Lee Aaron gets hands on with jazz

By David Kenney

At 27 years old, Lee Aaron was broke, depressed, divorced and supposedly washed up. The "Metal Queen" was feeling flimsy as tin.

Today is a different story. Yapping about her love of art deco and Easter shopping for her step-daughter, Aaron is motormouthing away.

"I’m a freak," she laughs over the phone from Vancouver. "I love decor. My place is real funky. I’m kind of a control freak; if I can’t control my life I control my environment."

Aaron’s life has jumped in and out of stages of control. Signed to a major record label at 18, Aaron coined many ’80s memorable kitschy hard rock songs like "Metal Queen," "Sex with Love," and "Whatcha Do to my Body." The advent of grunge meant a full metal meltdown. Next, Aaron shifted gears, formed alternative group 2precious and eventually moved to her latest gig as a jazz singer.

That’s right, the teased hair, tight-leather wearing ’80s sex symbol is fancying herself in Billie and Ella’s tradition.

"There’s nothing about strapping on a guitar and singing at the top of your lungs," she describes. "To have rock fans that are really ardent about what you do and singing along to every song is empowering but it’s a different type of empowerment when you’re singing jazz. There’s much more room for harmony, form, improvisation and the power you get from that is much more subtle."

Oddly enough, it’s a return to her roots. From age five to 17 Aaron sang vocal jazz and even used to play e-flat alto saxophone. Teachers sent young Karen Lynn home with jazz records to style herself after. So no, Aaron isn’t a comeback pretender.

"One singer that I particularly like–the irony is that I don’t sing like her but she’s been a big influence for me–is Nina Simone," she says. "I just love the soul and passion she puts into stuff."

Aaron is baring this kind of soul on her debut album Slick Chick. Including jazz standards by masters like Irving Berlin and her own songs, Aaron avoids becoming Canadian trivia.

"Pre-40 years ago jazz was for the people, it was feel-good music, it was the pop music of its era. Somehow in the last 30 or 40 years, jazz has gotten snooty and elitist in some regards and people that like pop records say ‘I can’t relate to jazz, it’s boring’," says Aaron. "I mean, come on; if anyone can bridge the gap between elitist jazz and the mainstream, it’s Lee Aaron."

While some skepticism surrounds her metamorphosis, Aaron counters by saying all rock music has blues and jazz roots.

"Going from being a rock singer to singing jazz is not that huge a leap," she says, noting how like herself, other jazz singers find their passion singing from life experience. "I think I’ve got some things to sing about."

Lee Aaron jazzes up The Night Gallery Tues., April 10.

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