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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 10, No. 7

Taking Chances - A profile of Singer Kate Hammett Vaughan

by Paul Serralheiro / April 9, 2005

Although she is often compared to Betty Carter for her adventurous way with the beat and melodic line, or to Sheila Jordan for her gutsy swing, singer Kate Hammett-Vaughan has her own sound that can't be neatly pinned down. In Vancouver, where she's lived since leaving her native Nova Scotia in 1979, she can just as easily be heard interpreting standards with her quintet as performing audacious new music with the Now Orchestra. In all things musical, Vaughan is nothing if not a study in contrasts.

"If people can hear Betty and Sheila in my sound, I'm thrilled," she explained in a recent interview. "Those singers really represent what I want my music to embody: freedom of expression, a natural sort of speaking approach to lyric interpretation, swing, a sense of reverence for tradition while still looking forward." She adds, "I tend to see everything I do as part of a whole, rather than as a collection of different styles and approaches. Certainly, different groups that I'm in do different repertoire, so the program is often dictated by the musical approach of the group, but when I'm singing it's just me. Standards, free music, new music... they all hold different challenges for me, but all of the same elements and aspirations apply."

The opposing elements clash and harmonize in an edgy blend of vocal timbre and articulation explorations on discs like "Face the Music" (with her 1990s group Garbo's Hat), her releases with the Now Orchestra (notably the 2000 album "Shadowgraph Series" with guest George Lewis), or in the more mood-driven tones of her three quintet offerings: "Devil May Care", "How My Heart Sings" and her most recent, "Eclipse" (just released on the Vancouver-based Maximum Jazz label).

"I'm sure there are lots of people who like their art 'in a box'," the singer elaborates, "and lots of people make really great music that will satisfy those tastes. I don't think that my music is better or worse than something more traditional or predictable, it's just how I express myself."

For Vaughan, integrating approaches and materials also involves commissioning works from contemporary Canadian composers, such as the ones she performed last year at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (a project she plans to record). Whatever the material or setting, Vaughan's artistic vision is simple: "I see myself primarily as a singer of songs. That's my job. I'm an instrument that uses text... For me, a great song is a great song, whether it's written by George Gerswhin or Alban Berg... Once I'm up and singing, I'm more concerned with being present in the music and just responding."

Audiences across Canada will get a chance to judge for themselves as Vaughan's quintet makes stops in St. John's, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Medicine Hat throughout the month of April. She will be joined by Jim Pinchin on tenor sax, André Lachance on bass, Chris Gestrin on piano and Tom Foster on drums. The group has been Vaughan's "dream band" for about 7 years. "They really support and challenge me, and we've developed a wonderfully strong sense of interaction and play," she confides. "This is not a kind of singer-standing-in-front-of-the-band-and-crooning-tunes group. It's very much OUR music. We're best in live performance, and we have a lot of fun, too. There's lots of improvising and taking chances, moments of great space and stillness, and plenty of swing, too. I think it's full of surprises for the audience and for us."

Kate Hammett-Vaughan's Quintet will be performing in Montreal on April 17 at Upstairs.

(See details in the Jazz Plus column of this section, and consult her website at

http://www.khm.com for specific tour dates)

(c) La Scena Musicale