Jeannette Lambert

Creative living through jazz & intuition

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.


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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 album Genius Loci Mixtape contains several songs based on poetry 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 …

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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.