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The 2014 Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival is proud to present one of the great Chicago jazz singers – Dee Alexander in three Sydney-only performances.
“Among the premier vocalists and songwriters in American music today, Dee Alexander has delighted audiences and impressed critics with her flawless intonation, her interpretive brilliance, her intrepid improvising, and the range of genres that she commands. Ms. Alexander’s performances span virtually every music genre related to the African Diaspora: gospel, blues, neo-soul, rhythm-and-blues, and world music. But her true heart belongs to jazz, the one idiom that can encompass all her influences. From a sultry ballad to a contemporary funk groove, high-flying swing to a romping scat solo, Ms. Alexander delivers every note with a passion and grace that leave her listeners limp”.
Sydney’s International Women’s Jazz Festival is attracting interest from jazz lovers around the world. It has quickly established itself as a unique event with women performers from home and abroad, mixing it up in an explosion of great jazz in venues around Sydney. There are concerts, workshops, seminars, a big, free outdoor performance and new albums, all giving Sydney audiences an opportunity to hear some great women jazz performers.
Lisa Parrott will also be making an appearance on her way back from New York. Lisa will appear as a guest artist at a special free outdoor performance in the courtyard of the Seymour Centre on Saturday 8th November with up-and-coming trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood’s band Fat Yahoozah, an uber funky-band featuring a mind blowing horn section with African and groove influences. That evening you can also catch Lisa “in conversation” talking about the New York Jazz scene before she reunites on stage with some of her long-time Sydney musical collaborators.
The popular Hannah James will launch her new album recorded at the Sound Lounge during the week. Then the fabulous Sarah McKenzie Quartet, currently residing in NYC, will be giving her only Sydney performance to mark the launch of her latest ABC recording.
Gai Bryant and the big Palacio de la Rumba Big Band will bring the exciting sounds of Cuban percussion and dance to the Festival.
Closing the festival, three-time ARIA award winning pianist and composer Andrea Keller will team up with Miroslav Bukovsky on the“The Komeda Project”. Commissioned especially for the festival, this eight-piece ensemble celebrates the life and work of pioneering European jazz composer Krzysztof Komeda, who is most famous as the composer to Roman Polanski and Ingmar Berman films.
Sydney’s premier jazz venues, the Sound Lounge at the Seymour Centre and Foundry616 will play host to the 2014 festival with outdoor events to be held in the sunny Seymour Centre Courtyard.
This year’s program has an amazing line-up which will appeal both to a broad music audience and committed jazz fans. Several outstanding performers are making their first visit to Australia
The Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival is presented by SIMA and the SIJF. Lisa Parrott is presented in partnership with the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.
For more information and a rundown of the full program (which will be out in late September) – please go to www.SIMA.org.au
Posted by Joanne KeeSunday, 09 November 2014 22:36
Dee Alexander speaks to Short Takes
As good as any scat singer alive … Dee Alexander. Photo: Supplied
Foundry 616, November 5
Dee Alexander is one of the best-kept secrets in jazz. To hear singers of this calibre you usually must visit a concert hall. Headlining the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival, Alexander may be heard in the intimacy of Ultimo’s Foundry 616 – this time, anyway.
Dee Alexander: As good as any scat singer alive. Photo: Henry Rasmussen, courtesy of ABC Jazz (abc.net.au/jazz)
She hails from Chicago and her voice can be as big a church. She seldom summoned it all, however, just as she only gradually revealed her impressive range. Power and range are merely tools, and Alexander is more focused on tonal splendour, nuanced phrasing and precise dynamics. Above all she has stepped through the portal into the art of the improviser.
The opening As Long As You’re Living was competent, charming, even, but unremarkable. By the fifth song, a cunning arrangement of Perdido, she was proving herself as good as any scat singer alive: perhaps the best since Betty Carter, bringing a thrilling sense of abandon to bear, without being mannered.
Fast forward to the second set and on You And I (Henry Huff) she was suddenly spreading wings, not just of surprise and risk-taking, but of sheer beauty. Thereafter she stayed in this zone, whether peeling paint from the walls on Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, improvising bird sounds against the reggae groove of Rossignol or flying into the stratosphere on Baba Fred (the latter two also evidence of her song-writing skills).
Creating the updraft was her brilliant collaborator Miguel de la Cerna, a pianist of irresistible grooves and dazzling invention, who is worth the price of admission by himself. Sydney’s Brett Hirst (bass) and Tim Firth (drums), meanwhile, have never played with more conviction and panache – or sharper ears.
Dee Alexander: Foundry 616, Friday & Saturday.
There are some songs Chicago jazz singer Dee Alexander doesn’t care to sing.
Billie Holliday’s Strange Fruit, about a racist lynching in America’s mid-West in the 1930s, is one of them.
“We are all aware of it. The lyrics have been done and overdone, but not coming from me,” says Alexander.
A guest of this year’s Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival, Alexander is keenly aware of her musical heritage.
“Billie Holliday, Nina Simone … they had a rough time. And that’s why I pay homage to them. I don’t take the sacrifices they made for granted at all. They paved the way for artists like me, making things just a little bit easier.”
Even as a tot, Alexander could hear the sadness in Holliday’s voice.
“The life that she led. The experiences she had. You could feel the pain in the gut of your stomach.”
While Alexander acknowledges Holliday’s influence, alongside other great vocalists such as Sarah Vaughn and Dina Washington and instrumentalists such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis, she gravitates towards her more upbeat material.
“If you talk to any of my friends, they will tell you that I am a very happy-go-lucky individual,’’ says the low-maintenance diva.
“I find humour in the strangest things.
“I mean, I have my moments — we’re human, it’s good to feel a little pain — but I don’t believe in wallowing in it.
“I don’t even know if that’s a realistic way of thinking because life comes with so much baggage, but sunshine always breaks through.”
Alexander’s glass-half-full philosophy shines through on her most recent album, Songs My Mother Loves, a collection of material acknowledging her first major influence.
“Every Sunday, my brothers and I would be awakened to the wonderful music my mother played while she did the ironing.
“I decided to do a tribute to her while I still have her.”
When Alexander asked her mother for her input, she ended up with four albums’ worth of material.
“It was so difficult to decide. But we started performing them, breathing life into them, changing up a little bit.”
And eventually the album, launched in Chicago in August, came into being.
Among the chosen tracks are jazz classic Perdido, performed by Vaughn, Washington and Ella Fitzgerald, to name but a few, the Bille Holliday tune Now Or Never, Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, tackled by Frank Sinatra, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and Soul Serenade, performed by Aretha Franklin and the Allman Brothers.
Alexander will perform tracks from Songs My Mother Loved, and originals from her 2009 album Wild Is The Wind over three nights (Wednesday, November 5, Friday, November 7, and Saturday, November 8) when she makes her Australian debut at Foundry 616 in Ultimo as part of the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival.
Other highlights of the event, which runs from November 5-12, include the return of Australian-born, New York-based saxophonist Lisa Parrott, who will perform at the Seymour Centre’s Sound Lounge on Saturday, November 8, and at a free event in the courtyard earlier the same day with Ellen Kirkwood’s Fat Yajoozah.
Jazz singer Dee Alexander relishes both the experimental and mainstream aspects of her repertoire. Photo: Supplied
It was the music she heard each week when her mother was ironing: Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Abbey Lincoln, Miles Davis and more. They seeped into Dee Alexander’s pre-school consciousness and heart and stayed there. So years later, when she took to singing, perhaps it was inevitable that the Chicagoan ended up pursuing jazz rather than the R&B with which she started her career.
“I loved the freedom, the chances that you could take singing jazz,” she says on the telephone. “I like taking chances. How else will find out if something works unless you try it?”
Unlike most jazz singers, who hug the mainstream of the idiom as if danger lurks in every eddy, Alexander has relished singing in the more experimental context of Chicago’s renowned Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). “I’m really fortunate,” she says, “to have had the advantage of working with such wonderful and creative musicians; of thinking outside of the box, and knowing how to come back into the box. And that’s nothing that you can actually sit in a classroom [and learn] or get out of a book.”
Alexander is about to make her first visit to Australia to headline this year’s Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival. Her albums suggest a singer of the quality of Dianne Reeves or Cassandra Wilson, and she is happy to acknowledge her influences. “I’m honoured when someone says I remind them of Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday or Nina Simone,” she says. “That’s a great compliment, because these great ladies paved the way for me and for future generations to come… Everyone is influenced by someone or something, and everybody has their own voice. It’s just a matter of finding it.”
Nonetheless she is adamant that there is no substitute for experience when it comes to imbuing a lyric with truth. “When you’ve lived life, when you’ve been in love and had heartbreak – all of those things make a great artist even greater. I’m not wishing anything bad on anyone! It’s unfortunate that you have to go through such turmoil and pain, but I think that’s when a person can really dig deep into their soul to express the feelings that they’re experiencing at that time.”
Dee Alexander plays Foundry 616, November 5, 7 and 8. The Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival runs November 5-12.
The annual SIMA Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival is in its third year, highlighting some of the best female jazz – from both Australia and abroad.
The 2014 Festival is headlined by the acclaimed singer Dee Alexander from Chicago. She will be in town for three gigs at the Foundry 616 venue. Sydney’s own Hannah James is on the bill, and she will be launching her new album Triliphonywith her trio.
Another international act with local roots in town for the festival is Sarah McKenzie, who was originally from Western Australia and is now based in Boston. Also visiting is ex-pat is Lisa Parrott, coming from New York to perform at the Sound Lounge.
Melbourne’s Andrea Keller has a new project ‘Komedia’, featuring trumpeter Miroslav Bukovsky, saxophonist Gai Bryant is joined by Cuban percussionist Roman Justo Pelladito and her 18 piece big band.
There are also lots of activities going on, from jam sessions to seminars and master classes. You can check out the full program here at the SIMA Website.