Friday, 3 February 2012

Winter Jazz Fest - Megan Jerome

A great songstress with ties to many styles; inspiration from many painters, children, dancers, choreographers, an array of singers and musicians - comes one of Ottawa's truly unique voices. You never know what to expect, what new story you will be touched by or what painting will be sounded when going to see Megan Jerome. Winner of the 2011 Galaxy Rising Star Award, Megan will be performing on a double bill with equally driven Renee Yoxon (watch for a post on her soon) on Saturday at Cafe Paradiso as part of our Winter Jazz Fest.

Megan was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the show, the music and the life, all of which I share here with you:

1. You are an artist of great creativity and draw inspiration from many different facets of life. What can we expect from your show on Saturday?

Thank you!
You can also expect thanks then too!

I am so grateful to play music, to write music, to perform music, to play with Chris and Don, and to be a part of the festival, to sing with Renee, 
you can expect that the whole time I'm playing and singing that I am so very very thankful to be doing this!

Don is such a great new friend to meet and to play with in Ottawa. His time makes me dance whenever I hear him play, in any context. Chris is really a great musician too. They both play a lot, in many situations. We tossed around all kinds of ideas about what to play, and Chris' vote from the start was to play my songs. (What a great feeling that was!). Once we started playing together, we realised this is a natural choice, really, since we've never played before as a trio, and this way one of us at least knows the repertoire!! 

So its some songs that have been recorded, some very new songs, with Don and Chris, in a way that sounds good for us, together. Personally I'm really looking forward to being in that groove with the two of them. 

Renee and I will sing with each other on a few songs in each set. This feels wonderful too! To sing together - what a great thing!

I've played a lot of solo shows lately, and I'm really excited to be in this situation, to have those special moments that arise when people are playing together, really interested in playing with each other.

2.  What does it mean to be a part of a Winter Jazz Festival to you? (it’s winter, concentrated shows, different venues, does it make you think differently about your performance, or something entirely different???)

It makes me feel grateful. Really. 
Something new and exciting is happening in the city, and you have made it happen, and you've invited me to be a part of it. 
This is living!!

It's like going on a vacation with friends. There's something cozy about all these events happening in one weekend, all over the city as a part of a contained concept. It's special. It's fun. It's a celebration during a great time of year with great music. 

The spirit of the gig is to try something different, and this will be the first time I've played my songs with a drummer other than Mike! Imagine!!
In the past couple of years, Mike and I feel as though we've been able to meet a breadth of really talented musicians in the city. It's felt like a real widening of our horizons and its been so inspiring. 

There are so many talented, interesting and interested people here - so many people doing their own thing, exploring what their solution is to life.

3.  You are doing a double bill with Renee Yoxon and although you are both very different artistically, you do both have a passion for what you are doing. Is there somewhere you think the two of you meet artistically?

Yes, definitely. Renee is very very easy to talk to, to meet with. She's has a very warm, calming presence. She has a beautiful voice, and I'm really looking forward to singing with her!

I think we both share a similar work ethic. We both studied science, we both were drawn to that kind of rigorous work, and then we both had to do the rigorous personal work of being true to ourselves and carving out a life in music. 

Our aesthetic is quite similar I think. It's clear, it's simple, it's straightforward. It's very easy for us to sing together.

I think we both share a similar goal of doing what is true to us, doing what we love, and aiming to do it well.

4.  Has the similarity and/or contrast between the two of you influenced what you will do?

Well the process of getting this gig together has been incredibly clarifying.

At first I thought, great, I will 'catch up' on all the jazz chops I should have down by now. I'll really get it together as a jazz pianist.

I go through that all the time, thinking I am behind, and then luckily thanks to books like Effortless Mastery and The Artists' Way, I remember that where I am is exactly where I am meant to be. Now when I go back to thinking I have to catch up, or I have something to prove, it takes me by surprise, because over the past few years I have really worked through those kinds of creative barriers. 

Then we went through a small phase when we thought we would do all covers of songs neither of us had ever really done.

And that freaked us out in a different way.

Really, Renee and I have this idea in common too, which is that we have both worked a lot at being true to ourselves. At developing music that is true to us, and we have worked hard at it! 

For my part, I do have jazz piano training, and I do clearly understand how that has shaped and honed my musicianship and songwriting. But I'm not a jazz pianist. I don't practice the repertoire, I don't practice the conventions. The way I accompany myself is quite specific. I have arrangements, basically, as sparse as they are. 

I understand also in a new way how influenced I am by growing up completely surrounded by music-making. 
The way my family and their friends made music in Sudbury, at parties is unmatched by what I know here. Maybe two people out of fifty friends were professional musicians, but we all sang and played at parties. It was just there, all the time. And not just at parties, but in a rowboat picking lily pads, on the lawn in the afternoon, on the dock after mass. At home, my dad at the piano, my brother on guitar, my other brother on the snare, and people knew all the words, and sang and danced. It was never a performance, never a showcase, never organized, and it was so deeply, naturally musical. 

It's easy to take for granted where you come from, how that shapes you musically, what information you get from that. It's also easy to take for granted all the paths you took that you think that you failed, but that you didn't really fail, because they too shape your musical output and your information. 

I think what Renee and I realized is that we will be very relaxed and very happy doing our own thing, which we have been working on for years, side by side. 

It's a very warm, very wonderful, very supportive feeling to be playing a concert together in this way.

5.  What are you most inspired by as an artist these days?
I think I'm most inspired by moving.
I take pilates, which I love. I take hip hop and ballet, which I also love. 
I've just come through a very difficult introspective time. 
When this gig was proposed I was feeling really isolated, and I jumped at the chance to play with Don, because of this connection I feel to moving when he plays. 
I went downhill skiing yesterday with my niece and nephew and my nephew skies without poles. I tried it too, and it was awesome! We had the entire hill to ourselves and I just sang and flew down the hills throwing my arms this way and that, reaching high, swaying, it was like flying. It was incredible. 
I really love it here.
There is literally so much space to be yourself.

On the day of the gig I'm actually going to observe a contemporary dance masterclass happening at the NAC. The dance programming at the NAC is out of this world. Going to see dance at the NAC has given me some of the most inspiring artistic experiences I have ever had. And there is an incredible outreach program through the dance department where dance companies that come often offer masterclasses to pre-professional and professional dancers in town. I fall into neither of these categories but I have frequently been allowed to observe the masterclasses and they are so so cool. So artistic. I have learned A LOT about artistry from this kind of exploration.

6. Would you name some musicians or groups that you are excited about?

I can not, absolutely can not, get off the dance floor while these guys are playing. And they play every Thursday at the Heart and Crown on Preston Street. It's so strange, so Canadian maybe? It's a band who plays soul and r&b music, in an Irish Pub, in Little Italy, with hockey or ski racing on the TVs above the bar. And the band is so so good. I can't say enough about them. 

Half the time, there are 3 or 4 of us dancing - this has been going on for a year now - it's like a ritual! We get dressed up, we go for drinks, we go dancing...and here again - so much space to be myself!

I love to teach. I just love it. The kids I teach are so unbelievably creative. I asked the shyest little girl the other day to make up a song, and she just looked straight at me and played 3 notes in her left hand. I said, what was that, and she whispered: Wind. Big wind.

I'm teaching at Carleton too - the music program there now allows students to be singer/songwriters. I mean that was exactly what I wanted to do when I was there, but it took me four years to articulate it. Now the people who want to do that come to me! This kind of thing, this following through with something until I can teach it is so deeply meaningful to me. It's something my parents taught me. Teaching 20-30-somethings is new to me, and they are a fantastic group of people. They trust me, they try out things, they are fully committed, they are pushing their boundaries and they are really open and will go far along a path to meet me where I am coming from. They are so totally willing to go there with me, to communicate with me. 


Megan Jerome will be joined by Don Cummings on drums and Chris Breitner on bass as well as collaborating with fellow headliner Renee Yoxon

Feb 4th, 17:00
Cafe Paradiso

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