Denielle Bassels: Hot Jazz For A Cold January in NOTL
If you’ve resolved to making some life improvements in 2020, start by jazzing up your music tastes by spending a couple hours watching, listening and revelling in the talents of DENIELLE BASSELS. As one of the brightest new lights on Canada’s jazz scene, the Toronto-based Bassels has been earning fans across Canada and Europe since the moment she stepped in front of a mic at a jam session and sang a rendition of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.”
That fateful performance caught the attention of the musicians who would make up her first jazz combo, launching a career that has taken Bassels from European jazz caverns to international music festivals and back to some of Toronto’s most prestigious jazz clubs. Turning her hand to songwriting, Bassels proved equally talented, as her first original composition, “Cool Cool Water,” earned her the Grand Prize in the International John Lennon Song Competition. The release of her first full-length album “What About Wool Wishbags” in 2017 laid the foundation for a non-stop touring scheduled that sees Bassals winning over fans who appreciate her varied and stylish jazz offerings.
In support of her upcoming Niagara date January 26th as part of the Willowbank Salon Series, Bassels took time to chat with GoBeWeekly about
Go/Be: According to your bio, your first jazz performance was rather unscripted, occurring rather unexpectedly at an open jam session. Did you have any inkling prior to that fateful jam at the Hotel Deville that you might be interested in a career as a jazz singer?
Denielle: I never thought I would be a jazz singer or “singer” in any professional capacity I didn't have any connections to the business and none of my friends were doing it so I figured it was just a hobby. The day before I left for Switzerland a waitress gave me her guitar. She overheard me telling my sis that I wished I had one. I was playing that thing all the time in Switzerland and was singing or writing music in all my spare time. I realized then that somehow, some way, music was going to be way more than a hobby.
Go/Be: What do you love most about this genre as a vocalist/artist?
Denielle: I'd have to say the self-expression. There are so many ways to express a
phrase melodically or dynamically, rhythmically. I love that Jazz gives you a bigger tool box to express yourself in more detail, more......you. The Inuit have about 26 variations on the word love so that they can express to each other exactly which type they feel in any moment. I feel like Jazz gives you that ability to really craft you unique style of communication.
Go/Be: I read that you and your band set up in bars without asking to showcase your music. That seems wonderfully cocky, or at the very least, naively idealistic. What made
you think you could get away with such brazen confidence, and how did club owners respond to you?
Denielle: Ha, well the guys I was tagging along with were used to doing it all the
time. The bar owners were used to seeing their faces and trusted them. Honestly the first time they asked me to tag along was the worst and almost put a halt to my music dreams then and there. I had never fronted a band so I didn't know how talk into a mic or interact with an audience. I didn't speak any french at the time aside from some high school phrases and had no idea how to count in or interact with a band! Needless to say, the first time we crashed a bar, the customers went to the bar owner and complained. He kicked us out. I was crushed. The bass player was a teacher at one of
the Jazz schools and told me not worry, that I just had to work on my stage presence. The only way to do that would be to get back on the horse until I got better. It didn't happen overnight.
Go/Be: Jazz is one of those words that scares a lot of people – because of their limited
stereotypical understanding of the many different styles of jazz. My friends here in St. Catharines, Juliet Dunn and Peter Shea, run the TD Niagara jazz festival, and they’re forever educating people that jazz isn’t just free form instrumentation and smoldering
torch songs. What are some of the weirdest comments you've got from people when you talk to them about jazz?
Denielle: Hey! I love those two! Juliet Dunn discovered me in St. Catharines a few
years ago. These guys have been great to me. I'm doing the TD Niagara
Jazz Festival in July. Shameless plug: July 18th at 1pm for Jazz in the
Park. I'm happy to say that I have not heard any "weird comments" about
the jazz genre or I cannot conjure any memories of weird comments. I've had
some people say that jazz is something their grandmother would listen too.
Some of my best musical memories are of my Grandma singing in the kitchen,
so I take no offense to that. She liked great music. I think jazz music is
so multi-faceted that if you can't kind find something you love, you're a
lost cause. Jazz is in all music.
Go/Be: One of my biggest joys of 2019 was discovering Jill Barber, a name I’d heard many times but had never found the time to actually listen. Is that one of the biggest hurdles for you at this stage, simply finding new ears for your music in Canada and other places?
Denielle: Jill Barber is fabulous. The french album she made with Drew Jurecka is my
favourite. I feel like the ears are there, perked and ready. It's not difficult to find the listeners. The difficulty is reaching them. We're planning some tours for the spring and summer across Canada and Europe. Without representation, the difficulty is putting it all together yourself, and finding the funding to do so. We somehow manage. It's amazing.
Go/Be: You continue to earn critical acclaim since launching your career, certainly since the release of 2017's "What About Wool Wishbags," which is always a motivating factor to keep driving. But what drives you most as a performer/artist?
Denielle: Thank you for saying so. The motivating factor is the music. I love
playing it, making it and sharing. The whole process from conjuring ideas to building the songs, rehearsing with a band I love and trust; Scott Hunter on Bass, Julien Bradley Combs on guitar, Jacob Gorzhaltsan on clarinet and sax. And Joe Ryan and Andrew Scott on drums. These guys are the best in my books and I couldn't do it without ‘em. Nothing excites me more than sharing new music we've slaved over for months at a time. If the audience loves it, that's the cherry on the cake. If they get it, that's
Go/Be: Which describes you most: a songwriter who sings, or a singer who writes songs. Which way do you prefer to be described?
Denielle: Doesn't matter to me. They go hand in hand.
Go/Be: Where do you start when writing a song? With an idea from some unexpected source? Or do you find lyrics everywhere and piece them together?
Denielle: It's always different. I have some tools I use to get out of a funk, but generally my best songs have come from just strumming the guitar or playing the piano and singing with full intent. Sometimes (rarely) a full song will emerge, others I'll get some dummy words, but a feeling is there. It becomes a puzzle that I have to piece together.
Go/Be: For someone who may not have seen you before, but may be coming out
to Willowbank to see you, describe yourself as a performer.
Denielle: A dynamic story teller. I'll take you on a journey and when you land you'll
have a tune in your head and a spring in your step and hopefully a new
perspective of Jazz.
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