at the Peggy Corkum Music Room 7 PM Thursday, October 2. Co-presented by the Scotia Festival of Music, this three-time JUNO nominee will be joined by an all-star quartet of Canadian jazz musicians including trumpeter Kevin Turcotte as she tours her latest album Signal.
Legendary soul icon Mavis Staples takes the stage at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium 8 PM Thursday, October 9. Mavis Staples found fame in The Staple Singers alongside her family with her father Pops, brother Pervis and sisters Cleotha and Yvonne Staples. For more than six decades, her music has resonated with audiences worldwide. From the delta-inflected gospel sound she helped create in the 1950s, to engaged protest anthems of the 1960s and pop radio breakout hits in the 1970s, Mavis Staples is an icon of perseverance, strength and hope. Local musician Erin Costelo, winner of a 2014 ECMA Award for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year, opens the night.
The fall line-up concludes with the Halifax Jazz Festival's 11th annual fundraiser for music education. Tales of A Charlie Brown Christmas with the Jerry Granelli Trio and Vivace Children's Choir takes place 2 PM and 8 PM Sunday, December 7, at the Spatz Theatre. Back by popular demand the concert features local jazz legend and drummer Jerry Granelli, an original and only surviving member of the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The Halifax Jazz Festival extends a warm welcome to families to experience this music. During the matinee performance one child (12 and under) may accompany an adult for free.
Tickets for Banda Magda | Magnolia are $20 ($18 for Halifax Jazz Festival members). Tickets for Elizabeth Shepherd are $25 ($20 for seniors, students and Halifax Jazz Festival members). Tickets for Mavis Staples | Erin Costelo range from $24.50 - $62.50, and are for sale online at artscentre.dal.ca, at the Box Office located in the lobby of the Dalhousie Arts Centre, or by telephone at (902) 494-3820 or 1-800-874-1669.
Emma's Festival Blog: Sketches at Jubilee Swing Orchestra with Ben Caplan and Carmen Townsend | Swingology
Emma FitzGerald was at the closing night of the festival to see Swingology and the Jubilee Swing Orchestra with Ben Caplan and Carmen Townsend. She captured these lovely sketches of the final night and shared them with us. Thanks for a wonderful festival and see you in the summer of 2015!
It’s not often you see a dance floor shared by such a wide range of ages. But at this year’s closing show, everyone from college kids to seniors jumped, jived and wailed to close out this year's festival.
The unconventional pairing of retro swing music with the gritty vocals of modern folk song yielded one hell of a party. But that shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The Jubilee Swing Orchestra are experts in getting people out of their seats, sweeping even those who will sheepishly tell you “I don’t dance” into at least bopping appreciatively to the rhythm despite themselves. Layer the growling voice of Ben Caplan on top, and you get an edgy crooner vibe that lends a modern tone to the whole show.
And let’s not forget the fiery Carmen Townsend, whose voice captures all of the heat and expression inherent in old-time jazz lyrics. A more traditional choice to accompany the JSO, her duets with Caplan were all the more touching for their chemistry and contrast.
Caplan and Townsend had such genuine interaction on stage that it felt like we were hearing spontaneous renditions, despite the fact that this music was all written nearly one hundred years ago. In spite of all the 1930’s slang in the lyrics, the crowd was able to share in the stories and the jokes thanks to the teasing tone between the two; Townsend crooning her parts with unmatchable smoothness, slyly addressing Caplan—who sportingly played the fool with his enormous coiffed beard bursting untamed from a tuxedo.
Hopefully this won't be the last collaboration between these artists. And if Caplan ever needs another job, he can always become a nightclub singer.
Jonathan's Festival Blog: Bill Frisell-GUITAR IN THE SPACE AGE! | Julian Priester's "Love, Love" with Jerry Granelli
Before starting the last two movements of Julian Priester’s Love, Love, drummer Jerry Granelli shared a quote Priester told an audience once before a performance.
“Forget everything you know about music and enjoy yourself.”
For some one who didn’t grow up listening to much jazz, or any music until junior high for that matter, it was the moment that stuck out to me the most in the show. It was an invitation to enjoy the show without being intimidated by the complicated music unfolding.
It would be easy to be intimated at this show, featuring two legendary musicians. Julien Priester played with Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley in his teens. Later on in life he played in Sun Ra’s band. He’s played a long side Duke Ellington. The list goes on. Headlining the show was Bill Frisell, the innovative and legendary jazz guitarist with an impressive catalogue of over 30 records.
With such a loaded lineup, it would be easy to get caught up in what both musicians have done in the past, or what music should or shouldn’t sound like. But after hearing Granelli share Priester’s quote it was easy to sit back, relax and let the music do its work.
Priester was joined by J. Anthony Granelli on bass, Christian Kogel on guitar, Dani Oore on saxophone, Tim Crofts on keys and Jerry Granelli on drums. As they played Priester’s 1973 solo album Love, Love in it’s entirety, it was easy to get lost in the music. Each movement took time to build, making slight turns in different directions as repetitive notes slowly changed. At one point, Jerry Granelli was just playing a string of bells and it felt like time had stopped.
While the music at the TD Halifax Jazz Festival tent certainly was dreamlike, the surrounding environment was also breathtakingly beautiful. The full moon was visible over top the condos behind the tent, providing a spotlight in the sky while the sun was setting and the sky was ignited by bright pink clouds. For the moment, I forgot I was in Halifax.
And then came Bill Frisell’s Guitar In The Space Age show. By this point the sun had set and it was time to focus on Frisell’s music. It was an observational exercise as the audience gathered sat in chairs, bobbing heads along and clapping hands here and there as they witnessed mind- blowing guitar playing. Frisell was joined Greg Leisz on guitar, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. You could sense the elite musicianship of all the players. It was particularly delightful watching Leisz on the pedal steel exchange guitar licks with Frisell. At times, the sounds of guitar sounded like intimate lovers, finishing off each other’s thoughts in perfect harmony. They were off in their own little world. It felt like if they looked out at the crowd or spoke, their concentration would be broken and everything would fall into chaos.
The setlist featured songs from legendary artists including The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Byrds and The Tornados. Of course Frisell played each song in his own special way, taking elements of the originals but expanding and adding to them, making the songs exciting in a new way.
But I tried to not compare the songs to the originals or have expectations of what a live performance should look like. Rather, I forgot everything I knew about music and enjoyed myself.
Emma FitzGerald was at the Lemon Bucket Orkestra show last night and captured the experience through wonderful sketches. Catch more of Emma's art throughout the festival!
If Guy Davis tells you to bark like a dog, you're going to bark like a dog. And if he asks you to howl, you better believe you'll do that too. The commanding Brooklyn bluesman had the capacity crowd doing both these things last night on The Company House's late night stage, but for most of his two sets he had us wooed to a captivated silence.
Davis is the type of performer who doesn't need a big backing band to get your attention. He, on his own, is enough. Switching between six- and 12-string guitars, quick-picking and sliding his way through original songs and long-loved classic blues tracks, Davis delivered each word smoothly with his deep, gravelly but incredibly animated voice. But that wasn't the only way he owned the room. Every song had a story, an interesting, funny or historically relevant one that he took the time to pull each audience member into, making the great songs all the better with context. Whether he was recounting a trip to Edinburgh in a full (and may I say flawless) Scottish accent, sharing a memory of when he stood at Blind Willie McTell's grave or poking fun at the Rolling Stones, Davis kept the momentum of the show rolling at all times.
His strong connection to the past, and understanding of the real, early blues—the genre that basically created modern music—was authentic and sincere. This man is a true storyteller. Because of this, the show felt truly intimate despite the packed bar, so much so that audience members even tried to banter with him---which he corrected with a hilariously delivered, "Let me do the dialogue."
After set two, the room erupted into a raucous standing O, prompting one last tune, which once again brought the crowd, who probably would have listened all night long, to their feet.