Saturday, February 24, 2018

Jazz singer Jaclyn Guillou says collaboration counts

June 15, 2016 by Adam Marsh, Student Editor

Vancouver’s Jaclyn Guillou doesn’t hide away these days: the jazz vocalist is performing at this year’s Victoria International JazzFest, and she just released a new album, This Bitter Earth, a tribute to legendary jazz musician Dinah Washington. However, her singing began in a much more secretive fashion.

“My piano teacher recognized that I had vocal ability and that I wasn’t very dedicated to the piano,” says Guillou. “So my mom tried to cancel my piano lessons and the teacher said, ‘No, no, no. Keep her in music. I’ll teach her singing, even though I don’t teach five-year-olds.’ So I kind of had secret voice lessons that the school didn’t know about.”

Guillou then went on to study the performing arts at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. Through her performance background, she says, she began meeting jazz musicians.

“I moved back to Vancouver to work with the Arts Club Theatre community and started meeting jazz musicians, and started hanging out at the jazz festivals, and just becoming super obsessed with jazz music,” she says.

Vancouver jazz vocalist Jaclyn Guillou is coming to town (photo provided).

Vancouver jazz vocalist Jaclyn Guillou is coming to town (photo provided).

For Guillou, jazz music is about honesty and truth; the mood and feel of jazz is a big part of the music’s appeal for her.

“The underpinning mood of everything that you’re doing is very unique for me; that’s how I interpret the music and perform my own songs,” she says. “To me, it’s really heart-and-soul music that is more intellectual; it’s more advanced than folk songs. The stimulation of rhythm is something to play around with, and it’s really important to me, even as a singer.”

Guillou says she is looking forward to coming to Victoria, not only to drink at “all the juice bars and cafes,” but also because jazz festivals provide a different energy than a regular concert.

“There’s just this sense of liveliness and community to be able to express freely what you’re doing,” she says, “so that’s what I look forward to with JazzFest—just the feeling and the buzz in the air that everybody’s really excited to come together to appreciate jazz.”

Although she is a solo artist, Guillou says that the process surrounding her most recent album has been very collaborative, and that will cross over into her Victoria show. She says jazz musicians are spread thin during festivals, so new collaboration becomes a necessity.

“The show I’m doing in Victoria actually uses different musicians all together, which is typical for jazz because it’s a challenge to get them out, especially during JazzFest.”

Guillou says it all comes down to being present when she performs, something her band members also need to be doing.

“I’ll give them the skeleton of the song or the outline of the song, and I want them to fill it in,” she says. “I’m drawing the map as we go along, but I want them to fill in beside me with colours and textures, and I think that’s the best way to perform jazz, instead of dictating it too much and having everything written out on the page. It’s a lot more my style to be inclusive of what other people want to say, because in the end, playing jazz—playing music—should be about having a voice.”

For Guillou, how the lyrics intertwine with the composition is one of the most interesting parts of making jazz. Guillou says that she has as much to say as a writer of words as she does as a writer of music.

“My music has been very inspired by poets like e.e. cummings and Joni Mitchell, who really is a poet and an artist, she claims, before being a songwriter. I have a lot to say as a lyricist and as a writer, as somebody who wants to say something about the world. And then there’s the music part, so they actually have been two different things.”

But even though it’s her name on the front of This Bitter Earth, Guillou knows that it wouldn’t be possible if she tried to do it all alone.

“If I’m just singing out there on my own, I’m just on my own, so that’s where being collaborative and having the right arrangers and the right musicians and the right producers [matters]. I’m in a place now where I definitely know now more than ever that it’s not a one-man show,” she says. “It’s essential for me to be working with everybody.”

Victoria International JazzFest
June 24 to July 3
various prices, various venues

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