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Emilie-Claire Barlow Interview

"I learned along the way that organization is key, key, key, because then you allow yourself to relax, and be in the moment," said Emilie-Claire Barlow one of Canada's premier jazz vocalists, and if anybody should know how important that quality is, it would be her. In addition to her singing, Barlow writes all her own arrangements, produces her albums, acts as her own tour manager and oversees virtually every aspect of her music career. As if those are not enough responsibilities to keep the midnight oil burning, Barlow has also carved out for herself a successful career as a voice actor, and is the voice behind Chrissy in the cartoon 6Teen and plays the role of Courtney on Total Drama Island. 

The past year has been perhaps the most successful of the singer's career, as two of her albums, the Christmas CD Winter Wonderland and her current project The Very Thought of You, kept jockeying between first and second place on the I-Tunes Canada jazz charts, during December of 2007. The Very Thought of You has remained in I-Tunes Canada's top ten jazz purchases since its release. On SoundScan a tool used to measure retail sales, and one on which the Billboard Charts are based, The Very Thought of You, has remained in the top twenty sales in Canada for jazz. 

During the Christmas season last December, Barlow made her first tour of Japan, including a performance at Tokyo's The Cotton Club. "It really didn't feel like Christmas, because I was away from my family and the snow. I was away from the last-minute shopping, and the whole mood which exists here (in Canada), which frankly I didn't miss at all. Although, it didn't feel like Christmas it was (still) easy to get into the mood for singing Christmas songs," said Barlow, while explaining that she drew upon another experience in her past, "When I recorded the Christmas album, it was the middle of the summer. (At that time), I was able to take a step back, and recognize the songs for just being good songs, instead of being in the mall, and hearing "Frosty The Snowman," for the seventy-second time that day, (to the point) where you don't even hear it anymore."

When Barlow performed before her Japanese fans, she adopted the attitude, "Songs like "Winter Wonderland," are all swing tunes, and their form is that of a jazz standard. It was natural to look at them in that (light). I sang a song about summer, and I looked at it in the same way. To sing them and really feel the lyrics was just like singing "Autumn Leaves." We were singing the things that we did last summer, only this time it was winter." 

Although this may have been Barlow's first tour of Japan, her music has been appreciated in that country for several years. Barlow, the business manager, had negotiated her own deal with JVC Victor to distribute her music in Japan. 

Barlow talked about her Japanese tour, "The thought of the language (differences) was a little daunting at first, because I do like to chat on stage, and tell the stories behind the songs. I wondered if when I told silly jokes, there would just be the sound of crickets. (she laughed) I also wanted to make sure that I was just being myself and that I was not getting too caught up in (the language differences)." 

With both Winter Wonderland and The Very Thought Of You distributed in Japan, Barlow dedicated approximately fifty percent of the content of her shows to songs from each album.

As the title track, "The Very Thought of You," opens her CD, it is abundantly clear that Emilie-Claire Barlow is anything but a minimalist. Barlow's phrasing is emotive, smooth, and effortless, as she is accompanied by Nancy Walker's elegant piano playing, Kieran Overs' gentle bassline, and is serenaded by Kevin Turcotte's flugelhorn. Barlow's songs have many wonderful layers, and as you peel them back, you appreciate just how carefully this album was put together, and how talented she is, as both an arranger and singer.

Barlow said that while she was in the studio recording "The Very Thought of You," I knew that something good was going on, while I was still singing it. It was not just about my vocal performance, but it was with the whole track. Sometimes I can agonize over tempos, but the tempo is perfect on this track. I had the lights down in the studio, I sang it through, and I felt that I gave it my all. It was nice to listen back and hear that coming out." 

She reaches back to 1947, for her second track, a Frederick Loewe / Alan Jay Lerner tune, "Almost Like Being In Love," and although she is too humble to say this herself, Barlow's interpretation of the song ranks up there with any of the great singers who have previously recorded it.

Barlow, who lives west of Toronto (Canada), is a fairly young singer, so it prompts the question, why is she attached to standards that belong to an era long before she was born. "I like to sing jazz and specifically the American Songbook, because the songs are timeless. They were written in the thirties and the forties, have been brought through the decades and been given every type of treatment that you can imagine. People have done them up-tempo, or perhaps as a bossa nova. Many singers have sung them, good singers, bad singers, and for a song to be able to withstand that, you really have to be at its core. It is really about the melody, the lyric and the chord progressions. You have to make them your own. I like being part of what keeps these songs alive," she said. 

Continuing along the same line for a moment longer, Barlow said, "I am not writing my own material right now, maybe I will someday, but when I sit down to write something (I find) a Cole Porter tune, or a Gershwin tune, and they are way better than anything that I am going to write. I like the idea of trying to take these songs that have been done, and adding my own special twist to them. I think that I have managed to do that with some of these songs."

One of the songs that Barlow put a new twist on was "Pennies From Heaven," from the CD The Very Thought Of You. "I was very proud of that arrangement, and I thought it was different. I reharmonized it and did it as a samba groove. I took a very different and fresh approach to that tune. I had the melody (to "Pennies From Heaven") running through my head, and it sounded like a tune that I could approach in a Latin way. The arrangement also features a wonderful flute solo by Bill McBirnie. 

Barlow also created a new arrangement for the Rogers and Hammerstein tune, "Surrey With The Fringe On Top," from the musical Oklahoma. "I was aware of that song, but it hadn't been on my radar for years, then I was listening to Mel Torme Swings Schubert Alley and he does this Marty Paich arrangement, that is just so killer and that inspired me. I went, 'Oh I forgot about that song. What a cool song.' I thought that Mel Torme's idea was so cool that it sparked an idea for me." Barlow borrowed from Paich, and incorporated his thoughts into a few bars of the bridge in her own arrangement. 

Barlow combines into one track the songs, "My Time of Day," and "I've Never Been In Love Before," from Guys and Dolls, a musical that Barlow confesses is one of her favorites. "When I was in the studio, I thought, 'I'm not sure about this one,' but when I decided to write a string arrangement for it, then it came to life for me." Strings arrangements play a big for the CD The Very Thought of You, with no less than five violinists, two violists and two cellists contributing to the textures and beautiful colors.

Barlow demonstrates her versatility as an artist, when she sings the fourth track, "Les Yeux Ouverts (Dream A Little Dream Of Me)," and "C'est Si Bon," entirely in French. With the former song, she once again utilizes the string section to great effect, and on the later tune tenor saxophonist, Mike Murley provides a great accompaniment and an even better solo. No song appears to daunting for Barlow as she lends her emotive vocals to singing Joao Gilberto's "De Conversa Em Conversa," in Portuguese. She delivers a brightly colored and beautiful interpretation. 

There is nothing pretentious or overly technical about Barlow's vocals, she is able to strike an incredibly beautiful balance and vulnerability with songs such as, "The Boy Next Door," and becomes the playful lover on Winter Wonderland, as performs the duet, "Baby It's Cold Outside," with Marc Jordan. 

Emilie-Claire Barlow has already had a very successful career in Canada, as a jazz vocalist, arranger, and producer, while managing her own career. The rest of the world is just beginning to discover, what I heard, several years ago when driving in my car, beside Lake Ontario, and the DJ from Wave 94.7 in Hamilton Ontario announced that the next song was by Emilie-Claire Barlow, that being that she is a very gifted artist. 

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs, . His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague. 


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