Taking Chances - A profile of Singer Kate Hammett Vaughanby Paul Serralheiro
/ April 9, 2005
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
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
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
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
for specific tour dates)