Fawn Fritzen hasn’t always considered herself a feminist.
The Whitehorse jazz singer/songwriter wasn’t using that term in 2013 when her first CD, Bedroom Voice, came out. Or in 2016 when she released her second album, Pairings. She certainly didn’t think of herself that way in 2011. That’s when an invitation from Jazz Yukon gave her fledgling career a boost—the organization asked her to perform in the inaugural season of Jazz in the Hall.
When she returns to the Old Fire Hall on March 7, with a new set of musical collaborators and an original program of songs and stories, she’ll do so with increased confidence and an altered awareness of herself as both a woman and an artist.
“From day one, the intention of Jazz in the Hall has been to highlight a local musician, but to ask them to stretch and do something they haven’t done before,” Fritzen explained. In her previous performances, she has drawn mainly from two or three sets of jazz standards, with a few of her own songs blended in for good measure. She decided to do something different for the upcoming show.
“I think it’s the culmination of everything I’ve been learning and thinking about for the last several years. What it did was provide me with an opportunity to dive in and really do the work that I’ve been thinking about doing,” she said.
“I’ve been writing music since I started singing professionally, but I’ve never written an entire show. I’ve always kind of written just when I felt like it, when I had an idea pop into my mind.
“This has been more purposeful in terms of the things I want to say, so it’s been a really neat learning experience for me to have a deadline.”
Fritzen’s intention is to package six of her own songs (some of which were still being tweaked in mid-February) with six discrete stories she has written. She also plans to live-record the performance and issue it early next year as her third CD. Thematically, the program will reflect the “strong opinions in terms of feminism” she has been developing in recent years, particularly around areas of consent and communication.
“All these various thoughts have been swirling around about how women, especially, can be empowered to examine what they want and to communicate that in ways and environments that are safe and to say what they don’t want in ways that are safe,” she said.
“I don’t necessarily mean physical safety, but psychological health and emotional safety also.”
Fritzen’s artistic development took a big leap in 2015, when she spent 10 intensive weeks in Toronto learning about the nitty gritty of the music business. It happened during a “dark time” when she was feeling trapped by family obligations. Although the “wife and mom” part of her felt guilty about doing something just for herself, “it was the artist part of me that really needed to go and the woman and human part of me that needed to go,” she admitted.
“That is a reality that has been really clear to me for a long time—that sometimes the needs of the family and the needs of the woman are in direct conflict. That’s just reality.”
Since that time, Fritzen and her husband reached an amicable end of their marriage. She also released Pairings and entered a new romantic relationship with pianist David Restivo, who now lives in Nelson, B.C. Besides his role as pianist in the foursome Fritzen has assembled for her March 7 show (and various B.C. dates to follow), Restivo provided the initial melodies for several of her new songs. One of these (she describes it as a “bittersweet goodbye”) recalls their unsuccessful attempts to step away from a complicated long-distance relationship. Another, written as a birthday gift, is a “love song about the connection we have,” she said.
“There’s another one I wrote that’s called ‘Gaslight,’ which I wrote completely on my own, so far. It’s not done yet. It refers to that psychological, manipulative technique of making somebody doubt their own reality,” Fritzen explained.
There’s another one that’s really about finding your voice as a woman. It’s called, ‘Make a Little Noise’. That one started with a melody David wrote for me that just turned out to be the perfect vehicle for this idea.”
Fritzen admitted that other songs in the works haven’t yet borne fruit, including one about “saying yes to things I didn’t really want to say yes to and how I lost a little bit of me every time I did that until I became somebody I didn’t even recognize.” In addition to Restivo on piano, the ensemble she’ll be fronting for Jazz in the Hall includes Victoria-based bassist John Lee and drummer Kelby MacNayr.
“They’re wonderful musicians. I just love their energy and the sense of humour and humanity they bring,” Fritzen said.
Fawn Fritzen and the Fellas will perform Thursday, March 7 at the Old Fire Hall. The evening begins at 7 p.m. with an educational vignette by Steve Gedrose. It will end with an open jam session after the feature act.