Jeannette Lambert

Creative living through jazz & intuition

June 19, 2020
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Genius Loci, East

I am putting the final flourishes on the new album for my trio which is named for our latest project, Genius Loci, and the album title is East. This is a collaborative creation project instantly composed by me, Reg and Michel during our summer travels.

Reg sets up at Andan and Carl Valiquet’s Omah Joglo Salere in Central Java

Working with the notion of channeling the spirits of place we approached each recording day as a clean slate and a new musical adventure. Reg set up recording gear in one of the many spacious, beautiful rooms we had in Ubud, Yogyakarta, Salere, Indonesia or Kyoto, Japan. Then I would bring the poetry I’d written moments before. Michel rummaged around in kitchens and cupboards to find percussion instruments and so ended up playing buckets, pans, ladders and brushes made from brooms.

After bringing these new songs home to Montreal I polished them with the help of some other great artists, my good friends Luluk Purwanto (violin) and Dianne Aitken (flute). Everyone else in the family also joined in, with my sons JJ and Theo contributing backing vocals and gamelan layers and even my dad, Walter, keeping time with the ketuk he played with us all when we were at Rimbun Dahan in Malaysia.

So that’s how it was constructed, a bit like describing a pen and paper when the story itself is left to be told. Here is the first song brought to life by Theo. As he embarks on a new career in illustration as Beamboy.illustrator on Instagram, he brings the music to life visually with this speed art created for the song Tok Tok.

Look for the new album soon on my Bandcamp page. Meanwhile we will get ready for the next compass point of the project, Genius Loci, North!

April 7, 2020
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Michel Lambert’s Ars Transmutatoria in action

Do we all travel to the same place when we improvise, dream or imagine? Can a visual score allow us to travel to the same imaginal space together? These are the questions that pop into my thoughts as I consider my husband Michel Lambert’s epic Ars Transmutatoria project. In these days when it is difficult to travel in daily life, it is still possible to travel through music and imagination.

As we travelled the world together, or as we did pre-pandemic, Michel would always stop to observe nature around him closely and collected small details that caught his eye. In the same way I collect the energies of the spirits of place through song, he captures it in his visual scores, a multi-media multi-year project of art and music making. It is a logical progression of his Journal des Episodes that began back in the 1980s when he kept a daily diary of symphonic scores with a drawing each day. You can find those here.

So how can we bring all this magical energy he has collected to life? His first step has been to bring the scores to musicians who respond to the challenge in a series of evocative environments.

Here are some examples of the music created with this intuitive method. For this video, Ars Transmutatoria: Os, there are many layers at play. The score was created while we were in Paris, staying in a building once occupied by Victor Hugo. During our stay I enlisted my psychic dreaming friends in an experiment in remote viewing as Michel and I visited an exhibition of Basquiat. Needless to say they were uncanny as usual but I’ll save that story for another day. He brought this score as well as over forty more to the world renowned Studio la Buissonne in France where we met up with our creative musical friends from Barre Phillips’ EMIR group.

Here is the video with the music, instantly composed, and the score blown up for full effect.

Performed by Michel Lambert, drums; Jeannette Lambert, voice; Laurent Charles, sax; Davide Barbarino, sax; Lionel Garcin sax; and Emmanuel Cremer, cello. Recorded at Studio la Buissonne, Pernes les fontaines, France by Gérard de Haro, December 6, 2019. Mixing and film by myself.

Last summer in Kyoto during the Gion Matsuri or Festival, Michel composed this visual score from fragments gathered at the Artspace Yosuga residency. In December he brought the score to this immensely talented ensemble of free players in the only remaining Elizabethan Church in London.

Michel Lambert, drums; Caroline Kraabel, saxophone; Adrian Northover, saxophone; Susanna Ferrar, violin; Hyelim Kim, taegum; Jeannette Lambert, voice; Phil Minton, voice and trumpet; Trevor Taylor, vibes; Steve Beresford, piano; Veryan Weston, organ; Steve Noble, drums; John Edwards, acoustic bass. Recorded by Ali Ward. Recorded at the Old Church in Stoke Newington, London England on December 12 2019. Mix, master and film by myself.

Below are a few videos of other recording sessions from the last year featuring Alexandre Grogg, Michel Côté and Michel and these are also in production and created around the evocative scores. To be continued!

October 21, 2019
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Meeting Cecil Taylor in the Rockies

I was a punk in the 80s and also printed all the photos in this book featuring Cecil Taylor

Living by intuition means paying attention to the nudges of the universe and also responding actively to those nudges. So when I re-discovered my journal notes from my time at the summer jazz workshop in Banff just as I read a call for papers on Cecil Taylor, I decided my story was worth sharing. And they were kind enough to invite me to tell it. I presented it at Unit Structures: The Art of Cecil Taylor conference at the Graduate Center, CUNY and Brooklyn College on October 26, 2019.

It was a wonderful few days filled with people who knew Cecil at various points in his life sharing stories and thoughts, as well as people who had never met him but have been moved by his work offering theories and ideas. It was just as much a labyrinth of thought as any conversation with Cecil or moment with his music might be. And it culminated in a concert of his music directed by Karen Borca who was immersed in his work over many decades and who is carrying on his legacy with confidence and understanding.

https://unitstructures.commons.gc.cuny.edu/

I considered documenting my presentation here but for now I feel content to know the shape of it is out there, formed by the live presentation and not etched in digital stone. Let’s just say that I wanted to make sure that people who are interested in Cecil and his art also knew how inclusive and inspiring Cecil Taylor was to those of us who are often shuffled to the side or dismissed, the chick singers of the world who often stop and wonder if it is really all worth the bother, the effort of carving out space for ourselves in a place that doesn’t always seem to want us there. He also reinforced ideas I had that at the time were just forming and growing inside me about expressing energies from ancestral stories or words coming from other dimensions. So often discussion of the mystical in free jazz gets left in the dust but what of animal spirits, ancestral dna and dreaming? How many of the things we love share their origins in the imaginal realm?

Drawing of Cecil and an elk by Theo Lambert

I know more about shamanism now than I did when I arrived in Banff, before I met Cecil. It’s a word I hesitate to use about my own music as so many see it as belonging only to specific cultures or even just to special chosen men and yet I am pretty sure it is a universal energy that exists for all of us. I’ve met people in remote places in the world devoting themselves to making music in much the same way that we do in free jazz and for the same fundamental reasons. Cecil embodied that philosophy for me and his music contains all the answers to all the questions he raised. So that’s what I have to say about it, for now.

There was a lot of energy at this conference that travelled back in time to dreams I had earlier in the year and I have found traces of it in the dreams of my dream sharing friends too so I am not entirely sure what the mystic detective in me makes of all of that. I will have to continue gathering clues and piecing them together and moving forward with it as well. What I do know for sure is that I was very happy to be entirely myself, to be given the time to explain myself as I do here in this space. So that was a great thing and for that I am very grateful.

Glorious landscapes through the Adirondacks viewed from the train from Montreal

September 20, 2019
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Genius Loci, Mixtape

Genius Loci Mixtape is a collection of songs, the first in a series of several, from recording sessions with talented jazz musicians all over the world. Many are inspired by the genius loci, the spirits of place, in each of these cities. Some are invented around beautiful poems I’ve come across while travelling, poems originally in Catalan or Spanish, sung in translation thanks to the talents of A. Z. Foreman and A. S. Kline.

Review of Genius Loci Mixtape at theWholeNote

The songs are melodic and straddle genres, like ancestral folk songs that morph into stream of consciousness free jazz or vice versa. This is music to transport you to other worlds in your imagination. Free jazz and improvising has changed the way my brain works (hopefully for the best), making me nimble and adaptable, singing in the moment or singing dreams from a moment ago. And the musicians featured here are well-versed in spontaneous and evocative instant composing.

This music was created in evocative places like the second cellar of an old building in Paris, a raucous music festival next to burial caves in Sulawesi, an artist’s studio filled with paintings in El Raval in Barcelona, and our home studio behind in a brick cottage in the snow in Montreal. The many creative musicians performing with me include Michel Lambert, Reg Schwager, Barre Phillips, Glen Ferris, Greg Burk, François Théberge, Alexandre Grogg, Fendy Rizk, Bona Alit, Davide Barbarino, Julien Osty and Laurent Charles, all on a great variety of instruments including piano, guitar, harpsichord, bass, saxophone and trombone.

Barre Phillips and Michel at the Centre Européen Pour l’Improvisation

I’ve been vagabonding with my trio, Genius Loci, with Michel and Reg and our recording gear again this summer, visiting Bali, Java and Japan. So as I prepare our next recording, Genius Loci East, with all the music we invented there, we are excited to release this first collection.

Below is the first video to accompany the music. This song, A Windy Day, is based on Anne Bronte’s poem Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day. I released it earlier in the year as a single and a remastered version appears on the new recording.

We recorded it at Greg Burk‘s studio in Ostia outside of Rome. We walked beneath the majestic trees around Greg’s home with his little dog Mambo ahead of us so when it came time to settle in to make some music, somewhere between swimming, eating pizza and cracking pine nuts, this favourite poem of mine by Anne Bronte felt utterly right. And it feels even more apt now that Greg has embarked on a social media mission to save trees and our climate with his Musicians for Climate Action initiative which you can support by following the group’s Facebook Page.

Afterwards we continued on to stay at the Ozu artist residency near Lazio. There we’d feast on truffle linguine and spend our evenings drinking wine while sharing delicious dinners and bright ideas with fellow artists who ran the residency or were attending it. We composed and recorded there as well among all the metal sculptures and candy factory gear.

Near Ozu, in Lazio
At the Ozu artist residency

I filmed most of the video imagery at the beautiful Parc Mont-Orford when the trees were almost past their peak in fall foliage season. Hopefully the tree spirits in all these places, England where the poem originated, Ostia where we recorded it, Orford where I filmed it, will approve!

Many of these recordings were made during artist residencies and travels that were awarded funding. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and and the Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages 2013-2018 Education, Immigration, Communities, and also the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec for these activities.

November 23, 2018
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Jazzgrrl protests: nice for what?

After I first stepped out to sing jazz songs in public at the tender age of twelve, I was greeted with applause and then, a day later, an obscene phone call. I can see that moment so clearly still, the excitement of my parents as they handed me the phone, thinking this was something important coming up, and my horror at what I heard when I did say hello. My brother, who had also been on stage with me, didn’t have to put up with this kind of crap.

It was a pivotal moment in my view of my future, as I could see our paths diverging and the bumpy road I had up ahead of me. Reading Lionel Shriver’s misinformed and utterly unhelpful article this morning, with her claims that “The matter of ‘too many’ men in jazz is especially perverse, since there’s little evidence that women have been actively discriminated against”, this image floods back into my brain, etched in there like everything Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was talking about during her statements on Kavanaugh’s drunken attack.

In the 1990s I got so fed up with people saying there are no women in jazz that I started a web page that was just a simple reply to that, a page full of links to the websites of women in jazz. Like, look, there are tons. Duh. My idea was that if there was a long, long list, people would have to give up and not assume, as Shriver does, that there simply are no women in jazz (disinterested shrug goes here) so why make a fuss? I kept the web page up for a long time, even as my url, www.jazzgrrls.com, was mimicked by a porn site, another kind of bashing on the head to please stay in my place and stop protesting. Or was it to say, oh, you’re looking for girls so here’s what you really want?

I took the page down eventually because I was overwhelmed by the neediness of the women there, the endless cds arriving in my mailbox, so many from the overlooked, underappreciated women trying to get a bit of visibility and they had mistakenly assumed I might be able to provide it. And I also ended up on the lists of promoters of anyone in jazz i.e. the men, and my inbox was inundated with requests for gigs, for recordings, for anything to help other people make money. Also, I didn’t always find that being female was enough to bond me to other women. We could be female, love jazz, perform jazz and still have wildly different views on everything. Never mind some other weird hairsplitting where singers are considered something lesser than instrumentalists. So whatever. I took down the page.

Nowadays I’m on the sidelines of the debate, working on my music from home, working on my own shit, learning new things to help achieve my musical goals my way. And I occasionally get drawn into a conversation with an older man in the jazz world who is puzzled, who doesn’t understand what this new movement towards equality means. Why isn’t it ok for him to make fun of chick singers anymore? Oh the times I have been berated as a chick singer when someone is mad at me for not letting them insult me some other way! Why isn’t it ok to indulge in a little flirting? Oh the endless attempts at flirting or worse I had to dodge as a student, all the gropey hands, all the patriarchal language, and how exactly did anyone think I was supposed to actually have the time and space to study and to learn something?

I look back on my journals now (yes, dudes, watch out, I wrote it all down!) and the hours I spent with my art teacher chasing me around a desk in his studio (how did I end up there?), or the math teacher driving me to god knows where in the dead of night, or the jazz musician chasing me in an elevator, asking how old I was over and over again (in case I was jailbait). But ok, whatever, you eventually figure out who to avoid, and you try to make a living as best you can, although, ah, maybe you don’t finish your degree because you can’t stomach the environment anymore, and then you head out to the pink collar ghetto only to discover the job market is also riddled with wandering hands.

I’m sorry, where was I? Have I lost focus? Can you focus when you are being hunted? Are you motivated when you sit on a jury for arts grants and realize only one 10% of the applicants are female and when you protest you are told, can you please tell the ladies to apply?

Reg’s Songbook band

My brother put together a band with good gender balance recently, or maybe there were even more women than men on stage. When someone exclaimed, oh Reg, where did you discover all these lovely talented young women?!! he replied in his usual deadpan manner, it’s easy if you don’t ignore them. So yes, kudos to the men who support us. And kudos to those who are standing up the old tired privileged mentality that Lionel Shriver is immersed in.

As Drake says, you gotta be nice for what? Let’s not be nice. Let’s point fingers and let’s change stuff. The simple fact is that the world needs more music and it will only benefit everyone if more women are encouraged and making it. It’s a win/win. Stop worrying that the entitled men are going to lose something. They’ll be way fine. They’ve had their turn for a long, long time.

May 12, 2018
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When I was a web artist

Once upon a time I was a web artist, when it was a new frontier and I was cited as a pioneer in a big catalogue for an ambitious exhibition called Future Cinema. At that time websites were in their infancy. We were struggling to understand how we could use this new medium of cyberspace to convey ideas and art.

I’d been dreaming of combining photos and music and story somehow for years and suddenly it was possible, with a click here and there tying loose ends together. I learned how to code html from scratch and taught a few workshops for Webgrrls (a new movement for empowering women to use the internet) and Studio XX. My enthusiastic students enjoyed solving the puzzle of fixing code I’d deliberately broken so their pages would load properly. I created one of the first online journals, a dream journal no less, filled with drawings and photos and audio and was surprised when an internet audience followed my tangled subconscious and even surprised me with an award. I’ve found the journal back recently and will post some of the funnier entries here soon.

Museums all over the world had calls for submissions and so I submitted. The first of these was in Japan and I animated digital drawings I’d made that could tile all over the screen and combined them with sounds I’d collected from SoHo in New York for my piece One Night in Greenwich Village. I scrambled to understand code, browser issues, colour palettes and video encoding.

It was freeing, this ability to join in the art world, to make art for the sake of making art. There was no economic drive behind any of it, no monetizing, just my drawings, my sounds, there for the clicking, an offering to the gods and goddesses, in keeping with what I think art should be. I was awarded some funding for more ambitious projects I invented, my project Sunset on St-Viateur, a tribute to a street I loved, and Where Are You From? a small networked cinema project (how’s that for a cool term?) that expressed my thoughts on my ever elusive cultural identity or lackthereof.

The technology changed, ideas grew into companies, (Youtube! Blogger! WordPress!) and so those initial bright ideas were gobbled up and made redundant, automated out of existence. Thankfully Rhizome in NY still works tirelessly to archive much of the work but so much was so ephemeral even then.

The videos look small and fuzzy now in this universe where even my phone can shoot in 4k. But low tech has never phased me so now, here on my old-fashioned blog where I have set out to explain myself, I present two types of low tech – from 8 mm film to fuzzy digital video, some art I made with our home movies. It still is miraculous to me to have these images, fading but bright, so much like memory itself. To pull the best out of the past, to bring it forward with the tools of the day, that’s what I still find so remarkable. Change happens at such a remarkable pace and it seems people don’t even realize what crazy change is still ahead of us thanks to technology. Maybe by taking a minute to glance backwards every now and then we’ll be able to cope.

February 11, 2018
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Hip shit I did as a jazz kid

As my oldest son JJ and his friends got ready to go hear Brockhampton at the Corona Theatre this week, we talked about how important it is to support live music. We’ve managed pretty well in the past year,  considering how wildly expensive concerts are. We went to big concerts by Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. JJ and his pals can add Isaiah Rashad and Brockhampton to that list. He also went to a few jazz clubs here and there and two Raptors games. But it’s nothing like my life as a teen. I remember spending most of my time out listening to music. How did we afford it? What was the pace, really, when I look back?

I’ve always been an avid journal writer and so I pulled out a big box of heavy volumes dense with intense, angst-filled stories. Combing through them, past all the emotional upheaval of the time, here’s what I discovered as I looked back at just one of them from 1985. I’m not trying to present this as some kind of golden age but before all this interweb we certainly managed to find inspiration. My early musical influences were very eclectic and I am grateful to all these fantastic musicians that were touring at the time.

Live music I saw in Toronto between March and July, 1985

I printed all the photos for Bill Smith’s book Imagine the Sound in our small basement photo lab

Toots and the Maytals
Leroy Sibbles
Archie Shepp
Einsturzende Neubauten
Pepper Adams
K.D. Lang
Beastie Boys
Billy Bragg
Bobby McFerrin
Miles Davis
John Scofield (with Miles)
Art Ensemble of Chicago
David Liebman
Cecil Taylor
Sonny Greenwich
James Moody

Also tons of local bands and lots of artsy movies, and I also went dancing at Pariah, the Blitz and other clubs. Had regular 2 hour or more jam sessions with friends (usually good-looking sad young men). Recorded about three demos in studios, made two short films in university (see below), had surgery (!!), helped nurse a dying friend at home, narrowly evaded sexual harrassment in the film production department, wrote essays for Science class, went to a few art openings each week and more, got a grant to go to the Banff Summer Jazz program, performed sound poetry for a bp nichol Opera. And wrote it all down!

Economic notes: We complained that Archie Shepp was $6, even after midnight; that David Liebman was $5 for just a 40 minute set; and the Beastie Boys were $4 for a 20 minute set (the radio station issued an apology for this). I remember marvelling at that time that Michel’s uncles had earned the same amount of money playing in Quebec City with Edith Piaf in the 1940’s as we were making in jazz clubs ($100/night). More shocking is that most jazz clubs still only pay about that now, almost 100 years later, or even less. In the 80’s I was working for $3.50/hour and other people worked for $4/hour in restaurants and got about $17 in tips after long shifts. Rent in Toronto was about $250/month and my parents looked at a big house that was $110,000 but they couldn’t afford it. What strange economy do we have now, with all those houses over a million everywhere?

Economy aside, I do see great freedom in today’s music as free-styling rappers take over popular music and thus improvising lyrics and more open musical forms become the norm. I’ve seen 22,000 kids singing along to rapid-fire texts with shocking accuracy and determination, with themes of social justice and anti-racism expressed artistically. So it’s all good, the kids are alright.

January 27, 2017
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Why I keep a dream journal

Paris, 1996

When I tell people I’ve been doing dreamwork for decades, they sometimes ask why I keep a dream journal. Here’s one small story that illustrates what I love about it. I’ve been keeping a dream journal since the early 1990s when a series of mysterious dreams and events led to me to start gathering evidence for my mystic detective work. At that time, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the dreams I collected.

I’ve kept dreams scribbled in notebooks, binders, and more recently on my computer. While tidying my office this past week, I stopped to check if a notebook was blank or full. I flipped it open and discovered it was a travel journal I had kept during a family vacation to Santiago de Cuba. The date was March 11, 2009. My children were young and it was March break. We wanted a beach getaway to a place that would have good music nearby.

Feeling a bit nostalgic now, I randomly reached up for one of the dream journals I’d just placed on a high shelf. I landed on a dream journal entry from February 11, 1996. Michel and I were living in Paris and pondering our future a lot, the possibility of starting a family, those kinds of things. The journal entry reads “yesterday in my dream I was made to remember the words “chang chang”.

Was it exactly that, chang chang? Or was it chan chan? What did I make of those instructions? Did I find it sinister or random, a name or phrase from another language? At that point I hadn’t learned how to work with my dreams creatively so it was noted as an instruction and nothing more. Remember this.

And, speaking of remembering, with these two journal entries juxtaposed against one another in this current moment, a song popped into my head. I remembered that in March 2009, during our trip to Santiago de Cuba, the soundtrack of our trip, the song we requested the most, was the great Cuban song by Compay de Segundo entitled … Chan Chan!

Don’t I have video of my children singing along with this song? Ah yes, found it easily, two happy boys on my parents’ laps, singing Chan Chan! triumphantly, fourteen years after I was told to remember the title (Chan Chan starts at 1:31). My younger self, questioning the future in Paris, would have been comforted to know I’d be singing and dancing with our two children soon enough.

And here I am, about eight years after we all sang it together, finally putting two and two together. I’m not entirely sure why the puzzle pieces have fallen into place right at this moment. Perhaps it is because I was thinking of a question my dreaming friend Maureen asked me earlier this week. She asked how we feel about those voices that tell us things as we wake or all asleep. This synchronicity between journal entries seems to reply, look, it’s fine, it was intended to be helpful even if it took a few decades for her to get the message.

What kinds of folds of time are we dancing in? Such is the magic of dreaming and dream journaling, breathing poetry into our lives everyday. To cap it off, another dreaming friend, Barbara, pointed out to me that the song Chan Chan is also from a dream. Wiki quotes Compay Segundo as saying “I didn’t compose Chan Chan, I dreamt it. I dream of music. I sometimes wake up with a melody in my head, I hear the instruments, all very clear.” All the more reason to take our dreams, full of song and music, story and poetry, and bring them with us into waking life.

*A version of this blog post is published in DreamTime, Spring 2017 issue, the magazine for the International Association for the Study of Dreams and you can read the pdf here.

May 25, 2016
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Why I sing in English

Jeannette and Reg

Performing with Reg in the Netherlands in the year of the VW van

As a very young singer, travelling with my family in southern Spain, I developed a habit of listening to and singing along with flamenco music. To this day I still warm up my voice and practice by singing flamenco in Spanish or fado in Portugese very loudly. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t ever try performing these in public but as vocal exercises they are ideal for me as they combine strong emotion with acrobatic vocal techniques, beautiful melodies. And it gives me some privacy while practicing as everyone runs away.

I live in Montréal and believe me, there is a lot of social and economic pressure here to sing in French. And I can do it, as I speak French pretty well and am raising a couple of bilingual boys. Oh the French I’ve learned in school meetings! And even as I tick off “English mother tongue” on forms, my mother’s tongue was always Dutch. Despite all these languages in my life, my preference is to sing in English, even if that means singing great classics in translation. English is the language in which I’ve devoured big, complex novels. And when I choose to write endless scribbled notes, lyrics, poems and blog posts, I write in English.

That choice has to do with how I want to convey my energy and where I want to place my attention when I sing. While singing, I tend to let my mind travel to a place of imagination and rich imagery. I don’t want the music I’m creating to be about how I am enunciating or worrying about how to pronounce the next phrase. Can we hear that in a song? I think so and for that reason, I don’t want to be confined there, in that place of thinking first, expressing second. I want to be free to travel around within a song. And hopefully, this added focus will somehow get entangled with the sound and the music and carry the song’s story in a cinematic way in the listener. I once asked Michel and Reg if they do this too, try to send imagery while performing and they both looked at me very blankly. Perhaps this melding of the psychic and the musical in this particular way is my own thang or something from the lost languages of my ancestry. I don’t really know – I just know it is very important to me.

I’ve tried singing the Jacques Brel classic Ne me quitte pas in French and also sang along with the Flemish version which is excellent, btw, and worth seeking out. I love the poetry of the song and am not sure it is can be perfectly translated. But I found this translation which I enjoy a lot and so recorded it for my album Born to Be Blue.


cabrelconcert

At Francis Cabrel’s concert at Place des Arts

Recently I went to hear the great French singer/songwriter Francis Cabrel perform here in Montreal. It reminded me that I’d spent some time working on a translation of his wonderful song Octobre many years ago while living in France. I think Cabrel was probably working on translating Otis Redding around that time, back when Michel and I were dashing around the Riviera in our little Fiat, alternating between blasting both Cabrel and Otis Redding from the little car speakers. The Otis Redding cd was on sale at Auchan that year, practically free! Both of these artists are also great for vocal practice, actually. I floored my father-in-law by arriving in Québec from France able to mimic a Provencal accent pretty well as long as I was singing along with Cabrel.

Working with this idea of conveying imagery and mood instead of creating an actual, literal translation, here is my interpretation of Octobre, recorded with Reg earlier this month.

My latest project, a work-in-progress, is a collection of songs in translation, most of them translated into English from Spanish or Catalan. Can we carry the imagery through and share it from one song to another, regardless of language? That’s something I’ve set out to find out!

February 2, 2016
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Jazz as a parenting style

After rolling my eyes at yet another article criticizing modern parents for being indulgent with their children, I was happy to come across this article from the NYTimes that fit my own parenting philosophy rather better, How to Raise a Creative Child: Step One – Back Off! And the ideas in it struck me as particularly well suited to jazz parents.

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We moved from Holland to New Zealand and finally to Canada all before I was four!

I consider my own parents to have been jazz parents even though neither of them played an instrument or sang. But the house was filled with music at all times and my mother was quick to embrace notions of following one’s intuition, expressing oneself, and being true to your artistic nature. My father once told me it was more important to him that I sing at a well-respected jazz club than finish my university degree. To be honest, it is something he denies now with a kind of puzzled “really? I said that?” but it did impress me at the time. And yeah, I did sing at that club so …

03-025

Posing on the Champs Elysées in Paris

My own children are jazz kids, kids who have grown up around a philosophy of freedom, creativity, adapting and improvising that colours their everyday experiences. Sudden change of plans? Just quickly switch gears and make up something new! Dad’s on tour? Everyone helps cook! When faced with more formal ideas of parenting by, oh, say French or German mothers I would tend to describe my own attitude as “very, very North American” and wave my hand around wildly in the air, perhaps to show how I was erasing a lot of rules. Some parts of attachment parenting appealed to me but that didn’t mean much to them either. It strikes me now that what I was trying to express something more along the lines of jazz parenting.

A jazz parent has the advantage of being unfazed by being woken in the night by a newborn as they are often coming and going from the house at such hours anyway; of being able to let them jam on musical instruments without any expensive music lessons; of being able to frighten their children off of drug use with real-life tales eg. “he was thirty but he looked eighty and then he DIED”; of coping with sudden changes in schedule eg. “we’re all in quarantine now!” with a certain laid-back attitude.

We were, however, tormented by the tinned, staccato music of our children’s early baby toys and often resorted to keeping half empty batteries around so we could slow them down to soft, fading sounds. It made little sense to me that kids were supposed to like saccharine mechanical songs so we formed Bebop for Babies, because kids deserve hip music too. As small children our kids happily bounced on stage to join us for our Bebop for Babies concerts. We didn’t enforce stringent music lessons on them but let them play air guitar or rattle on a toy piano on stage as they wanted. We made a few mistakes along the way, like letting 300 school children line up to get JJ’s autograph at a music festival when he was about seven. The school bus drivers were furious with the delay. But we learned our lessons along the way. And doing early afternoon gigs suited me a lot better than late night jazz clubs with all the sophisticated grooming and expensive babysitting those required.

Now, as our sons get older and are faced with more pressing choices for their own futures, I hope they’ll continue along with the philosophy I embraced as a teen when I devoured Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society book and realized following one’s interest is the best motivator for learning. Another writer I happened upon recently that I feel some kinship with is Alfie Kohn and his book the Myth of the Spoiled Child. Because I just want to have fun with my family and enjoy our time together, instead of behaving like a drill sergeant or some kind of jailer. Supporting them while they make their own choices and find their own way, as our parents supported us, feels like the right thing to do, whatever you call it.