With almost two decades as a jazz vocalist, the great Elaine Dame is set to premiere her third CD, You're My Thrill on Dec. 1. Nightspots recently sat down with the sultry songbird ( and flautist ) to talk about what goes into a jazz recording artist in the new millennium.
Nightspots: You're known around Chicago as a very hardworking performer with a full roster, yet this is your first album in almost a decade. Tell me about what goes into the decision to make an album and the process of getting there.
Elaine Dame: That is a great question! You mention that I am "known around Chicago as a very hardworking performer" and the "hardworking" part of that is certainly true. Any person that is making their living as a musician has to work very hard to stay gainfully employed. It takes years of effort to establish yourself in the industry and then you have to work hard to stay there and keep moving forward, both creatively and professionally. I decided to make my first record, Comes Love, because it seemed like a logical step after performing in and around Chicago for a few years, and a recording sort of legitimizes you as an artist. Also, I wanted to document where I was, vocally, at that particular moment. I produced it myself and it cost about $20,000. I would have loved to have recorded another CD after that ( who wouldn't?! ), but I simply didn't have the funds and I didn't want to go into debt again. I got the opportunity to record You're My Thrill because a very generous friend gave me $14,000, with the instructions, "I know you want to make another CD and it would make me really happy if you made one." Isn't that amazing?! Then, I used a crowd-funding platform ( Indiegogo ) to raise another $11,000. I'm going to be spending over $6,000 of my own money for the CD as well. There are so many expenses that go into the production and promotion of a recording.
NS: I want to discuss song selection a bit. There are quite a few showtunes on it from No, No Nanette, Annie Get Your Gun, and The King and I. As a jazz vocalist, do you come at these songs from their original genesis on stage or through the ears of previous jazz singers who may have brought them to your attention?
ED: I performed in musicals all throughout high school and college and was exposed to much of the music this way. However, since I began singing jazz in 1996, I have listened to vocal jazz incessantly and that is how I am introduced to this repertoire. I also get it by way of my colleagues and instrumental versions of these classic jazz standards. I am constantly learning new tunes to add to my repertoire. Often times, audience members will make good suggestions as well.
NS: Like your last album, You're My Thrill has a good deal of modern pop as well ( Joni Mitchell, Richard Thompson ) that blends very well with the classics. Do you see these selections as jazz songs or modern pop songs that could be standards in your head when considering doing them?
ED: Both! Especially the Joni Mitchell tunes. Her compositions are so well constructed and interestinglyrically, rhythmically and harmonicallythat they can be endlessly reinterpreted, just like all the songs from The Great American Songbook, which is why jazz musicians keep recording and performing these tunes. They are deceptively simple tunes that have an underlying harmonic, melodic, and lyrical sophistication. I chose to sing the Richard Thompson tune, "The Dimming of the Day," for my mom. I got an arrangement for the song because I heard Bonnie Raitt sing it on one of her records and I perform some of her ballads and blues tunes at performances. When my mom would come to see me sing, she would always request it. It's not a jazz standard by any stretch of the imagination, but it did lend itself to a gospel feel and I think it's a nice ending to the record.
NS: You're also known as a great flautist, which is a bit unusual for a singer, but I think it informs your style of singing in the way that you use your voice as an instrument, complimenting your accompanying band. Is this accurate, or do you have different mindsets when playing flute vs. singing?
ED: I don't have different mindsets when playing one or the other ... playing the flute does not inform my singing in any particular way, except that ( Chicago writer ) Neil Tesser, who wrote the liner notes for my CD, says that my voice sometimes sounds like a flute. I do use my voice as an instrument, though, and all the classical training I had growing up ( voice, piano and flute ), has helped me to do so, as well as years and years and years of practice developing a style of my own. I get bored easily and would not want to sing a song the same way over and over again. That's the great thing about jazz. If you listen to what's going on around you, the other people that you are playing with will lead you in different directions and vice versa, so you never really know exactly what is going to happen and that is where I'm comfortable now, but it took a long time for me to be comfortable in that space.
You can find out more about Elaine, hear her music, or pick up her CDs at ElaineDame.com . You can catch Elaine live weekly at Macku Signature, monthly at Taverna 750 or Dec. 1 at The Jazz Showcase for her CD release party.