Dynamic Edmonton artist makes her mark with debut album Nocturnalize, which is informed by an eclectic mix of styles and influences.
In the world of jazz, there are those merely keeping it alive and those who breathe new life into it.
Edmonton’s Mallory Chipman certainly falls into the latter camp, with an approach that is steeped in and informed by the past of the music while sending it whirling giddily forward.
Her debut album Nocturnalize, which was released late last year, features the 23-year-old working her stunning vocal magic — fresh, shiny, buoyant, with the perfect amount of dusk in its tones to set the right mood — on nine originals and a pair of unconventional traditionals, while backed by some of this province’s best players, including Murray Wood from rising roots act Scenic Route to Alaska, and, on one tune, her grandfather, the great, Canjazz legend Tommy Banks.
It’s not hard to understand why JazzYYC chose the artist as one of then headliners for this year’s Summer Jazz Fest.
Prior to her Ironwood performance on Saturday night, Chipman spoke with theYYSCENE
Q: For a first record, you really have seemed to have found your voice with it.
A: Thank you. It’s the first one, but it feels like it’s been a long time coming because some of those songs were very old, I’d written five years before and some of them I’d written months before, so it really a mix of everything. And I think what is kind of fun about it for me about coming back is it shows sort of an evolution of all sorts of stages I’ve gone through in terms of my songwriting. So for a first record it not only spreads that a little but it also plays catch-up for what I was doing before I actually had a record — it puts that out there to the world.
Q: You talk about evolution, where did you start and where do you think you are now?
A: Well, I started initially in more the musical theatre world when I was growing up — musical theatre and I actually studied some opera. Jazz was always something I listened to and enjoyed, so I sang lots of it, along with pop and contemporary, just more for fun, but never really in a professional setting. Whereas I was working in the musical theatre world as a child even, and singing in festivals, doing the whole classical thing. The when it came to actually pursuing music at a post-secondary level, when I decided, “You know, I have to choose: there’s no program out there that lets me do absolutely every style, so what do I really love the most?” And as much as I loved singing to the other styles, whenever it would be, “What do I end up listening to for my own listening pleasure, it was always jazz or contemporary.” So I realized if I’m going to dedicate my life to one of these things, that’s going to be it.”
And I think it shows a bit on Nocturnalize as well. Some of the tracks, for example on the final one, Make Someone Happy, I tried to harken back to my roots and pay homage to that sort of traditional, musical theatre-inspired jazz standards, because most of these jazz standards came from musical theatre, initially. I was sort of going with a more Judy Garland-ish approach with that tune and I think that came across. At least to me (laughs) because I know what I’m looking for there. But whereas I think now, especially since Nocturnalize has been released, I’m really going more in the modern direction. Again, it sort of is bringing me back to my roots still in a sense because growing up I loved rock music, and I still do, so you’ll see on tracks like Angular Symphony and Starstruck there’s a little bit of that gritty, rock influence. And songs that I’ve written or arranged since Nocturnalize are all often in that direction or sort of a folk-jazz-inspired (one) similar to Sister Sister, which is also on Nocturnalize.
It’s all changing. Music is dynamic in itself, but I think an artist’s career is such as well. While one day I’ll wake up and want to write something that’s really traditional, the next day I’ll wake up and write something really modern. It can make things really tricky because you want to have a clear voice. So, I’m glad you said it sounds like I’ve found my voice (laughs), because some days I’m like, “Does that come across or is it too all over the place?” because I have so many influences and love for many things. It’s all a process.
Q: You certainly haven’t painted yourself into a corner with all of those different influences. And while some people might find that difficult to market or difficult to sell themselves, it sounds like it’s given you a lot of freedom?
A: Absolutely. And people don’t really seem to mind, because the cool thing about jazz is that it’s not small, but compared to pop or rock, it’s a smallish niche market as it is, and so within that I think variety’s good. There are only so many options that people are aware of — I mean there are actually so many jazz artists out there that I wish people were listening to more, because they are some of the ones who inspire me most. But at the same time, if people are only lending their ears to a few jazz artists among the rest of their playlist that might be full of artists from other styles, it’s nice to have that variety in there. And because jazz also appeals to such a unique audience, where you get people who were around from the golden era and also young people who are exploring it through a different lens … it does garner an eclectic audience.
Because of that, I find that after every show, someone will come up to me who looks like they’re 19 and say, “Oh my gosh, I love Angular Symphony and I can’t stop playing it,” and I’m so flattered. And then the next time I’ll turn around and somebody who looks like they’re, say, 89, comes up to me and says, “Oh, you’re still singing Make Someone Happy and that makes me happy.” It’s so great because you are able to connect with a vast array of people and still speak to them musically. So, I think it’s been good.
Q: You also seem to be confident enough that when you do a standard, you don’t do a standard, you make it entirely your own. I think that’s where your more contemporary leanings really serve you well.
A: I take it you’ve listened to My Funny Valentine. (Laughs) Well, for me, as much a songwriter and arranger as I am — a singer, performer and improviser, those are all equally as important aspects of it to me … My next record, it’s already recorded, it will be out on October 12, and it’s almost all Leonard Cohen covers, save for two originals that I wrote inspired by him or about him. And all of the covers are not so much covers in the traditional sense, but they are covers more along the lines of what I did with My Funny Valentine. I took the structure of the Leonard Cohen tune — the melody is the same, the lyrics are the same, but that’s about it. I turned it upside down and made it my song, because the beauty of anyone else’s music that has become so popular or well known, whether it’s Leonard Cohen or Rodgers and Hart’s My Funny Valentine, it was done so beautifully by artists in the past and that’s why they became these iconic tunes. So they don’t really need to hear me just sing it not like Leonard Cohen but in the same way. (Laughs)
Mallory Chipman performs Saturday, June 17 at the Ironwood as part of this year’s JazzYYC Summer Jazz Festival. For tickets and more information, click here.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at email@example.com.