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March 24, 2009

Jazz & Blues Vocalist Georgette Fry

Written by
cindy mcleod

jazz CD reviews, Canada

Georgette Fry Back in a Moment

Jazz CD Review, Canada
Georgette Fry, Back in a Moment
2007 / Spare Rib Records

Dear Readers;

Today’s post is contributed by guest writers, Sara Hamilton and David, fellow jazz musicians and dear friends of many years.

Having recently moved from Calgary back to Ontario, Sara and David have taken up residence in Kingston, where they tell me the music venues are plentiful and the talent pool first-rate. It comes as no surprise to find out they’ve been warmly welcomed by the thriving local music community, including becoming friends with one of the nation’s most recognized blues & jazz vocalists, Georgette Fry.

Sara and David make their debut on Jazz Elements, kindly contributing a review they’ve done of Georgette Fry’s latest release,Back in a Moment (2007), as well as going one step further to interview the talented singer.

My heartfelt thanks to Sara and David for their contribution to Jazz Elements!

Cindy

Georgette Fry Back in a Moment (2007 / Spare Rib Records)
Georgette Fry (vocal), Jon “Bunny” Stewart (saxophone), Rob Phillips (piano), Bob Arlidge (string bass), Mike Cassells (drums)

On her latest CD, Back in a Moment, singer Georgette Fry has taken us to a new place in her heart – jazz standards. In doing so, she has taken a cue from Oscar-winning actor Spencer Tracy, who said “Don’t embellish it – just do it”. Ms. Fry has chosen songs everyone will recognize and, by applying her unique talent and sensitivity, invites the listener to entertain the lyrics with fresh ears. The one ‘new’ song here, Gifted Hands by P. McKay stands out for its message, rather than its unfamiliarity. It seems perfectly at home in the context of this twelve-song set.

Bob Arlidge’s string bass intro on You’ be so Nice to Come Home To sets the perfect tone with its warm sound and easy swing feel. The precise pitch and diction of the vocal performance enhances the message of the lyric without detracting in the least from the musicality of the piece. Jon Stewart’s intimate sax fills behind the final vocal chorus contribute much to the cosy fireside feeling of the “home” in the title.

Mike Cassells’ exciting – almost startling – drum pick-up into the Latin flavoured I’ve Got You Under my Skin ensures that the listener continues to focus on the message, while the switch to Swing in the second half of the chorus gives another lift and helps to define the bridge in this song’s meandering chord progression. Rob Phillips makes a great transition from comping behind Jon Stewart’s excellent sax solo to playing his own fine piano solo.

On A Case of You the floating feel of the band provides the perfect base for the contrasting vocal. This performance by the band exemplifies their skill in holding a slow tempo and giving that forward movement that such songs require. Georgette’s return to more rigid diction matches the ironic bite of Joni Mitchell’s lyric.

All hands contribute nicely to an appropriately cheerful rendition of I’m Beginning to See the Light. The energy of the performance enhances the hopefulness of the lyric about positive changes in outlook that can occur when love is new.

Gifted Hands, the one new song, benefits from the restrained earnestness of Georgette’s vocal delivery. The material and the performance combine to deliver a message in song that could otherwise feel like a sermon.

Lullaby of Birdland features light and breezy solos all ’round. Bob Arlidge’s paraphrase of the melody preludes the return of the vocal perfectly while the staccato ending punctuates the final lyric line We’re in love.

Rob Phillips’ beautiful rubato intro leads perfectly into the relaxed medium swing tempo of Autumn Leaves. His comping behind the vocal and the sax solo leads smoothly into his piano solo. Georgette’s improvised melody in the final vocal chorus brings a freshness to the ought-heard lyric.

On the final song, I Wanna be Around to Pick up the Pieces, a definitely vindictive attitude in the vocal performance leads the listener to believe that, while she DOES want to be around, those pieces may not actually get picked up, but Ms. Fry will certainly relish having first right of refusal. In this energetic conclusion to a fine outing, the ensemble shows that whatever the genre, this band knows how to ROCK.

One of the hardest things to do in this magnificent yet shy country that is Canada, is to make a name for yourself in the arts and then do good enough work throughout your career to sustain that name. The next hardest thing is to hold a saloon gig with a six-piece band for years. Georgette Fry has passed these two tests with flying colours. She and her musicians play every Thursday night at Brandee’s in Kingston Ontario. It’s packed every week. We know because we are often in her audience. People come to listen, dance and be inspired by her music.

Back in a Moment? Don’t stay away any longer, Georgette. See you at the club.

Georgette Fry Back in a Moment
reviewed by Sara Hamilton and David
Kingston, Ontario

SARA HAMILTON & DAVID INTERVIEW GEORGETTE FRY

S&D: What does the title of this CD mean to you?

G.F. Well, it’s kind of a symbolic double-entendre but it’s not meant to be either obvious or clever… it’s just a personal pun. You know how you say something like “we’ll be right back” at the end of a set? Well, this was me, taking a break after my guitar-player of 10 years, Jim “The General” Preston played his last gig, as it were, before passing away suddenly. Back in a Moment is also a reference to the fact that all but two of the songs on this CD are from back in the so-called Jazz Era.

S&D: When you decided to produce Back in a Moment what inspired you to choose these particular tunes?

G.F. These tunes ended up being chosen out of a whole evening’s worth of songs that we played at the Regent Theatre in Picton one night. It was a tough job because there was enough good stuff there for a double CD and we had to whittle it down, so I had to leave behind some of my favourites like Cry Me a River and Willow, Weep For Me.

S&D: The musicians on this CD are terrific. Where/how did you find them and how long have you been playing together?

G.F. Finding great players has never been a problem for me because Kingston is flush with talent. I think I have an instinct for who will play well with whom when I’m checking players out, but usually it’s just a case of me loving the way somebody plays so much that I’ve just got to have that person in my band. I’ve been fortunate, throughout my whole career in music, to have had access to a large pool of amazing musicians both in Kingston and from all over Canada.

We’ve been playing together long enough that I have trouble remembering how long… that’s partly an age thing. I’ve been singing jazz for almost ten years now and my band has been evolving over that time and is still in flux. I think the only member who’s not changed in that time is my saxophonist, Bunny Stewart, but he’s only come on board in the last five years because the first years were just me, bass and piano. Bunny also plays in my blues band, as does Mike Cassells, the drummer on this CD. I found Mike just a couple of years ago and Rob Phillips has been with me for about five years. He’s from Peterborough and I met him while we were recording some songs written by the guy who gave me Gifted Hands.

S&D: It takes guts to make a live recording. Why did you choose to do it this way?

G.F. Actually, this album was total serendipity. We arranged to have this particular show recorded in hopes of getting a good 4-song demo out of it to send off to jazz festivals but when we started listening to the recording, we realized that this had been one of those ‘magic’ nights that you only get when you’re so focussed on the tunes and the audience that you forget that the show is being recorded. I do love live recordings, though, and this is my second (third, actually, if you count a nice set of tunes recorded in Ottawa years ago that will likely never be released)… there’s an energy to live recordings that you just can’t capture in the studio unless it’s done live off the floor and, even then it tends to fall short because there’s no audience there feeding the energy.

S&D: When will you treat your fans to the next CD and what will it be about?

G.F. I’m not holding my breath (and neither should my fans, I guess) waiting to do another project anytime soon. You know the old saying: “If you want to go hungry, play the blues… if you want to starve to death, do jazz”… and then there’s the old joke about the musician who won a million bucks and just kept playing until it was all gone. This is a tough business to be in and, unless you happen to get lucky and/or have the right people behind you, it’s impossible to stay focussed on your career while you’re trying to come up with ways to pay the rent without having to go out and get a ‘real’ job. My distributor and well-known jazz label just went belly-up last month and so I’ve lost whatever stock they had and, of course, now I’m sidetracked from writing songs or developing a concept for any new recordings while I deal with the business of manufacturing more of my back catalogue and finding someone to distribute it for me. Sorry… I don’t mean to whine.

S&D: How does it feel to be a hometown celebrity? The media follow you for a photo when you walk your dog.

G.F. Well, the photo of me and my dog wasn’t planned beyond the fact that once the photographer saw that it was me out there in that awful weather, bundled to the eyeballs and ski-pole in hand, I guess it’s a given that there’s going to be room in the paper for a home-town celebrity. It’s actually very comfortable, being a celebrity and living in Kingston and I’m fond of making the analogy that it’s kind of like being able to walk around your house naked. People here are, for the most part, pretty nonchalant about their public figures and it’s not unusual for you to see, for example, one of the Tragically Hip shopping at S&R or Sarah Harmer at a local pub, supporting a young, up-and-coming band. Dan Aykroyd has his favourite haunts in town. People here will come up to you, say ‘hi’ and tell you how much they love your work or they’ll smile at you as you pass them in the streets. I’ve lived in Kingston more than half my life, and I love almost everything about this city.

S&D: You are the leader of three choirs, each with an enrolment of over 50 members. When did you start this huge undertaking and why?

G.F. I’d been teaching voice and beginning guitar privately for about 12 years as part of my subsistence living as a musician when one day, after telling one of my students how great I thought it would be to have a kick-ass all-female choir like the one in “Sister Act”, she asked me why I didn’t go ahead and start such a choir. I scoffed at the idea because I’ve never learned to read music and this student asked why I couldn’t just take my existing one-on-one teaching method and extrapolate it to a larger group, so I said I’d give it some thought. A couple of weeks later, she (the student) came back and said “I have ten women ready to join your choir”, to which I retorted: “Get me 10 more and I’ll do it”. Lo and behold, she did and it just snowballed from there. By the time we had our first practice, seven years ago now, 120 women had shown up and enrolment in Kingston has never gone below 100. I started up a second choir in Picton in the winter of 2005, primarily to offset the lost income that resulted from the blues band’s demise after Jim’s death and the overwhelming response in Picton got me thinking that there was a need for what I was offering so I went to Brockville not long after that to set up the third.

As to the ‘why’ of it, I just thought it would be nice to offer something to women who love to sing but can’t join other choirs either because they can’t read music or might not pass an audition. My theory is that if you have a large enough group (i.e., more than 50) and insist that the point of the exercise is to relax and have fun in a non-judgmental environment, 90% of the group are going to be getting it right while the 10%, who might not be as able, will still have an opportunity to participate and, through participation, increase their self-confidence along with their skills. In the end, the women realize that they get way more from the experience than just the high that comes from singing in a group and every time I hear one of their stories I realize I’m never going to retire.

for more info visit www.georgettefry.ca

3 comments for this post.

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