ELIZABETH SHEPHERD TRIO at Yonge-Dundas Square, Wednesday (August 8), 12:30 pm. Free. Rating: NNNNN
The fact that a hugely promising, independently working young jazz singer/pianist like Toronto's Elizabeth Shepherd could be nominated for vocal jazz album of the year at the Juno Awards yet receive no acknowledgement from the National Jazz Awards or make the Polaris Prize short list speaks volumes about the cliquishness of the Canadian music industry.
This country may not have a U.S.-style star system, but rising through the ranks here still has less to do with an artist's musical talent or hard work than with whether he or she happens to be in with the in crowd of Canuck power brokers.
Shepherd isn't going to sit around waiting for recognition at home. While the shortlisted Polaris nominees were out toasting themselves with venti decaf mocha fraps, she flew to Japan for a sold-out four-night stand at Tokyo's swank new Cotton Club, which went over extremely well. As Peaches and Feist will tell you, there's nothing like success in foreign countries to raise the value of your stock in Canada.
"We actually played eight shows in those four days, so it was a whirlwind tour," says Shepherd, who still sounds a bit shellshocked. "It was very hectic, but, wow, what an amazing experience!
"The crowds were super-attentive but quite reserved, so it's hard for me to gauge how we went over. I remember at the beginning of one show there was one rowdy table, and someone from the club went over and had a word with them. There were four different people sitting there the next time I looked. People cheered whenever I introduced one of my own songs, and we got called back for encores each night, so I think we did all right.
"Probably the best time I had was the last night," she continues, "because Shuya Okino from Kyoto Jazz Massive organized an after-hours jam session with members from Sleepwalker, so we all got to play together at Shuya's club called The Room. They're all smokin' musicians. It was incredible."
Although the Do Right! label has just issued Shepherd's Besides disc, a stacked collection of dance-floor-friendly remixes of tracks from her Start To Move album along with a few stellar studio jams that didn't make the cut for the album, she's already deep into the next recording, which will expand on her now familiar trio format.
Not only has Shepherd added versatile trumpeter William Sperandei to the lineup ("I've got nothing against saxophone players," she laughs. "I just don't like the instrument"), but she's also planning cultural exchange sessions with groups of like-minded musicians she's been hanging with in Tokyo and London. She'll sing on one of their tracks and they'll play on one of hers.
"I'd like to get a broader group of people involved in the next recording. I think it's important to connect more with the players working within this small but active community spread out around the globe. I share a similar aesthetic and certain musical touchstones with the people I've met in London and Tokyo. Even though I don't speak Japanese, I could sit in with Shuya and the guys in Sleepwalker and immediately get a sense that we're all on the same page, because we like the same late 60s funk and early 70s cosmic jazz as well as contemporary house music. It's a cool scene."
Shepherd will be performing in her classic trio setting for the Yonge-Dundas Square set Wednesday afternoon, and there's a good chance she'll be trying out a couple of new tunes on the lunchtime crowd.
"With the Start To Move album," Shepherd explains, "we learned the songs I'd written for it in the studio and recorded them before we had a chance to work out the arrangements in performance. This time, we'll be playing the new material at shows and allowing the songs to develop before recording them.
"Well," she laughs, "that's the plan. With the new things I've done so far, I've been trying to get away from the conventional form where you start with the head, each person solos over the same chord structure and then the head out with maybe a coda or something. Instead, I'm trying find less predictable ways of allowing the individual players to express themselves while encouraging more collective improvisation."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Elizabeth Shepherd says she has a greater appreciation for the remix concept since the release of her new Besides CD
There's a good reason why Elizabeth Shepherd has expanded her trio by adding a trumpeter