All that jazz of Calgary vocalist Johanna Sillanpaa

Johanna Sillanpaa’s is a career that many Calgary music lovers have been following for the better part of two decades.

And that’s meant as a compliment.

“That makes me feel old,” the singer says with a laugh.

Again, not meant that way. It’s meant to illustrate the time Sillanpaa has put in and the many notable projects she’s been a part of, including the acoustic duo Sillan and Young, the urban ensemble YoMoZo, and, of course, her own solo career.

And while there have always been elements of jazz to what she does — thanks in great part to that remarkable set of pipes she has — it’s always been aided and abetted by other flavours from the worlds of soul, R&B, funk and pop.

Now, though, she’s ready to dive right into the jazz realm, releasing her new album From This Side. The record features seven originals and co-writes, alongside four standards and not-so-muches, all made cozy, late-night and intimate by Sillanpaa’s smokey and seductive vocals, and a stellar band featuring bassist George Koller, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist Chris Andrew and drummer Tyler Hornby.

It is pure jazz. And it is pure Johanna Sillanpaa.

Prior to her release party Sunday night at the Ironwood, the artist spoke with theYYSCENE about the new record and her new focussed direction. Excerpts from the interview are below.

Q: So you consider this your first jazz recording?

A: Yes. This is my fourth solo (album), but it’s definitely my first jazz record.

Q: Why has it taken you so long to do a straight-up jazz album?

A: I don’t know. I think I always wanted to do but I have such passion for the crossover styles, too, so every time I would get into, “OK, I’m going to do a record” … the previous projects had gone to the crossover style without even planning towards jazz or that, but I seemed to lean towards that, if that makes sense. I think this time I just said, “You know what, no, I’m doing a jazz record, I want to do my thing.” Like I said, I’ve thought about this for years, about doing it. And it was just a matter of timing in my life and also funding was huge — I just had to get it lined up. And also, the personnel on this record, which is who I wanted originally and I just had to be patient so that our schedules could line up.

Q: It is a pretty amazing group of players you have with you.

A: Oh, yeah. I’m in good company, that’s for sure.

Q: It also must help to have this album out on Calgary jazz label Chronograph Records. Owners Kodi and Stephanie Hutchinson have always been real champions of the local jazz scene.

A: Oh, totally. They do so much work. It would have been very hard to do this without their guidance and support. Stephanie helped me with making sure my funding was in place and making sure that my applications were top notch. And Kodi is co-producer on this one … he and George Koller co-produced it together.

It was just a really great experience. And it was a quick process, too, the whole album was recorded in three days, all of it, every instrument and vocals. So it was a very quick process and I think that’s probably a good thing for me. Ask anyone I’ve recorded with, I tend to overthink things if I have the luxury of time and budget. But in this case it needed to be done so we just went with our first instinct, which was good.

Q: And you have said that you wanted it to be like a live experience and I’m guessing that’s the best way to ensure that?

A: Yeah, you know I really did. I find that with my previous albums — with the exception of the Christmas album (One Wish); I was able to perform a lot of that live and in a smaller ensemble — but I found that with the others, I had such a hard time. There were so many layers through the production end, vocally, and it was hard to reproduce some of those songs live. And I needed a bigger band, and you have to be able to go out with a smaller one, budget-wise. So with this record I feel I could do this as a quartet … I could probably even do this with a trio.

Q: With the song selections for the album, what did you want it to showcase?

A: When I first started planning for this album I had not expected to have this many originals. I thought if I could do half-half, great, because I thought let’s take a bunch of cool standards because I have such amazing arrangers available to me — Chris and Tyler did amazing work with some songs — and do that: do some really cool arrangements and try to write some songs in the same vein. But as I started writing, I had a lot more to say. So the originals took over …

I think what I really wanted to showcase in this album was, I guess, who I am as a vocalist, without all of the layers and all the background. It’s pretty naked. I’m singing the songs and there’s not a lot of vocal support. I wanted it to be pretty bare.

Q: As for the covers, it’s a nice choice of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. Why that song?

A: I’ve been singing it for a number of years, and I’ve always loved the range — beautiful melody, simple. Any Joni tune you’ve got to think about that as you take it on as a vocalist. So I’d been doing it for awhile and I asked Tyler Hornby if he could do a little bit of a different arrangement for me, so he did. It was just a song that I felt was good vocally for me and something that I was quite familiar with already, going into the project.

Q: Now that this album is coming out does it mean you’re ready to go further down the jazz path, that you’re now committed to that? Or will you still keep dabbling in other forms?

A: I’d like to stay with more of a jazz repertoire for my original shows. I’ll probably dabble a bit, but this feels like a good match for me, so I think I’ll stay here for awhile.

Johanna Sillanpaa releases her new album From This Side with a show Sunday at the Ironwood. For tickets and reservations please call 403-269-5581.

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, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at He likes beer. Buy him one.