Jeannette Lambert

Creative living through jazz & intuition

July 6, 2021
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Genius Loci North: in production

Currently in production: Genius Loci North. I’m hard at work on new songs recorded by beautiful mountain lakes and forests here in Quebec, as well as some we started here in Plateau-Mont-Royal in our studio shed in the torrential weather of the summer solstice. The spirits of place are just as chatty here as in other places in the world, that’s for sure.

I’m also working with a lot of energy pulled from dreams I’ve had or that others have had of me and am including collaborations with some of my talented dreaming friends. Adding layers of intuition pulled from a like-minded community promises to carry us all even further.

I’m noticing that my creative process in composing these songs is very much like my mother’s intuitive style of painting, where you rapidly place quick gestures spontaneously on the page and then polish and refine them over time to see what emerges. So there are many surprises ahead and I invite you to follow along here on this page where I’ll post snippets and hints of what is to come.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, #BringingArtsToLife

June 27, 2021
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Why are you singing that? and the many pitfalls of being a chick singer

I’ve just finished participating in the Documenting Jazz conference from the University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh College of Art. It was an engaging event and I presented my paper “Why are you singing that? Encountering gender bias in the lyrics of jazz standards and other pitfalls of being a chick singer“. It was part of a larger session dedicated to gender in jazz.

Putting together my paper gave me an opportunity to look back over my journals as a young jazz vocalist starting out with a view to identifying the systemic barriers that I encountered at almost every turn. I was also in a bit of a snit when I wrote my abstract as I was reacting to some news I’d seen about some men taking the lead in studying the topic of women in jazz. Shouldn’t actual women in jazz be doing that and receiving encouragement? But then if no one asks or gathers our stories, we’ll continue to be hopeless. So I set about considering mine.

To honest I stopped looking over my journals sooner than I would have expected as going back in time was disturbing. I easily found examples of being obliged to perform a repertoire composed nearly exclusively by men and how deviating from that caused me to be excluded. It’s not the worst oppression out there but it is systemic. And while there were definitely more obvious issues like sexual harassment that were worse, if we don’t consider all the nuances of a sexist culture it becomes harder to understand why so many of us might choose to step back. There are, after all, many options in life besides being a chick singer.

But if you love the music like I do, if you love singing especially, and you love freedom of expression and the whole life philosophy of jazz and improvising, you need to find solutions. And I can safely say now that I have. I outlined strategies that worked for me in my paper as well, offering them up as ideas for others or as tips for educators who are interested in increasing diversity in their student populations. You can write me if you’d like a copy of my speaking notes. I’m suspicious of conventional education particularly for jazz training but as a mother I do see great value in offering music and art education to all students eager to delve deeply into something. And the interesting and thoughtful work being done by many of the talented educators who presented at the conference, most of them also musicians, gives me hope for the future.

April 14, 2021
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Something I Said

New release, Something I Said, remastered from the original cassette, a collection of poetic jazz songs, now available at my Bandcamp page.

Once upon a time, I used to sing in jazz clubs six or seven nights a week until the wee small hours of the morning. And then I’d pull myself together Monday mornings and head off to my day job in the pink collar ghetto, or more precisely the underpaid area of secretarial jobs in the arts. My lifestyle was not dissimilar to my adolescence when I went out to jazz clubs to hear tons of bands on the weekends and then emerged, seemingly unscathed, into my high school schedule where I managed to get good grades. Perhaps it was all to prepare me for the parenting of newborns that was to come later.

Anyway, in those days of faux pearls and black dresses I had a lot of trouble suspending my disbelief in my day job, utterly confused by why the universe wanted me locked to a desk all day doing this thing called word processing. Or shipping or reception or bookkeeping or office managing. I did, however, get embroiled in such complicated accounting issues that I developed a certain business sense and started to daydream of having a record label. It was what got me through the dramas of day to day.

And so I banded together with Michel and my brother Reg and we started our music label, Jazz from Rant, making small runs of cassettes with covers printed by this big miraculous new machine, a colour laser photo copier! Michel spent hours consulting the man whose business depended on one, the Metal Dragon in Village by the Grange.

I found this cassette back recently and listened to it and was still irritated by issues with the sound that had plagued me at the time. But now with all my trusty tools and new software I have been able to restore it and polish it to sound the way I wanted even then. It’s interesting as a recording because of the compositions it contains. At the time I had a little bit of funding to make a demo with Factor and so of course if you give jazz artists a few hours in a studio they have no trouble churning out a full length recording in a few takes. And I am proud of the collection of songs I gathered from these musicians. Writing lyrics for their songs was a fun creative project plus I even dared to include one of my own, Was It Your Song?

one of my setlists – spot the originals

Fast forward to today and I tossed the remastered tracks to JJ to sequence, asked Theo what the new cover should look like and changed the title track. The infrared photo of the original seems too ghostly to me now that the sound is more crisp. It’s just streaming for now or downloadable and new hard copies might come in the future. It’s a nice document of what we were able to do in those days of the bleak recession of the early 1990s, trying to pay Toronto’s tiresomely high rent and keeping someone else’s business afloat during the day. It was also a time period in Toronto that was not especially open to vocalists, with few critics enjoying vocal jazz and the jazz police not being especially keen on hearing anything but standards.

We did record some of these songs again later on, on Jeannettically Modified Christmas songs (where I decided to add anything that mentioned snow regardless of seasonal feeling) and Reg’s collection Songbook. Others are utterly rare, like the title track, Something I Said, written by film composer and pianist Jonathan Goldsmith. It’s nice too to have a document of Mike and Perry White playing jazz arrangements together. You can hear them also on our later, freer Lonely Universe à la plage recording. Until Today was written by pianist Bobby Fenton who was my piano teacher at one point (although that didn’t stick). I wrote lyrics to his song for my friend, vocalist Arlene Smith who recorded it on one of her albums.

Not long after recording Something I Said I did leave my last day job, retiring into self-unemployment and never looking back. Two years later to the day exactly we recorded Ask Her and made one of our first compact discs, this crazy new format at the time. Little did we know what was in store for us next.

Weird formats haven’t stopped coming. Excuse me while I go figure out NFTs. And work on Genius Loci North!

April 2, 2021
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Lone Jack Pine Live + motherhood + intuition

Recently, I was asked about the challenges of working while pregnant. I admitted that some of my best work was created when I was pregnant or had a newborn. It can be such a fertile period in one’s life, I explained while gesturing in big wide circles around my body, around the trees nearby. How can we balance motherhood and personal career goals and do they have to be mutually exclusive? That seems less and less likely as so many of us are working with our children by our side, especially in these days of lockdown. It is inevitable that these aspects of our lives are intricately intertwined.

When we recorded the album Lone Jack Pine I was four months pregnant. As Barre Phillips carried his bass into the studio, I pointed to my belly and said, “I’m making you a roadie from scratch!”. I was able to sing pretty normally that day but later on when we added a few more tracks and my belly grew huge, my diaphragm jammed up I dunno where, I had half of my usual power. I moved the microphone closer and leaned in a little.

The roadie, not yet ripe

I was heavily pregnant with our second son when I first met Paul Bley. Michel and I joined him for breakfast near Place des Arts here in Montreal and then continued along to lunch at a Cajun restaurant nearby. He chuckled when I ordered a big heaping plate of bbq ribs (eating for two!). He had a discreet portion of shrimp cocktail so it wasn’t long before he was reaching over to steal French fries from my plate as he gave Michel advice on how to cope with babies, cats and gardens. He said it was funny how invincible some women felt as they approached the end of their pregnancies, how they suddenly insisted that they wanted to be firemen or figure skaters. It was too true. Being a fireman felt utterly doable to me at the eight month mark. Needless to say I did not follow up on that urge.

The night before we recorded Sand Underfoot Paul, Barre, Michel and I met for dinner at a Greek restaurant near our house on the Plateau. It was a warm night at a lovely outdoor patio and the guys were mulling philosophical creative thoughts, how film would overtake music as the most innovative art form, things like that. But it was getting late so I stood up and said, sorry everyone, I need to head back to the house now. I have to nurse the baby. They stopped in their tracks and asked, but how will that work tomorrow, in the studio? I didn’t stop to explain but just quickly assured them it would be ok. As I ran off down the dark street, engorged, I thought, honestly, the things men don’t have to worry about!

I’ve read many biographies of women in the arts that arrive at a gap that says “and then she was busy raising her children for a few decades”. Or they describe it as a hiatus. But we don’t ever stop, do we? Maybe we let all the marketing fall by the wayside if we’ve ever figured it out in the first place. Maybe we lie in a heap after a day spent bundling our boys into a ball on a bench on a pier (as in this photo). But we don’t actually ever stop. Because after all, don’t children deserve interesting mothers?

When the boys were small I recorded jazz versions of children’s songs and when Bebop for Babies went on tour they came on stage and played with us (air guitar, toy piano, stuffed animals, signs). The little kids in the audience loved seeing performers their size on stage at a show. Plus the concerts were during the day, perfect when you collapse early at night. Then they recorded three albums of their own original songs before the age of twelve. They won’t let me share them but honestly, they are so great. As teenagers, after we built a studio in our backyard, they continued recording with their friends. A few of those songs travelled out as school projects but again, no sharing has been allowed so you just have to believe me.

These days you can find them on Genius Loci East, playing gamelan and singing. JJ, the eldest, has a fine producer’s sense and so sequences our albums for us. And Theo, aside from producing rap cover art, makes art for the music videos of my releases. Here is the latest of those, the first track from Lone Jack Pine Live, based on his impressions of the Borobudur temple near Yogyakarta, not far from our ancestral homeland where my grandmother was born.

It has been a whirlwind of activity and now that they are older I have more time to look back to see what got left in the dust. As I no longer need to spend hours each day making sure my kids don’t tumble down the stairs or get abducted on their way to school, or cross the street without looking or whatever other time consuming things mothering small children involves, I have found the occasional quiet and the software to do it myself. It has also provided me with a way to move forward while yet holding still during this global pandemic.

Recently I overcame a mental hurdle that said I needed to understand all audio editing with its gargantuan permutations of possibilities before I could start. Thus I freed myself from the hierarchy of conventional, expensive studios where I would often have to beg someone disinterested to give me the sound I wanted. Now I just tackle each problem as it comes up and do the work myself. I get a lot of encouragement from my brother Reg who shares my nerdy tendencies, his collection of gear and discoveries of great plug-ins.

me geeking out with some gear in a pretty chalet

Not long ago I revived Ask Her, shook it off and uploaded it for streaming, and miraculously it has now been released in Japan for the first time where it is being greeted with a delightfu reception. It’s wonderful to discover a new audience for the music that was only heard by a few at the time. I am encouraged and I have more treasures to share.

Now I am reviving two other recordings for release. The first is a rare recording of a concert Michel and I performed with Barre soon after releasing Lone Jack Pine the cd and thus titled Lone Jack Pine Live. It includes the only performance of my poem Thoughts of Being Female from Picnic Table Two with Barre and new versions of three other poems from the album, Borobudur, The Visit and Lone Jack Pine. It is a 20 minute set improvised around these melodic poems and despite the full house the audience is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Barre and Mary visiting us in Outremont

Barre and his wife Mary have been important influences in my quest to live life by intuition. Mary began the first dreamsharing groups I ever joined, working with me, my mother Agatha and Mary’s good friend Erika nearly daily for several years. We shared our dreams and tried creative exercises to sharpen our dreaming skills. We developed our intuition together this way, as well as our writing skills, and used what we learned to navigate our families in helpful creative directions. I’m mentioning it here as so often the women in creative circles are overlooked and yet their contributions are so invaluable.

At the same time Barre has been a large musical force who inspires me with his dedication to his art, his majestic sound and the beauty of his music. His attention to his own dreaming led him to settling an ancient village on top of a mountain in France with Mary and their family. It’s yet another inspiring example of what is possible when you approach life with courage and inventiveness.

So here is the concert, based on years of communication on multiple levels. It’s on Bandcamp and you can also pick up a hard copy of the original Lone Jack Pine cd there if you don’t already have it. Start with that and I’ll write about the next recording to be revived soon. It’s called Something I Said.

February 10, 2021
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Ask Her by ジャネット・ランベル

Now released on Bandcamp, Spotify and Apple music!

Just released re-mastered on compact disc for the first time in Japan!

Ask Her is a collection of songs written when we first formed our record label, Jazz from Rant, and recorded in 1994. The songs are composed by Reg, Michel or I, and then I would intuitively pull the lyrics out from the melodies. I set out to write cinematic songs full of story. When I performed these songs in clubs shortly after recording this album people from the audience would sometimes come up to me and exclaim, omg, you were singing my life!

We asked several musicians to contribute solos on the album. I had been working a lot with our old friend and mentor Herbie Spanier. I had a trio with Herbie and the pianist John Gittins (who had also been my sociology prof in university) and we often played together at Capriccio in Little Italy in Toronto. Often Herbie would arrive after a day’s work as an extra on the set of the t.v. show Kung Fu. He’d put his feet up and say that having your feet above your heart for five minutes was as good an a long nap. It was a variation on how he used to stand on his head before heading on stage
Herbie Spanier in Chinatown, Toronto in the 1980s

Also appearing here is John McGarvie, a great friend of ours who used to sit in on many of the duo gigs I did with Reg during this time period, usually at the guitar bar of the Top of the Senator, and his melodic playing always added a wonderful element of lyricism. Michael Stuart was playing with Reg and Michel regularly in those days too and added a solo on Tango for One that is steeped in a powerful jazz tradition.

Also present throughout this album is Reg’s late wife, my sister-in-law, cellist Kiki Misumi, taking on the role traditionally that of a bassist and providing some moving solos and intros. We had toured together as a quartet in Indonesia before recording this album and some of those live performances are on my Youtube channel.

In the ever-changing digital landscape that claims to be a music industry it took me awhile to realize that many of our early recordings, so newly adapted to compact discs when they were made, got left in the dust with the transition to digital distribution that is the norm nowadays. So hopefully sharing this music now will bring it to a new audience or make it easier for an older one to find their favourite tracks back. And if you are the type that needs a compact disc to toss into your old car’s cd player, just contact us and we can sell you an original hard copy. Or head to my Bandcamp page and you can order it online there. You’ll get two bonus tracks and all the lyrics with the cd purchase.

Speaking of adapting to formats, here is the Super 8 film Givre that ignited my career as a web artist. This isn’t a copy from the Super 8 film but it comes instead from the tiny Real Video file I made when I put this up online back when video was very new to the internet, before Youtube existed. Sadly the old Quebecois house featured in the film is long gone but the apple tree still remains. Enjoy!

September 15, 2020
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Genius Loci East

Available now at Bandcamp and streaming sites! Genius Loci East. I have put the final flourishes on the new album for my trio which is named for our latest project, Genius Loci, with the subtitle 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 on my Bandcamp page. Meanwhile we will get ready for the next compass point of the project, Genius Loci, North!

Read Kati Kiilaspea’s review of Genius Loci East at The WholeNote

Read Alain Fleche’s review of Genius Loci East at La Gazette Bleue

September 4, 2020
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Michel Lambert’s Ars Transmutatoria in action

Ars Transmutatoria Rouge, the first in a series of albums of music created with Michel’s visual scores, was released October 2, 2020, and is followed by Ars Transmutatoria Bleu. You can find both at Bandcamp. More recordings will be added to the collection later this year.

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.

limited edition compact discs include a small hand-cut booklet of reproductions of the scores

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 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.

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.

Reviews of Genius Loci Mixtape at theWholeNote and La Gazette Bleue

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,, 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 some of 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, 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

As Drake’s song says, you gotta be nice for what? Ok, not that he doesn’t have sexist lyrics himself sometimes but let’s consider this one thought for a moment. 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.