Smooth Enough for This Jazz Idiot!

Jaclyn Guillou at the Silverton Gallery, April 7, 2011

I admit it. I’m a jazz idiot. I don’t know my Charlie Parker from my Dizzy Gillespie. Although I have been called a walking rock and blues encyclopedia. (No pop quizzes, please.) But as the saying goes, I know what I like. Hearing Jaclyn Guillou sing live at the Silverton Gallery was one of those moments. And I don’t even usually like jazz that much.

Jaclyn Guillou at the Silverton Gallery, April 7, 2011. Photo ©2011 Sean Arthur Joyce

This young woman sings like she already has a lifetime of jazz under her belt. So natural, so smooth, sliding effortlessly from one lilt into the next with a poise—an ease that belies her years. Yet it’s clear when she sings that she is completely captivated by her music—transported, as all of us in that room were. And all this from someone who hasn’t cracked 30 yet. Okay, I’m convinced. This girl has been around the block before, right? As whom? Sarah Vaughan? Dinah Washington?

Guillou has to be pressed to admit to these classic jazz vocal influences. But they certainly shape her approach to songs. She is quick to acknowledge Nancy King and Kate McGarry. It’s not every day you hear a jazz singer tell an audience her favourite songwriter is Joni Mitchell. Yet with such ease and joy Guillou slips into silky jazz phrasing even when singing Joni Mitchell’s classic California, you wonder if she was born to this. “I always say I don’t want to copy anyone, but she speaks to me,” she says. Nor would one usually expect to find Rufus Wainwright on a jazz player’s sheet music stand. But according to Guillou, she identifies as much with storytelling folk musicians like Mitchell and Wainwright as she does with the jazz greats.

Michael Rush co-produced Guillous debut, To the City. Photo ©2011 Sean Arthur Joyce

Fortunately for us she admits to being easily bored, and needing to switch gears, mix in a little Latin, swing, folk… Better yet, she brings along four musicians who are most certainly world-class players, shifting voice seamlessly as the sea. The Silverton Gallery was treated to the keyboard alchemy of Belgian pianist Bram Weijters, nimble vibes of Brooklyn’s Tom Beckham, fluid control of stand-up bass player Michael Rush, and dazzling polyrhythms of drummer Joe Poole, the latter both from Vancouver. (Piano duties are handled on Guillou’s debut album, To the City, by Randy Porter.) She’s justifiably proud of her international band, and well aware how lucky she is to be playing with such gifted players. Some musicians have to play a helluva lotta smoky dives before they get to play with guys that good.

In the liner notes for To the City Guillou admits to some trepidation over taking the plunge as a songwriter. “I started thinking about writing this album five years ago when I was sitting alone in a hotel room in the wild city of Calcutta, India. I remember the feeling of excitement and overwhelming fear as I was deciding to finally accept my true passion as a songwriter. Up until that moment I had been mainly an interpreter and immersing myself into the world of other peoples’ songs and stories.” Besides the eight tracks Guillou wrote, she wanted to include jazz standards That’s All, All or Nothing At All. Even the nonsense song O Pato (about a duck) sounds hip and sophisticated with its Latin swing and Portuguese lyrics.

Jaclyn Guillou: rising jazz star? ©2011 Sean Arthur Joyce

I think even if Guillou had decided to become a jazz interpreter she’d have done well. Outstanding interpreters like Eva Cassidy put a shine on songs we never knew was there. We’ll love her forever for it. As it is, Guillou’s originals have the brassy, mellow glow of jazz standards. As if they were plucked straight out of the vault and given a gently modern spin. Again—please don’t ask me to cite chapter and verse. I’m a jazz idiot, remember? All I know is that her phrasing, intonation, coffee-and-cream vibrato—well, you’d better listen for yourself. Jaclyn Guillou has arrived.

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About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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