The world knows Canadians for their casual, ?aw-shucks,? approach to recognition. We do great deeds and say little about what we do. So, it wasn?t a surprise to find a modest package from Kellylee Evans held a bold, confident and commanding cd, called ?Fight or Flight??
In 2004, Kellylee Evans took second prize, among 160 competitors, in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. She ?wowed? the audience at The Kennedy Centre, in Washington, DC, which hosts the competition. The judges, including Quincy Jones and Al Jarreau, liked her mix of spirit, as Zeisha Bahry notes, and vocal uniqueness.
Until ?Fight or Flight,? Kellylee Evans was a well-kept secret. She was a graduate student at Carleton University, in Ottawa. She sang jazz standards at night.
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Vocally, the influence of Shirley Horn, Leela James and Carlene Anderson is obvious, on ?Fight or Flight.? Tony Bennett is less obvious. Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and, perhaps, Antonio Carlos Jobim, lurk in the music.
Evans calls her music urban jazz, a mix of R&B, Soul, Pop and Jazz standards. The list of urban jazz artists includes Diana Kroll and Noah Jones. ?Heady company,? says Evans.
A reaction to medication taken for a minor ankle injury almost ended her life, in 2002. ?It was a shock,? Evans told Steve Baylin, of ?Ottawa Express.? ?It took something like that to learn not to take [life] for granted.? ?I feel,? she said, ?like I?m [bolder] now. After that, I knew I had to follow my first love, music.?
During a show at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, in 2002, Evans ?caught the ear,? writes Baylin, of Lonnie Plaxico, a bassist of some repute. He played with Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon and Wynton Marsalis as well as Cyndi Lauper. She got to jam with him.
A year later, after a bout with nodules on her vocal cords, Evans called Plaxico. ?I was in this head space of like, ?what the hell,? she told Baylin. Two shots of bad, the reaction to medication and the nodules, meant a shot of good was due.
The new boldness paid off. Her call came out of the blue, but Plaxico remembered. She sent him a demo. ?Just guitar and voice stuff I did with Drew Gonsalves,? she says, and simple.
Impressed, Plaxico suggested she come to New York. He?d put a band together, which included Martin Sewell, Steve Hass and George Colligan, rehearse for two days and record for two days. That was January 2004.
Back in Ottawa, says Evans, ?I redid my vocals.? Then, ?in 2005, I redid a couple more tunes, in New York, with bassist and producer, Carlos Henderson.? All was in place.
Corporate music, such as Universal or Sony, dominates the business, but corporate rosters shrunk, of late. If a corporate roster totalled 200 hundred in 1996, it?s likely under a 100, today, and maybe a lot fewer. Signing with a major label, such as Sony, is difficult, in the best of times and almost impossible today.
?I always felt that if I were going to get a label deal,? says Evans. ?I wanted it to be with a major label or as I like to tell folks, I want a big pimp, not a little one.
?After the Monk Competition, in 2004, I was approached by some of the majors in the US, but no one really believed in the project, or me, enough to make the investment.?
Evans auditioned for Blue Note Records, the well-known jazz label. ?I really, really wanted to be on Blue Note,? says Evans. ?In the end, [its A&R people] decided they didn't like my songs.?
Telarc, ?another great label in the States,? also expressed interest. Then, she says, Telarc ?merged with Concord [and] the interest died down.?
Major labels in Canada were, well, typically Canadian. ?All the reps ? called me after receiving my demo. [They?d] say that I was [a great] talent, but that they didn't think there was a market for my music in Canada.? Here?s courtesy masking a parochial lack of imagination.
New artists turn to smaller labels or start their own. Rembrandt held his own showings, actively ?marketed? his paintings and shamelessly hunted commissioned work. Corporate notions of creativity favour low-risk tried and true, rather than the new.
Fans are the elixir of the artist. ?I had this cd of material that I wanted to get out to the public,? says Evans. ?I had people emailing me constantly, asking if they could buy a cd. Finally, I decided that I?d just head off and rely on the people who?d been coming to the shows and asking for the cds ? the fans.?
?Putting the cd out on my own was the best decision I?ve made in my life. It's scarier than hell, but I feel so alive! I feel in control of my destiny. Once I started doing this for me, all these opportunities started to [fall into place].
?When I was just waiting for labels to say, yes, I was in this holding pattern. I felt like I couldn't say yes to anything until I knew who I was going to sign with and when the CD would be out. Now, I decide all that, and it?s good for me.?
Independent artists, ?indies,? face drudgery and despair, as Michael Azerrad writes. ?Releasing the CD took a huge amount of work,? says Evans. ?It still takes a huge amount of work, everyday.?
A fact of indie life is poor distribution and no money for promotion. ?I've received help from so many people,? says Evans. ?The head of music at Barnes and Noble fell in love with the cd; he helped me get a distributor in [the USA,] and put the cd on-line and in every store in the Barnes and Noble chain. That was amazing.
?A manager at Indigo, in Kingston, Ontario, fell in love with the cd and got Chapters/Indigo to put the cd in all [its stores], with music departments, across Canada. That, too, was amazing.
?Everything is about finding fans, and the music takes off from there.
?Jane Bunnett and Larry Kramer featured me on the annual ?Global Divas Gala,? and I got a Canadian distributor out of that opportunity.
?The CBC has played the cd across the country, repeatedly, helping me gain fans for my music and inspiring sales at outlets across the Canada.?
Kellylee Evans seems set to join a select group of indie artists, such as ?Nirvana? and ?Sonic Youth,? who succeeded, widely, from an indie base. More recently, "The Wailin' Jennys," "Arcade Fire" and "Clap Your Hands Say Year" emerged from the indie ranks. These are pop or rock groups, but indie jazz, especially the urban jazz of Kellylee Evans, faces the same opportunities, often with more talent and better product.
For the majors, radio is the medium. Airplay sells mainstream and known artists effectively. Radio airplay is costly and labour-intense, and only the major recording companies can afford it.
Indies, artists and labels, work the Internet. More than one indie artist, according to rumour, earns hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, selling his or her cds and product only on the Internet; radio has little interest in these artists and they don't need radio. These artists, as with Kellylee Evans, direct, own and control their creative efforts, with some unexpected side-benefits.
?So far,? says Evans, ?I have felt [releasing the cd on my own] is a wonderful experience. It's the best thing I?ve ever done for myself. Yes, it has also been the riskiest. More than anything, I have received the reward of being in control of my life, and you can't beat that.?
Evans ?decides to take flight rather than fight on her new recording,? writes Keith Hannaleck, in his review of ?Fight or Flight? She ?has a lovely warm delivery expressed through the 12 tracks on the cd.? Her flight is successful, in both a business and a musical sense.
Hannaleck notes his favourite tracks include ?the opener ?What About Me?? [; it?s] so good you get to hear it again at end of the cd, as a bonus track: only this time it?s a saucier slow burner version.? He adds that ?Rapunzel? highlights Kellylee?s versatile vocal chords. ?The Latin beat,? writes Hannaleck, ?suits [Evans] well, and the way she controls the words and the inflection of her voice are just superb throughout the track. You will get right into the story instantly and start picturing what the fair-maiden that drives all the men wild looks like.?
Evans opened for Tony Bennett, on 1 October 2006, at Salle Wilfred Pelletier, of the Place of Arts, in Montreal. Brian Slack wrote that Evans captivated the audience. Introducing her, Andre MÃ©nard said Evans was an especially rewarding find for festival producers.
?I?m still floored,? says Evans, ?that [Bennett] would allow me to open for him. My music really isn't much like his. I don't sing the standards, which are his focus, and I'm an unknown. It was such an amazing opportunity for me.
?I think it came about because of one great reason. I had supportive people go to bat for me: Caroline Jackson, of the Montreal Jazz Festival, and Catherine O'Grady, of Ottawa Jazz Festival. That's how every great thing that has ever happened to me has come about and I'm extremely thankful.?
On working with the 80-year old Tony Bennett, Evans says, ?it was so great watch his show. It was super long, energetic and polished; everything you would expect from someone at the top of his game.
?He was gracious enough to stay and watch my set, which I totally didn't expect. And he took time to talk to me before and after. When I told him I was still freaked out by the whole performance, he said that it was a good thing because it meant that I still cared about what I was doing. I loved that.
?And he got three standing ovations!?
Hooked? may be the cut on ?Fight or Flight?? Phones across the world will ring to the opening bass line by Marvin Sewell. There?s a sweltering, 1950s-noir about ?Hooked,? which, well, hooks the ear and won?t let go.
"She is very, very good," says composer and author, Sjef Frenken. "No artifice, I can understand the lyrics, which is important, if you care about good song writing, and a very smooth voice."
You know Kellylee Evans has arrived. A retailer, in Garland, Texas, sells "Fight or Flight?" for twice the suggested price of $34.35 CDN; "a rare import," it proclaims. This confirms talent is always worth at least twice the price.
?What about Me? (3.57), ?Lead Me Closer? (4.02), ?Hooked? (3:53), ?I Don?t Want You to Love Me? (3:47), ?Fight or Flight? (Help Me, Help You)? (3:18), ?I Don?t Think I Want to Love You? (5:45), ?Let?s Call a Truce Tonight? (3:47), ?Rapunzel? (3:39), ?How Can You Get Along Without Me?? (2:53), ?Enough? (3:28), ?Who Knows? (4:40), and a bonus track re-working of ?What about Me?? (4:42).
Chris Anderson (2006), "The Long Tail: why the future of business is selling less of more," published by Hyperion.
Michael Azerrad (2001), ?Our Band Could be Your Life,? published by Little, Brown.
Michael Azerrad (1993), ?Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana,? published by Doubleday.
Click here to read Steve Baylin (2006), ?That One Phone Call,? in ?Ottawa Express? for 8 June.
Click here and scroll down four screens to read a brief review of ?Fight or Flight,? ?Brings jewels of sound and soul right to our doorstep,? by Zeisha Bahry.
Click here to read the review of ?Fight or Flight?? by Keith Hannaleck on muzikreviews, 19 September 2006.
Click here to read Brian Slack (2006), "LA DERNIÃˆRE DÃ‰COUVERTE DU JAZZ KELLYLEE EVANS SÃ‰DUIT LES SPECTATEURS EN PREMIÃˆRE PARTIE DU SPECTACLE DE TONY BENNETT," from Le Net Blues ("Latest Jazz Discovery, Kellylee Evans, Charms the Audience when she Opens for Tony Bennett.)
dr george pollard is a Sociometrician and Social Psychologist at Carleton University, in Ottawa, where he currently conducts research and seminars on "Media and Truth," Social Psychology of Pop Culture and Entertainment as well as umbrella repair.
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