Mike Bell, Calgary Herald
Some are the Hallmark types, those who pluck a card from the drugstore shelves that offers an approximation of what they’re feeling for a host of different occasions.
But there are those who prefer the blank card, to be able to script their own thoughts and, ultimately, say what a Hallmark card can’t say: Who they really are.
Calgary jazz vocalist Ellen Doty undeniably falls in that latter category, someone who’d rather speak for herself than let others do the defining. It’s why, when she chose to craft her full-length debut, the album that would be her most complete introduction to the world — her artistic announcement, as it were — she took an empty sheet and threw all of herself into and onto it.
“That’s what we were really going for with this one, to get something that I feel is a really good representation of who I am as an artist and as a person, too,” Doty says, sitting on a rooftop patio in Kensington.
For that purpose, the 11 song Gold, which she will release with a pair of sold-out shows Thursday and Friday at the Ironwood, is an album made up entirely of originals, predominantly co-writes with bandmates, guests and, ultimately, those who know her best.
And as a result, it feels like an immediate, handmade, warm-hearted statement, one that uses the personal touch to reveal all sides of a performer who seems ready for her true Canadian coming out, with a voice that honeycoats every word it sings in her easy, sweet ’n’ sunny crossover jazz-pop.
“At a certain level it’s easier for me to really connect with the music and the songs I’m singing if it’s something that’s about my experience and something that I’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating,” Doty says. “There’s something extra special about that. So I really love giving my original creations life in the music.”
The album was recorded last November at local Studio D with producer Steve Dierkens, an L.A. veteran — who’s worked on Disney scores as well as the soundtrack to Anchorman — who just relocated to to Calgary and opened, what Doty describes as, “an incredibly beautiful and amazing studio. We’re lucky to be one of the first projects that came out of there.”
Musically, that’s helped by what the vocalist admits is her “dream team” of area players, including longtime collaborators Oliver Miguel and Josh Crowhurst, as well as other familiar names on the scene, including Pat Belliveau, Al Muirhead and Tristan Campbell.
To keep things organic, the band recorded together, live, off-the-floor, in the studio, which Doty thinks helped create an even more personal feel to the sessions, with the experience as important and enjoyable as the result.
“I was really honoured to have all of them there … it was amazing,” she says. “I can’t believe it’s our job to play music all day.”
Doty laughs. “It seems ridiculous.”
As for the songs, themselves, many of them were conceived at a residency she and her regular musicians did last October at the Banff Centre, and tested and perfected during her weekly Friday night gigs in the Oak Room at the Fairmont Palliser.
True to her wishes for the record to truly represent her, the tracks are remarkably intimate and casually insightful into who she is, from the closing track Lullaby, which is a beautiful ode to her father and a fond remembrance of his good nights when she was a child, all the way back to Gold’s opening song Diamond From Cole, which is her tribute to Nat King Cole who lived across the street from Doty’s grandmother in L.A. and whose music has always “been really special to me.”
“So without singing one of his songs, I thought what better way than to write a song about him,” she says.
That song also features a co-writing credit by acclaimed Ontario singer-songwriter Danny Michel, who was one of the musical mentors during her Banff stay, and with whom she became friends. They’ve kept in touch and she doesn’t rule, perhaps, working with him again some time down the road.
For while she’s completely invested in making her own statement about who she is as an artist, she’s also not entirely closed to expanding on that definition, noting she’s even lent her voice to work by her brother, Simon Doty, a house music producer who’s doing quite well in Europe.
“Obviously I love jazz so much so that’s my main thing, but I’m definitely open to having my voice in other configurations … I think that always helps not only open you up to different audiences, but it’s just a great learning experience as an artist.”
But, again, now is entirely about Ellen Doty, who she is as musician and a person, and she thinks Gold might just be that ticket to getting herself and that name into the national conversation, if not further.
“I couldn’t be more proud of it, actually,” she says. “And I just can’t wait to see where it goes.”
Ellen Doty releases her new album Gold Thursday and Friday at the Ironwood. Both shows are sold out with the exception of some first-come, first-served bar seating.