When she arrived for her interview with OttawaJazzScene.ca on Monday, Ottawa jazz singer Karen Oxorn was toting a bag of her favourite LPs.
She'd recently bought a new turntable and got back into listening to vinyl, she told editor Alayne McGregor, and she wanted to show off some of the music which had influenced her over the years. She pulled out one of the first records she ever bought – Elton John's first album – as well as an LP by her favourite vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, and the soundtracks to the musicals Funny Girl and My Fair Lady, and talked about the memories they inspired.
The musical journey encompassed by those LPs and more will be reflected in her two concerts this weekend, which will also celebrate her 60th birthday. On Friday, January 29, she'll perform with pianist Steve Boudreau at GigSpace in Ottawa, and Saturday at the Baldachin Inn in Merrickville.
Oxorn has specialized in interpreting the Great American Songbook, but with her own touches and a great deal of care and polish. She's organized and performed in tributes to many of her favourite vocalists of yesteryear – including Blossom Dearie, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday (twice).
But the sources and inspiration for this show are broader, including different interpretations of songs by different jazz vocalists.
OttawaJazzScene.ca recorded our chat with Oxorn. You can listen to the entire interview below. Here are some highlights of what Oxorn said about the two shows and her plans for 2016, 2017, and her next 20 years.
On women being considered invisible after age 45: “[These days], society as a whole is looking for the art of things and less concerned about what somebody looks like, how old somebody is. They want to really see what they have to bring to it and the experience that enriches what they do. So I think for me – and also having started so late in music, I was already in my 40s – I don't think that's been an impediment.
Why she didn't start singing earlier: [Inspired by movie musicals], when I was young I wanted to sing, but got very discouraged when I tried out for The Wizard of Oz in high school.
How she picked the songs for these concerts: I picked the songs that really charted my path in listening, until the point where I got turned on enough by jazz to want to start performing.
How she picked the jazz pieces in the concerts: A lot of that was to use some new discoveries. I'm constantly looking for new repertoire ... and when I get a new song, I'm like a dog with a bone. That song is it! That's my new favourite. Nothing else matters till, of course, three days later when I have another new song. And so I was looking for, who were the singers that influenced me the most and what new material did I have from them, or what was I discovering because somebody else turned me on to it recently.
What she learned from her trip this month to NYC: As much as I already had a pretty firm template of what I was going to do and how I was going to do it, when I saw some of the shows that I was lucky enough to attend in New York City, including Stacey Kent's CD release of Tenderly and Kurt Elling's Passion World, and also attending a vocal jazz workshop, it really gave me a different idea of how I want to interpret that material and most especially how I wanted to interpret the lyrics in those songs, which I've always been attentive to but feel even more inspired to deliver the messages of those songs.
I'm doing songs that play double or triple duty, by which I mean maybe they were songs that I first knew by Ella but then Stacey Kent also has a version and then Tierney Sutton might. A good example of that is I'm doing a beautiful Jimmy Van Heusen ballad that I first learned about from Tierney Sutton on her Frank Sinatra tribute CD, and then got to know Frank Sinatra's version, and then another lovely version by Shirley Horn. So that's tribute to all three. And that's a song that's called “I Could Have Told You”. There's some lovely relationships to it in my life, and one that I'll probably bring in on stage to talk about why that song has some meaning to me.
Her future plans: There's one concert I have in mind for 2016 that would be a Julie London tribute. ... Julie London is a singer that's always been a big influence, in addition to Ella, and Billie, and Peggy and Blossom, whom I've celebrated. And then in 2017, I'm doing a big commemorative show for Ella Fitzgerald, given that it will be her 100th anniversary of her birth. ... And more collaborating again with other singers.
Listen to the podcast [12 minutes 37 seconds, 5.9 MB]
Read more about Karen Oxorn on OttawaJazzScene.ca: