For the multi-talented Carol Welsman, the voice is the lure. In fact, only a handful of jazz performers can match her ability to transmit the meaning of a lyric. Her 10th and most recent disc, called Journey, was just released in North America and it explores some of the American Songbook’s most enduring “road” songs.
A five-time Juno award nominee, Welsman has been a popular force in jazz as a singer and pianist, winning several Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards (since renamed the WAVE Awards), including awards for female vocalist of the year in 2010 and album of the year for her self-titled, Jimmy Haslip -produced album in 2008.
My advice to Welsman would be to make room on that mantle; Journey will not only be a hit with her fans, and they are legion, but will make an impact across a broader jazz and world music market. Welsman is at the top of her game.
Starting with the first few piano notes on the opening track “Route 66,” you get hooked on the intimacy and groove of the playing by bass player Marc Rogers, guitarist Pierre Coté and drummer Jimmy Branly. Keeping true to her musical passions means Welsman lets Journey dip into a variety of styles and languages. Everything from Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” to Peggy Lee’s “Where Can I Go Without You” and the Jobin classic “Samba Do Avião” is lovingly and I might add elegantly performed by Welsman and the band.
Perhaps the reason why she has enjoyed such flattering accolades is best summed up by Welsman herself: “I think one of the reasons I’ve been successful in my own right is that I make a point of connecting with my audience, evoking emotion through the storytelling in song, and sharing my musical gifts with them simply because I love what I do so much. With every show I perform, I want the audience to feel like they’re sitting in my living room, being part of the latest leg of my musical journey.”
I was curious to know who were her influences, so I asked Welsman to create a list of her favourite singers who also play the piano.
Carol Welsman’s top 5 most influential singers who also play the piano
“These are all people who have a very distinct vocal delivery when they accompany themselves on piano. Some I have heard just sing, and the magic changes. I have often equated piano accompaniment to a singer like an artist holding a palette of colours, and then choosing the right tones and hues to complement the vocal phrasing and mood. I believe only a singer who accompanies him or herself can be in complete control of this, and create a special unity and magic.”
1. Shirley Horn: “Shirley was the queen of subtle and minimalism. She had hardly more than an octave vocal range, and managed to mesmerize more than most with four times the feeling of those with octaves more. I learned most from her piano playing; how to just ‘comp’ (shop term for accompany) and not get too caught up in the frill making.”
2. Nina Simone: “Nina didn’t always accompany herself, but I was most touched by her vocals when she did. As soon as a song moved me that way, I’d check the CD credits, and sure enough, there she was at the piano on that particular song. Her swing vocal phrasing is what always knocked me out.”
3. Harry Connick Jr.:
“I saw Harry early on in his career in Toronto in a duo setting; Harry on piano and a bassist. I walked in and heard a New Orleans zydeco-type feel, and became an instant fan. I was marvelled by his bluesy, gutsy piano technique, and of course the vocal danced all over it.”
4. Diana Krall: “Diana and I accompanied each other singing at the piano during a social evening in Toronto before she had started recording as a vocalist. I’ll always remember this because it sealed a special friendship and a certain mutual admiration since we both attended Berklee, and had many of the same teachers. Diana has the same style that I adored back then – no nonsense, great piano and heartfelt swinging vocal.”
5. Dave Frishberg:
“I was introduced to Dave as a songwriter long before I ever heard him play a note, but when I saw him in NYC with Bob Dorough playing duelling pianos and singing their original songs, I was again humbled. There is nothing quite like hearing the person sing the jazz song he or she wrote, and self accompanying. It’s rare and treasured.”
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