Carol Welsman
2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival
NAC Fourth Stage
Saturday, February 6, 2016 – 7 p.m.

In a sold-out concert at the 2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, jazz vocalist Carol Welsman wowed her listeners, and demonstrated her finely-honed skill at presenting jazz standards and classic pop songs.

It was a polished show in the best sense – excellent singing, excellent accompaniment, a varied and stimulating set-list, and friendly engagement with the audience. Welsman emphasized songs from her latest album, Alone Together [eOne, 2015], but also included pieces from her earlier CDs Journey and I Like Men.

Welsman was born and started her career in Toronto, but now lives in Los Angeles. At this concert, she was supported by three well-known Montreal jazz musicians: Richard Irwin on drums, Rémi-Jean LeBlanc on double bass, and Pierre Côté on guitar. But she opened the show singing a cappella.

And not only a cappella but scatting – informing the audience right up front that jazz was the offering that evening. Her clear, strong soprano filled the Fourth Stage as she moved from scatting to the actual lyrics for “Alone Together”. Then she sat down at the piano, and along with Irwin and LeBlanc added an extra instrumental zip. There was a smile in her voice and lots of swing in the music – and room for a nuanced bass solo and a hard-edged drum solo as well.

For the remainder of the evening, the mood shifted among delicate and intimate (“It Might As Well Be Spring”, “My Ship”), celebratory and swinging (“I Didn't Know About You”, “Sand in My Shoes”, emphatic and fun (“Why Don't You Do Right?”, “Day by Day”), and sweet and sensual (“Samba Do Aviao”).

Welsman had a great rapport with the audience, and shared stories with them – for example, how thrilled she was when she heard one of her recordings being played at the famous Los Angeles restaurant, The Ivy: “'Dorothy, that's me!' I was in shock”, and how she ended up meeting the restaurant owner and discovering a mutual love of jazz. Before a super-fast and energetic version of “Cotton Tail”, she explained how Duke Ellington was her father's favourite artist of all time, and “what my Dad liked, I liked”.

She also made a point of singing in French as well as English, recognizing that Ottawa is the bilingual capital of a bilingual country. Her sizzling and syncopated version of “Volons vers la lune” (“Fly Me to the Moon”) was sung mostly in French with a few lines in English, and included scatting as well.

With her version of “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis”, Welsman showed the influence of the legendary jazz singer Peggy Lee in a dramatic rendition. It's “about someone who's gone far past where she's come from and broke a lot of hearts along the way”, she told the audience, and she gave it a dynamic treatment, with world-weary vocals and a bluesy guitar solo from Côté. She built up to full-throated climax – “Don't you know I'm from Missouri, too?”, with a long held soprano note and strong fanfare. The crowd loved it.

I particularly enjoyed an old Eddie Jefferson number which Welsman unearthed from her student days at Berklee. “Disappointed” was a perfectly-encapsulated story told by a woman who thinks twice about a no-good lover – and finds a happier ending, all told with bounce and fun.

One of the particular strengths of this concert was how Welsman immersed herself in the lyrics, singing them with a complete familiarity and involvement. This was evident in both the ballads and the upbeat numbers, but I particularly noticed it in “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”. She sang that song simply, initially just with sparse piano, and then with the bass and drums joining lightly in behind – and that emphasized the heartfelt beauty and loneliness of the lyrics. It was one of the best versions of that song I've heard.

It was a well-balanced show which flowed naturally and easily – and it was no surprise that the audience gave Welsman an immediate and enthusiastic standing ovation after her uplifting and hard-swinging closer, “The Blues Are Out of Town”.

She responded with a truly memorable encore, with just her at the piano: a lovely version of “The Folks Who Live on the Hill”. She sang it sincerely, with a catch in her voice, and when she finished quietly, she just left the stage – letting the impact of the song soak in.

    – Alayne McGregor

Set list:

  1. Alone Together (from Alone Together)
  2. It Might As Well Be Spring (from Alone Together)
  3. Sand in My Shoes (Bobby Sands) (from Alone Together)
  4. You Came A Long Way From St. Louis (from Journey)
  5. I Didn't Know About You (from Alone Together)
  6. Cotton Tail (Duke Ellington)
  7. Why Don't You Do Right? (Joseph McCoy)
  8. My Ship (Kurt Weill and George Gershwin) (from Alone Together)
  9. By the Time I Get to Phoenix (from Journey)
  10. Volons Vers La Lune (Fly Me To The Moon) (from Journey)
  11. Day by Day (from Alone Together)
  12. Disappointed (Eddie Jefferson)
  13. Samba Do Aviao (from Journey)
  14. The Blues Are Out of Town (from Alone Together)
  15. Encore: The Folks Who Live on the Hill (from I Like Men!Reflections of Miss Peggy Lee)

Note: received review access to the Ottawa Jazz Festival but was denied access for our photojournalist, Brett Delmage. Therefore we are unable to publish photos with this review.