As night fell over the city, couples cuddled together against the cold and leisurely strolled into the Courthouse (live Toronto venue). Inside, fireplaces were lit, lights dimmed and the cushy black couches were perfect to sink into. It was all just right for an intimate night of jazz.
Renée Yoxon, the inaugural act of Canadian Music Week, gingerly stepped onto the stage with a cane. “I almost died for this show,” she joked, briefly explaining that a mishap had occurred on her way to Toronto from Ottawa. With her well coiffed mop of curly brown hair and sparkly silver saddle shoes twinkling under the lights (Judy Garland would have been impressed), she gave a playful nod to her piano player and began her set. Her warm lovely voice, with its slight husk, reached out to the audience, instantly turning each head away from murmured conversations. All eyes were now solely on Yoxon.
Many consider jazz a genre for the over-forty set, but this 20-something-year-old is one of a growing crop of artists giving jazz a new face. A central figure in the Ottawa jazz scene, Yoxon’s control and sophisticated delivery is paired with serene smoothness. And whether scatting, chatting or telling stories, her voice has an elegant yet folksy quality that is divine.
Singing original compositions – some “written in the mountains of Banff” – from her second full-length album, Here We Go Again, Yoxon wove in wonderful little tales before each song to set the mood. “Imagine that you are the wife in The Bridges of Madison County,” she said, introducing ‘Drinking Coffee.’ “That is, before Clint Eastwood enters the scene,” she added with a laugh. “I don’t know why I try to hide these feelings,” she sang with emotion. “I don’t know why I try to hide this pain. Because even though you’re right across the table from me darling…you’d go on drinking coffee and never ask me to explain.” (Throughout her set, I found myself imagining how beautiful a duet between Diana Krall and Yoxon would be!)
Yoxon took a moment to chat with the Winehouse about inspiration, collaboration and falling in love with jazz. Chaka V.
Renée Yoxon: For me, the act of learning about physics and math at the undergraduate level (doing assignments, writing lab reports, etc) and the act of songwriting both require a lot of creativity and analysis. They both require creative problem solving skills. It was a really natural transition to songwriting from physics once I had the tools I needed to finish songs. In a way my musical process looks a lot like my physics problem solving process. I spend a lot of time alone in a room, surrounded by resources, trying a bunch of different things until the song (or math problem) gets done.
I got my first taste of vocal jazz music when I was 15-years-old and it moved me in a way I hadn’t been moved by music before. I couldn’t help but follow the music down the rabbit hole until I was completely surrounded by it at all times. I really thought about nothing else through my teen years. Of course, no person lives in a musical bubble. I still live in a world with lots of amazing contemporary music and I listen to lots of different genres. But I think if you took a look at the modern landscape of vocal jazz, especially the vocal jazz composers, you will find that we fit in better with contemporary pop or indie just as well as we fit in with traditional vocal jazz.
The process of making Here We Go Again was so different from making Let’s Call It A Day that I hardly know where to begin. LCIAD was a duo album with guitarist René Gely. It was comprised mostly of jazz standards and we recorded it in a home studio over the course of several months. I learned everything as I went [along] and pretty much flew by the skin of my teeth. HWGA had seven people on it, consisted entirely of original material, was recorded in a professional studio over three days, cost more than twice as much and was completely crowd and grant funded. The thing that was the same between making both albums is that I relied heavily on the experience of musical partners – René Gely on the first album, and Mark Ferguson on the second album. Without them neither would have happened.
I have a list of singers as long as my arm across many genres that I would love to collaborate with, including Fred Hersch and the Roots.
When I’m looking to seed some new songs, I almost always turn to poetry for inspiration. I’m a lyrics-driven songwriter so I usually need a lyrical idea before I start. I sometimes read anthologies of poems so that I get a broad cross section of styles but some of my favourite poets are Leonard Cohen, Frank O’Hara, Dorothy Parker and Elizabeth Jennings.
I guess anyone who listens to my music and likes it becomes a jazz lover, no? [Smile]