Interview with Kellylee Evans

Canadian soul and jazz music singer Kellylee Evans received a Juno in 2011 for her impressive album Nina in the category “Vocal Jazz Album of the Year.” To get a great impression of her unique qualities, check out this video of one of her 2013 concerts:

Due to a concussion, Kellylee had not performed for almost two years, but in 2017, she returned to the stage in several Canadian cities like Ottawa (at the city’s National Arts Centre), Montreal (the Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill), Toronto (Hugh’s Room Live), and Burlington, Ontario (Burlington Performing Arts Centre). Kellylee’s latest album, Come On, came out in 2017 on October 27. Let’s take a look at an interview that I had recently with her.

Q – I have turned on a number of people to your CD “Come On”, and everyone wants to know when the next one is coming out. So, can we expect a new album from you anytime soon?

I want to say “yes”, so I’m just going to say it – “yes” :). I’m super obsessed about getting a new CD out. A lot of the material that we perform on the road is unrecorded and fans keep asking for those songs, so I have a lot of incentive to get it done.

Q – Do you have any plans to go on tour next year?

Definitely. We’re looking at being on the jazz and folk festival circuit in Canada next summer and I am hoping that 2019 will be the year we play the US a lot more. We had one date in Washington at the Kennedy Center Jazz Club in October and played to two sold-out shows. The response was so positive and warm that I can’t wait to come back “South”.

Q – Clearly many of your songs are based on personal feelings and relationships with your mother and other members of your family. Can you fill us in on the details of what it was like growing up?

I had a great life. I think part of growing up for me has been processing some of the feelings I experienced being a bit of the old one out. In my neighborhood, it seemed like every family had two parents, and parents that were married and no one had a half-brother who was the same age they were.

Those images weren’t represented on television either. But the more I got out into the world and met new people and expressed myself through my art and my music, the more people I met who were just like me – different. I mean, we’re all different, but I guess I needed to own up to my own difference in order to recognize it in others. So consequently, I know that I had a great life, I just needed to see that for myself.

Q – Who do you consider as your main musical influences?

I think my mother was one of my main musical influences. She wasn’t a professional singer or a public singer, but she sang around the house quite a bit and would give me little pointers – one I’ll always remember is that “you can’t sing pretty”. Her big thing was to open your mouth and get that sound out.

But beyond the technical, she always made sure I was surrounded by music. Every payday we’d go to the record shop and she’d pick up the latest calypso or soca hit – she’d get records from Columbia House in so many different styles – we’d listen to the radio – I had my own little record player and my own albums. And let’s not forget Birdland, the Jazz Corner of the world!

I just remember spending hours spinning records and dancing to Boney M, Blondie, Boxcar Willie, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Michael Jackson, the Chipmunks – just whatever I could find in the house. That love for music of all kinds is still with me today. As I grew up and got a tape player, I grew into a strong love for R & B, soul, house.

My cousins lived across the street and I would be over at their house every day after school listening to whatever they brought home – Jody Watley, Keith Sweat, so much music. I supplemented that with my own collection of Sade, Boys II Men, Jodeci, Chante Moore. And those sounds are still with me today.

Once I left for university, I happened onto jazz. Now that was an adventure in itself because my interest in jazz came with a challenge. My boyfriend’s roommate’s girlfriend was bragging about going to New Orleans with her school jazz band in high school. At some point in the conversation, she said that I wouldn’t be able to learn jazz because it was too hard.

Obviously, a challenge I couldn’t back down from. I started studying a singer a month, just building up a repertoire. I fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, Kurt Elling, Shirley Horn, Nancy King, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, and, of course, Aretha Franklin who we all will miss so much now she’s passed away.

From there, I started singing with student bands and then putting together my own, playing sporadically around town. And I think much of the phrasing and notes choices I learned in jazz are still with me today.

After a while, jazz became the soundtrack of our existence. It was everywhere, in every shopping mall, on commercials and I never really enjoyed being with the popular crowd. I started to feel a lot of pressure from listeners/fans to be the next great hope and keep singing the standards forever and ever. Let’s not forget that the Jazz side of Afrobeat has had such an enormous influence as well!

When I need a change in my life, I usually create a completely blank slate, so I stopped listening to jazz and to all kinds of music. I just lived in musical silence for a while. I wanted to know what kind of music I would create if I could just be in a vacuum. I started to write my own music and it seemed to represent bits and pieces from my past along with my present love for Sting, Shania Twain, and so many other performing songwriters.

Q – What is your favorite thing about being in the music business?

It’s been a dream of mine to me in the music industry all my life and so I think just knowing that I am living my dream makes every day that I am performing a great day.

Q – What is the part of the music business you like the least?

I would say that I dislike criticism, but you get that in any business, so I couldn’t escape no matter what I did. I also love to watch memorable moments in the world of music like when John Cocuzzi and his band nearly blew off the roof of the Glendora Ballroom. Impressive.

Q – What words of advice could you give a budding female vocalist who is looking to be discovered?

I think you just have to keep yourself happy doing what you feel is good for you. Sing the songs you want and love and work with people you love. It’s such a treat to be working in an industry that is so closely tied to creating beautiful new things. You might as well be happy at the same time.

Q – What music are you listening to these days? Any favorite bands or artists?

Well, some of the ones I mentioned above, along with Keane, Rascal Flatts, Imogen Heap, Feist, Zaki Ibrahim, Kobotown, Jem. Mostly “pop” artists. Thank you so much for asking me to do this! I had a great time answering your questions!!