Jazz interview with jazz singer Ellen Doty.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Ellen Doty: – I grew up in a small town called Okotoks, south of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada. My mom was a choir director and had me singing from a very young age.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the jazz vocal? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the jazz vocal?
ED: – My grandmother lived across the street from Nat King Cole in Los Angeles, so jazz was passed down to me from her and through my father. I started singing jazz in high school (with the band), and then went on to study Vocal Jazz at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and with various private teachers as well.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
ED: – On my first album, I created a more traditional pop-jazz album with full instrumentation- piano, bass, drums, guitar, and horns. On my second album that just got released, I spent several years writing and experimenting with sounds to find what I was looking for. I really wanted to create something with a lot of space, that allowed the music to breathe. One of the producers, Davide Di Renzo, suggested that we try jamming with three of us one evening- just piano, voice and drums. It was magical. Vocally, I focus a lot more now on subtlety and connecting with the emotion of the songs than when I first started.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
ED: – I almost always practice with a metronome when I’m at home to really feel the rhythm. I often also move my body to the beat while I practice. I feel that body movement is deeply connected to rhythm and feeling the pulse of music.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
ED: – I’ve been working on re-harmonizing a couple of standards for my upcoming tour, and I’ve been using a very minimalist approach. Basically providing only the essential harmonic information to hear the progression, but playing as little as possible. Allowing the ears to fill in the rest. It’s been an excellent exercise in realizing the power of simplicity.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
ED: – Cecile McLorinSalvant- Dreams and Daggers, Ambrose Akinmusire – A Rift In Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard, Ahmad Jamal, Marseille, Gregory Porter-Nat King Cole and Me
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
ED: – For me, I think more of my music comes from the soul. Especially as a songwriter, I draw from the stories of my own life. Everything from the triumphs and joys to the moments of great difficulty. Of course, there’s intellect required as well, but for me, the soul makes music special.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
ED: – The story of the making of this album is quite interesting. We were in the studio all day with a full band (bass, drums, guitar, piano, voice), with some incredible session players, but it just wasn’t feeling quite right. At about 10pm when the session was over, one of the producers, drummer DavideDi Renzo (Cassandra Wilson, etc), suggested we hop in the studio to jam with just three of us- voice, piano and drums. I remember putting on the headphones, and I got goosebumps right away. There’s something magical about stripping music away to the bare bones, especially this music. It was quite the revelation.
JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?
ED: – I’d say be prepared for failures, and don’t let them get you down. On social media these days, we always post the best moments- winning awards, great shows, interviews, being on the radio, etc., but there are always lots of difficult moments that happen at every step of the way. Remember that everyone has struggles in this business, and you’re not alone in that.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore,can jazz be a business today or someday?
ED: – Certainly. Jazz will continue to evolve as it always has, and will always be present on the scene in my opinion. There’s been a surge in soul/r&b/hip-hop music with jazz influence, and I think that’s really cool. It helps open up more listeners to the sounds of jazz music. It also shows how much creativity exists in the music world, and how jazz continues to be present in different forms and in collaboration with different genres.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
ED: – Working with producer DavideDi Renzo has been incredible. He’s such an experienced musician, but is also so open-minded about sound. He’s pushed me artistically to always keep experimenting and trying new things.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
ED: – I think the jazz influence we’ve seen lately in hip-hop/r&b and soul helps get younger listeners interested in jazz, and hopefully that will also lead them to wanting to hear more traditional jazz sounds as well.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
ED: – Music is deep within me and I certainly agree with the sentiment that music can be your spirit. Music-making can be a very deep and spiritual experience. My life would not be the same without it. It gives me purpose.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
ED: – I’d like to continue to tour across Canada, and look forward to touring in Europe for the first time this year as well, and hope to get to tour all over the world. I’d like to always continue to learn and grow as a vocalist, musician, and songwriter. Putting music out into the world can be scary, especially if you’ve been working on it for years. I’m learning how to let go a bit more, and just enjoy the creation of music without thinking too much about what people with think. If I connect with it deeply, I hope audiences will too.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
ED: – As a woman in the music industry, there are certainly some people that have tried to take advantage of me, or use their power to their advantage. It would be nice if an equal playing field for all musicians could be established. There are improvements happening, and people are speaking out, so I think that’s a wonderful thing.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
ED: – I am off on a Canadian tour for March and April, then festivals this summer, then I will be doing a tour in Europe in October, and then I will possibly be back to Japan in the fall as well. Lots of exciting things ahead! I will be continuing to write and hone my craft as I go along. The next album is usually always in the works.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
ED: – Absolutely. Many jazz standards have beautiful stories and lyrics behind them, as do many folk songs. It’s a tradition passed down through generations in both cases as well.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
ED: – I listen to a huge variety of music. Everything from folk to jazz, to indie rock, to soul, to r&b or hip hop. I recently created a playlist on Spotify titled “Chill Jazz and Soul” with some of my favourite jazz and soul tunes (both old and new).
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
ED: – I’d like to go back to Los Angeles in the 50’s. My grandmother lived across from Nat King Cole- it would have been so cool to meet him, and see him and so many other greats perform live.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
ED: – What made you fall in love with jazz? And can I ask one more. What is your favorite meal to cook for friends?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Through sheer luck I got into jazz and blues, and through sheer determination and love for my cause, it’s lasted a long time. Good stuff. Armenian shish kebab and dolma.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan