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INTERVIEW: Angela Verbrugge

Hi Angela, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Wonderful! Thanks so much for inviting me to VENTS to talk about my debut record, I really appreciate the opportunity to share a little background on it with music fans who might want to check it out.

Can you talk to us more about your song “I’m Running Late”?

Absolutely, I’d love to… I’m Running Late is a composition by the incredible NYC –based jazz pianist and composer Ray Gallon, who I collaborated with to add lyrics. He has been playing it for years under the instrumental title That’s the Question, and an instrumental version will also be coming out soon on his own piano trio record. I heard him perform it at a frenetic tempo at one of the most important jazz clubs in the world Small’s Jazz Club in Greenwich Village. Suddenly the lyrics “I’m running late” popped into my head as a fit for the beginning of the melody. It struck me as a humorous concept to go with the breakneck speed and melody that runs and leaps up and down over more than two octaves.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

The rest of the lyrics were the result of an extended brainstorming session where I hashed out all the reasons I have been late or excuses I’ve heard other people use… missing transit, needing to eat, repairs happening at home, forgetting a phone, dealing with pets, weather, getting confused as to the correct time… and then some got sillier: stopping to donate blood, getting tattoos, being hung-over, being late because of stopping to post to social media. Then it was a matter of putting the puzzle together and creating a cohesive rhyme scheme. I also wanted to reference the instrumental title, “That’s the Question”.  I decided that the mysterious “question” of Ray’s original title was whether the person singing it would make it on time – or not. When Ray and I have performed the song live, we have found that people are really excited by it. Musicians were saying that it’s the modern day iteration of the tune Twisted recorded by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, and that I’m Running Late is poised to become a popular tune bebop singers will want to attempt in their own repertoires. Others have insisted we should write a jazz musical. The humorous aspects aside, in today’s world, where we are all trying to multi-task and be everywhere and be everything to everyone all the time, sometimes we end up quite scatterbrained and frantic; so essentially it’s a modern jazz anthem addressing that. Making references to current technology like an iPhone and Facebook in a jazz song is something I had never heard. In contrast, I sing Cool Baby on the album, a song recorded only by Sarah Vaughan to my knowledge, and there is an archaic reference to a hearing music from a “hi-fi” moaning sweet and low.

Any plans to release a video for the track?

Yes! We were fortunate to have Brickman Studios film us recording this tune at our session date at Trading8s with the Grammy-award winning engineer, Chris Sulit. Here’s a special preview link that has been previously unreleased:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp0xWWXYaGs&list=PLJMsKunDBprrI_XvBnaALdjHfa7iJ07Oo&t=0s&index=2

The single comes off your new album The Night We Couldn’t Say Good Night – what’s the story behind the title?

The title comes from an original love song, played as a romantic bossanova on the album. The song is about one of those nights many readers will have experienced when one is so taken with a new love interest, that the date goes on and on, and neither person wants to say good night. It describes that feeling when we are so enthralled with a person that we become “lost in space and time” until we suddenly realize it is the middle of the night, or even dawn, but there is a trepidation that lurks, too, about leaving the past and embracing a different future with them. I met my husband sitting side by side on a flight, and our first date lasted till the wee hours, just chatting and getting to know one another.

What can you tell us about the recording and writing process?

Wow, that’s big question! Brickman Studios actually came out and made a video about it, it’s available here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJMsKunDBproFYkq0HjHVWNrKwOdZIxnD  It all started at the Vermont Jazz Center when I was there to work with vocalists Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton. Cameron Brown is Sheila’s longtime bass-voice duo partner. He has played with some of the top musicians of our time, and was even a Jazz Messenger for a time! I was playing with him and Ray, and Cam asked me if I had a record out. When I said “not yet”, he told me if I wanted to come to New York, he would help produce it and play on it. Well, it turned out setting a recording date with a NYC trio and booking flights really lit a fire under me to work very hard and make musical preparations and decisions that I might have otherwise procrastinated on. Beyond the recording date, there is more learning and decision-making required for mixing, mastering, graphic design, copyright and licensing, labels and distribution, radio and PR, seeking a label… I invited Will Friedwald, the great journalist and acclaimed music writer who authored one of my favorite books, “Jazz Singing”, to write liner notes, and he agreed, which was very exciting. Musicians wear a lot of hats! The whole experience of setting ambitious goals really helped me to grow in so many ways.

What role does Vancouver play in your music, if any?

Vancouver is a beautiful city fringed by beaches and seasonally snowy mountains. The city itself has a temperate rainforest climate, similar to Seattle.  Sometimes it’s hard to stay inside and be productive with music: I want to hop on my bike or walk the seawall and enjoy nature. Vancouver is home to some incredible jazz musicians, and I have felt really supported and mentored by the community here. Thanks to various venues, but in particular the efforts of saxophonist and jazz programmer Cory Weeds, and the team at Coastal Jazz and Blues, Vancouverites get to hear a lot of international talent year-round (at venues such as Frankie’s Jazz Club), and every June at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. I am grateful to be living on the west coast in a city that has so much natural beauty and lots of inspiring music to go out and hear.

Tell us about the collaborators on your album.

I’d love to give them a shout-out. Playing on my album, the Night We Couldn’t Say Good Night, are bassist Cameron Brown, drummer Anthony Pinciotti and pianist Ray Gallon… these musicians have played professionally on the NYC jazz scene all their lives and have worked with many jazz legends and famous touring artists. I am so very grateful and humbled they got involved with my project. When I got back to Vancouver and listened to the takes, I was astonished at how beautifully the trio played, I was in tears. So much feeling, so many tasteful details, so much passionate emotion poured into their solos… it’s hard to explain the nuance that having this kind of talent brings to the rhythmic, dynamic and harmonic life of the recording. For arrangements, I went to multi-instrumentalist Miles Black who is an incredible mentor and arranging guru. I took classical piano as a child, then trombone in the high school big bands, and musical theatre in my acting program at college, so those experiences gave me a leg up, but jazz is one of the most difficult forms of music. I was grateful to have Miles to help me prepare for my debut album. I also enlisted the help of San Francisco-based multi-instrumentalist Art Khu, the musical and life partner to the beautiful vocalist Jacqui Naylor. Art added some really hip and inventive elements to the project. Armed with my beautiful charts, I took the A-Train north of Central Park and we rehearsed near Sugar Hill in Harlem, a jazz landmark made famous in the Duke Ellington composition. There, I witnessed the band elevating the written arrangements… discovering ways of embracing the chosen songs and making them entirely their own before heading into the studio with Grammy-award winning engineer Chris Sulit. One song we included, All Too Soon, was actually written by Duke Ellington 78 years prior, possibly just a few blocks from where we were sitting and discussing  how to bring a new dimension into the tune with a bittersweet jazz waltz feel. Finally, at the mixing and mastering stage, Bill Buckingham at Palace Studios and Ryan Enockson at the Warehouse in Vancouver brought so much technical master and put so much heart and soul into this. I was really glad to be working with people who are so caring and detail-oriented to get us across the finish line with a beautiful record.

How has Ella Fitzgerald influenced your writing and/or performance style?

Ella! My favourite jazz vocalist… her songbook albums were a foundation of my love for vocal jazz in my teens. In college, I had a commute from my acting school in Toronto to my hometown of Kingston, and I played her music constantly. I even named my daughter after her. I was listening to Ella Fitzgerald in the car the night I was almost killed in a head-on collision. Her beautiful phrasing, stunning vocal quality, flexible and precise instrument, and knack for story-telling inspire me every day.

You are known for blurring the line between different genres – how do you manage that balance?

When I started singing in public, the best opportunity to try out new material was at jazz jams, and I studied privately to acquire the skills necessary to participate. As I spent more time at jams, I realized how many tunes embraced by jazz musicians that I already knew from musical theatre, old movie-musicals, and piano songbooks. And yet, I noticed that many tunes I knew and loved had been overlooked; they were great songs but for one reason or another had not become instrumental jazz standards. This realization fuelled my passion for bringing these more obscure tunes and hidden gems back into the public eye and ear, as the case may be. I included a few of these less common favourites on my debut record, for instance, The Moon Was Yellow.

How have your near-death experiences served as a source of inspiration for your songs and lyrics, and/or your overall career?

Ah, yes, you heard a bit about my past; I’ve had a few brushes with death! When I was 23, acting and waitressing, I was in a head-on collision that totalled my car, broke both my legs, fractured my lower back and almost took my life. Then I was in Belize and went out in a boat that sank way out in the middle of nowhere and there were no life jackets. If another boat didn’t happen to come by, I might have drowned. When I had three young kids in 2009, I was diagnosed with a very serious cancer that had already spread to the lymph nodes in my stomach. I underwent all kinds of treatments which were thankfully successful. I think most of us spend a lot of time worrying about what others will think of us, thinking of what will happen if we are different or try something new, and worrying about embarrassment if we are not immediately successful at what we are attempting. Our America’s Got Talent culture sensationalizes “insta-talent”, but what I realized after my close calls was that we are each here on this planet for a limited time and can pursue our passions in order to share our unique perspectives. We can strive to simply do what we love to the best of our ability. Since I had left acting after the car accident to pursue a business career, and I decided that once I had recovered my energy after the cancer treatments, it would be vocal jazz for me. I dove in to learn as much as possible, of course balanced with self-care, family priorities, and financial responsibilities. I want to inspire my kids to live their dreams, and also pay tribute to my parents who helped me through in so many ways in my life.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the original songs and lyrics?

My original tune debut on this album, You’re Almost Perfect https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4UOKdlKw48&index=2&list=PLJMsKunDBprrI_XvBnaALdjHfa7iJ07Oo offers lyrics that address contemporary, real-life relationship challenges: “you’re almost perfect, I want to change you”, and “how I wish you’d be on time for dinner, learn punctuality!”. Aspects of the melody are inspired by Thelonious Monk’s compositions. The lyrics are based on a character that is the amalgamation of the growing demographic of people who seem to end up as serial monogamists. Unlike previous generations, they are perhaps more realistic about their prospective partner’s shortcomings and therefore hesitant to get married despite the positive aspects of the relationship.
How Did I Know This Was End?
 was composed by a Vancouver-based pianist in his 80s who encouraged and mentored me. He is one of these rare tunesmiths who knows all of the old traditional pop and jazz songs by ear. I asked him if he ever wrote any originals, and he pulled out this tune he’d jotted down on a sheet of manuscript paper. The lyrics are among the first I wrote… the story is based on something that happened to me… a modern day Tennessee Waltz story. Every time I sang it at a gig, I got great feedback that it sounded so catchy and familiar, which of course is the sign of a possible new jazz standard, so I decided to take it to NYC to record.

Any plans to hit the road?

I’d love to at some point. I am hoping that the response to the album will be very positive, and that it will strike a chord with artistic directors at venues and festivals and we will be invited out to showcase our material for their audiences to enjoy. Readers can best support musicians in this genre to be able to tour to their towns by financially appreciating their artistic work: by buying albums (either as a digital download or a CD) through the artist’s site, retailers, Amazon or CD Baby, and by staying in touch and sharing the word through social media so venue bookers can see engagement with fans. If readers are listening through Spotify, I encourage them to click the artist name and “follow” so we can stay in touch about future releases.

What else is happening next in Angela Verbrugge’s world?

We are doing outreach to radio and media outlets to get the music out to people who may enjoy it. There has been interest from other vocalists to licensing use of these songs, so that would be a thrill to hear what other musical minds could do with the original tunes. Through the process of making this album, I discovered that despite how much I hated poetry in high school, I love the challenge and process of setting lyrics to other composers’ instrumental jazz songs. I definitely plan to do more of that. When I was invited to release my project on Gut String Records, I heard label founder/bassist Neal Miners’, original compositions and I may add lyrics to some of his tunes. I will continue collaborating with Ray Gallon, and a few other contemporary saxophonists. Also, I have written lyrics for Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker compositions for which I’ve had great feedback from people including Jazz Master Sheila Jordan and award-winning west coast jazz vocalist Greta Matassa; they encouraged me to take steps to get them registered. I hope VENTS readers will check out my music and get in touch with me if it resonates with them. Perhaps they’ll put on my music on while they are making dinner or snuggling on the sofa. I welcome them to write me with any feedback or opportunities to perform (www.angelasjazz.com), connect on social media (www.facebook.com/AngelasJazz, and Instagram @angelaverbrugge).

I really appreciate you having me on VENTS to talk about The Night We Couldn’t Say Good Night. Thank you so much!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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