In one sense, Jennifer Scott’s newest CD, due to be released sometime in the next few months, is a fitting tribute to the Vancouver singer/pianist’s own musical upbringing. Titled Music for Bigs & Smalls, the album consists of what Scott calls “family-friendly jazz” with a lot of integrity.
“I don’t want to ‘sing down’ to anybody, especially a child. It’s music that has been sourced and written with that in mind,” Scott said. Flashback to her own childhood, when her opera-singing mother, who also played piano and conducted choirs, allowed Scott to enroll in piano lessons earlier than normal, because she was “terribly jealous” of her older sister. “Music was a huge thing in our family. You had to do a sport and you had to do a music,” Scott recalled.
Fortunately, her early musical experience transcended the straitjacket of the traditional Royal Conservatory model. “It’s so bizarre to think that every Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., I would go to somebody else’s house and have this half-hour lesson, where my hands were placed on the piano and I had to learn to do that,” she said. That formal training is all that many children receive, Scott noted, often with only grudging support from their families.
“They don’t take music in school, and they don’t have times at home, like I had, where the family just sang together, or we all went to a choir practice, or we were encouraged to just sit and play at will,” she said. “I’ve actually seen households where children were told to shut up and, ‘Get off that damned piano.’” Scott never had to deal with that kind of message, even when she was “probably making some pretty awful” sounds. “I was never discouraged. Neither were my sister or brother. I was making up songs on the piano when I was four or five years old and singing them to myself.”
Unlike most of her family, Scott’s father didn’t play music, although he loved the symphony and was a big fan of country music, as well as jazz stylists such as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole. “He was forced into every choir my mother led, but I think he actually liked it.”
When Scott was in high school, a wrist injury obliged her to take a lengthy hiatus from piano-playing.
“I physically couldn’t play for a good year, so that was a big deal. It had always been a fairly direct path, to the point that my mother called me the only child that she never had to beg to go and practice the piano.”
But an injured wrist didn’t keep her away from music altogether.
“I always sang and primarily considered myself to be a singer, but definitely there was a stronger focus (on singing) during that time,” she said. I actually studied fairly seriously with a local Russian lady who taught a lot of the more serious young people who wanted to be singers. At the same time, I was singing in a jazz choir in school, so I was focusing very strongly on that.”
Scott also took the opportunity to focus on improving her musicianship in general, including studying musical theory.
“That was really formative and I think it became important for me. I wanted to do the full circle, playing piano again and being a singer and understanding music. So, a bit of a nerd, really,” she added with a long, hearty laugh. When Scott resumed playing piano, her primary focus had shifted from classical music to jazz, largely due to the influence of Chick Correa.
“I loved the rhythmic stuff and I still do. He was really the first jazz pianist that kind of made me want to take it a little more seriously,” Scott said.
“Then I started looking at his influences: Bud Powell, Red Garland, people that he loved. So, those are the other piano players I started listening to. My first husband was a huge fan of Bill Evans, so he became one of my all-time heroes.”
One of Scott’s “absolute favourite piano players” is Keith Jarrett. “I wouldn’t want to be as temperamental as him, but I would love to be able to play like that.” On the vocal side, Scott credits one of her father’s favourites.
“When I was learning tunes, I always listened to Sinatra, because he sang them pretty straight up. I always wanted to know what the actual song sounded like, so he was a very early influence, along with Ella Fitzgerald, for sure.”
Among others, Scott also pays tribute to the “absolutely brilliant” Billie Holiday, the “bluesy groove” of Dinah Washington, the “R and B edge” of Etta Jones, and the “ethereal, different approach” of Norma Winston.
This week, Scott will give two concerts in the Yukon with a quintet that includes her husband, Rene Worst, on bass, as well as David Sikula on guitar, Bernie Arai on drums, and Seattle-based trumpeter, Thomas Marriott. Besides several American Songbook standards and some of her signature Brazilian tunes, Scott plans to debut an original tune she is currently writing to honour her earliest and strongest musical influence: her late mother, who died last year.
“The last conversations I ever had with her were us singing together. She didn’t really know who I was, but she could sing with me. Right up to the end, that was the only way we could communicate.”
The Jennifer Scott Quintet will perform Saturday, Nov. 23 in the St. Elias Convention Centre in Haines Junction, and Sunday, Nov. 24 at the Yukon Arts Centre.
Showtime for both concerts is 7:30 p.m. For more information, go to JazzYukon.ca.