A little inspiration and improvisation

Deanne Matley is a local jazz singer who performs with the Deanne Matley Trio and the Prime Time Big Band. The trio plays sporadically on Sundays at Notable’s weekly jazz brunch. The Big Band group plays at the Ironwood Stage & Grill every second Saturday. Deanne Matley and Pals host Cafe Koi’s Jazz ’N’ More every Thursday evening. Matley has released two albums: Stealin’ Blue and Chillin’ & Fillin’.

The Gauntlet: When did you first discover that you wanted to become a jazz artist?

Deanne Matley: I call myself a vocal artist. The reason for that is because I do other genres, not just jazz. But I’m pretty well known in the city as a jazz artist.

When I was in Grade 10, I went to Lord Beaverbrook High School and I was always in choirs and singing. [My teacher] Mr. Gardner had this jazz choir. As soon as I heard them I was like, I’m so in. Everyone had microphones and harmonies. Everyone was moving and the music was fantastic. It was something completely different from what I was used to. But the choir was already established so I couldn’t audition until Grade 11.

I was gung-ho [about joining]. I picked a piece where I sang “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” I remember this so clearly because it was one of the audition pieces I had to learn. I picked up my first Ella Fitzgerald album at A&B Sound — which was so long ago now — and I just listened and listened to her, just praised her and soaked it all in.

Then I learned another part as well for the group audition. I remember going in and having to sing this for him and loving that I put all this time and energy into the song. And then I got the gig. Yay! It was fantastic and that’s where my passion for jazz music started.

G: What artists have been your major influences?

DM: I’m a huge fan of Frank Sinatra. What I love about Frank Sinatra is the expression of his emotions. Whenever I listen to Frank I can hear and feel him.

Of course back in the day, whenever everyone was doing recordings, you would go into the studio off of the floor and if there were any imperfections you know you don’t care ’cause it’s so human. He’s my first and foremost favourite.

I’m a really big fan of Keely Smith. I love Ella Fitzgerald for her scatting ability, which is insane. And she is intense and awesome. She’s a really good vocalist I listen to. Nina Simone — her deep luscious emotion just comes from her and she just takes it apart. I love listening to her.

G: Who has been your favourite or most memorable artist that you have collaborated with?

DM: I was just recently in San Francisco and I did a song with this legendary pianist Henry Mayburn and that was pretty amazing because he is quite heavy in the jazz scene.

We didn’t rehearse or anything. He doesn’t read music. I just said, OK this song, in this key and I want to do it as a ballad. And I know at first he was like, OK…? because normally it’s done as a swing. But him and I just locked in, just connected and glided — we’re emotional — and it was just so free and connected and passionate.

I’ve worked with a lot of awesome musicians in town, so it’s kind of a hard question. The people that I work with — my musical partner Bruce and I — are very connected musically and we do a lot of work together. We’re working on an album now that we’re just wrapping up.

We’ve had a lot of really great moments together live on stage. That is where the beauty happens, ’cause on stage it’s live. It’s totally raw and authentic, real and in the moment and never the same show twice.

It’s a tough question because I’ve had so many incredible moments with musicians in general, so it’s kind of hard to pinpoint one specifically, ’cause one day it could be meh and the next day it could be wow.

G: What sort of melancholy or emotion brings out your best work?

DM: I’m a sucker for ballads. I find that ballads for me are the ones that allow that real heart-wrenching emotion to come through. [That’s] where I really connect most time — the musicality, the wording, the structure, the way the music is flowing and the way I’m connecting with the audience and the musicians on stage.

A lot of the times it’s ballad, but at the same time I can rip off a killer swing tune with a big band and it’s fun and energetic. And afterwards I’m just like, wow, ’cause all this energy comes out and afterwards I’m so tired ’cause it was so exciting. So it all depends on the song. The ballads are usually that nice tender richness that stirs up the heart strings and at the same time when I’m having fun that is the same thing, cause my heart strings are pulling then too. And if we’re not having fun then why are we doing it?

I always love it when someone is like, oh my God, I have goose bumps, ’cause all right, I’ve done my job if I can allow the audience to feel.

G: Jazz can be very improvisational. Is there any structure when you’re just jamming or is it that you create something new out of old melodies?

DM: My instrument is the vocal chords, so it’s completely different from a sax. But the idea of it is if I am going to sing a vocal tune, I’m going to respect and honour the composer and sing through the tune pretty much as it is written on the page. Then if I want to I can then go onto a scat solo which is pretty improvised. So basically it’s not the melody at all. Vocalists are essentially trying to imitate horn players. As vocalists we try to imitate that and it’s called scat singing, improvised soloing.

G: Can you comment on what really spurs your creativity?

DM: I think for me it’s really about getting into the tune and collaborating. What we’ll do is, my musical partner and I will take a tune and run through it. Then things will start to happen. He’ll play something and I’ll be like, oh, I like that — just changing the style of a tune. For example, it’s a straight up swing set and I’m like, let’s take this baby and turn it into this heart-wrenching ballad and it’s a completely new tune and people are just like, holy crap, never would have thought but you just nailed that. And I’ve got goosebumps and it’s so fun. And for me that’s creativity. Also when I hear someone’s version of a tune that I really like, that will spur on something.

G: What is the local jazz scene like here in Calgary and what are some of the best venues to perform at?

DM: There is actually a really great scene in Calgary. We did have a jazz bar called the Beat Niq, but we did lose that. We don’t have a specific jazz club in town, but there are lots of venues that have jazz.

I do a jazz brunch at Notable, but you wouldn’t consider Notable a jazz venue. It’s a restaurant that has a jazz brunch, so it’s a little different in that sense.

I host a jazz and open mike at Cafe Koi and they also have other jazz showcases that go on there. Epcor Centre just started their jazz series.

And then there’s the whole Jazz YYC. If you go to JazzYYC.com it’s all the jazz that is going on in Calgary. So there is not a specific jazz venue, but there are lots of venues that host jazz on a regular basis.

We’ve got a lot of great talent in the city but I find we always get labeled as a cow town — Calgary Stampede and all that stuff. There is a thriving scene. It’s just not huge, not yet.

For information about her music and live shows, visit Deanne Matley’s website here.

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