JAZZREVIEW.COM: Brenda Carol, it is a pleasure to interview you! Let's start with some basics for the jazz listeners and jazz readers! What were the musical influences during your childhood and teenage years?
Brenda Carol: Firstly, thank you for the opportunity. I am both honored and elated to be interviewed by you. Thanks for your continued support and encouragement of jazz. Growing up, I listened to CBC radio and watched far too much television. I especially loved musicals and talk shows.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Was music always a part of your life, Brenda?
Brenda Carol: I began playing clarinet and singing in grade school. My mother sang in our home and I learned the art of melody from her. I played tenor saxophone and studied vocal ensemble in high school and now I mostly sing and play guitar. I use the piano as my tool to understand melody and harmony, and I love singing with others.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What has it been like getting started as a singer? Please share some of your adventures!
Brenda Carol: I consider myself very fortunate. When I entered the music business independence was becoming extremely viable and making your own records far more affordable. The hardest part has been juggling the many roles while running my own independent record label. Stephen Gardner and I started Darwyn Records in 1998, with the release of my debut CD. The recognition and support that we have received is amazing and we are very grateful for jazz music and "it’s" many fans. I have also had the opportunity to meet some of the most incredible musicians in the jazz world. Max Roach with his famous quartet (Cecil Bridgewater, Odine Pope, Tyrone Brown), Gary Burton and Chick Corea, Kenny Baron and Joanne Brackeen. I really hope one day to meet Oscar Peterson - he lives close by.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Your voice is beautiful, and you are without doubt, one of the finest contemporary singers of music composed by George Gershwin. How did this special affinity with the music of Gershwin and others of his era come about? You seem destined to bring a new and wonderful sound to their music and era!
Brenda Carol: Thank you for your compliments. I have always had an affinity for strong melodies. The music of George Gershwin and Cole Porter just seems to suit my voice. I think of myself as a traditionalist in the sense that I try to pay homage to the great musicians and composers who came before me. I think there is a distinction between jazz and popular song. I consider myself a jazz singer. I could never be bored singing Gershwin and "The Greats". Ever!
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Brenda, who are your musical influences today?
Brenda Carol: I’ve been opening up my ears to Kurt Elling, lately. I love the sound of his voice and some of the work he’s doing. I’ve also been crazy about the re-releases of Andre Previn. Joanne Brackeen tops my list for improvisation on "Pink Elephant Magic", and practice takes up the rest of my life. I listen to vinyl almost every day, and I listen to a lot of warm jazz.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: How does working in Canada differ from other cities you've traveled to?
Brenda Carol: Toronto is such a great place to live and work as a musician. It’s such an international city that way. I figure travel is my way of life, but Canada will always have my heart.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Share with us how your first CD came about and the musicians involved in the project. What were your most enjoyable moments?
Brenda Carol: Recording my first CD was overwhelming to say the least. I was very awestruck with the caliber of musicians playing around me and at times I couldn’t believe that we were making those beautiful sounds, together. I think I was a little intimidated but I’m clearly over that now. Recording at Puck’s Farm allowed all of us to play simultaneously, giving the album a truly dynamic and live feeling.
Working with Stephen Gardner on piano was a godsend. We were able to tune into each other and make the tunes the most important part of the recording. Working on the arrangements with Stephen, mixed with his intuition, made my job that much easier. Having Steve Wallace on bass is remarkable. He covers such an incredible range for me to sing over while maintaining a solid grounding for everyone. Daniel Barnes on drums was so much fun. He really knows how to play off the vocals and blend beautifully in the mix. What a great drum sound, particularly his brushwork. Trading guitars with Ted Quinlan and Lorne Lofsky gave the album a decided flavor. From a blues feel all the way up to the intricacies of avant-garde jazz today. The range was phenomenal. Both Lorne Lofsky and Ted Quinlan are outstanding on this recording and a nice opportunity to compare such individual styles and schools of thinking. Igor Romanyk on violin added the spice. He was so empathetic and musical with the pieces. Trumpeter, Stephen Crowe got the session hopping right off the start. There’s magic when we play together that emulates such a sexy tension. Art Avalos added the percussive sweetness on "Everything I’ve Got" and "Lush Life".
I think of recordings as pinnacles of one’s life - marking change and growth. Darwyn Records’ first recording was dedicated to our parents, mentors and teachers. We simply tried to do the best recording we could do, and everyone involved was behind us 200%.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Who do you think will be considered among the important jazz figures of the past century?
Brenda Carol: Undoubtedly, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Carmen McRae, Billy Holiday, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Bill Henderson and Sarah Vaughan will be among the many jazz artists considered as figures of the past century. In addition, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and John Hendricks will be considered among the most important jazz composers of the past century. Of course, this only touches the vast number of incredible jazz figures still playing jazz to this very day.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: As a composer, do you find it easy to blend jazz and rock & roll, and ballad work?
Brenda Carol: Blending jazz chords with rock & roll is so natural for me. I love taking well know tunes and "hipping" up the arrangements to reflect more complex harmonies and interpretations. I also love transporting progressive songs into progressive jazz levels.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: How do you go about composing a song, what inspires you?
Brenda Carol: I mostly write about people I’ve met or read or heard. I am most inspired by bands with some kind of concept and musical direction.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Do you have advice for those wanting to follow a career in jazz music, suggestions?
Brenda Carol: My message to aspiring jazz musicians is to be patient with your career and playing. Anything that’s worth doing takes a great deal of time and practice. Enjoy the process as much as you can. Surround yourself with the best and play from your heart. Do jazz because you love it.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What and where do you want to be in your career within ten years?
Brenda Carol: I hope to have a body of work, which truly represents my time and presence on this planet. I have many musical ambitions and know that only I can bring them to fruition. Jazz gives me the grounding to express how I feel about music, and playing keeps me humble. I am always so honored to play with the people I admire most. Jazz is very honest that way.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Brenda, you are a great performer with a beautiful voice, and it has been a great pleasure visiting with you! Is there anything else you would like to share with the jazz listeners and jazz readers who enjoy your excellent vocal work?
Brenda Carol: Well, thanks again Lee for enjoying what I do, so much. It’s great to know someone who loves the standards as much as I do. Playing jazz into the 21st century is both fun and enlightening. The freedom in jazz and independence is here. Musicians like Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald helped us to realize that dream. Loving the music and time you get to play is the most important part.