Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

November/December 2009: John Pizzarelli and Aaron Weinstein

Martha Brooks

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I first knew Martha Brooks as an award-winning novelist, but she’s also an accomplished jazz vocalist. Her CD Change of Heart was named the outstanding jazz album at the Prairie Music Awards a few years back.

When did you start singing jazz?

I started this singing life back home at Pelican Lake, where my husband, Brian, and I still pretty much live from June to mid-October. I have a sacred connection to that landscape and it’s where sound will always come to me and from me in an “unlabelled” and effortless way. Long ago, one of my father’s patients was a stride piano player. I loved what John did at the piano, the way he claimed it. He taught me “Josephine” and we both dug Chopin. I don’t read music but I have a classically trained voice—that’s a story for another time.

Who are some of your jazz icons?

People who make or have made inspiring music. Joni Mitchell and, more recently, that largely unappreciated genius, Patricia Barber. The jazz crones, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Sheila Jordan and Queen Shirley—Horn, that is. Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett for obvious reasons. And always Oscar Peterson whose “Hymn to Freedom,” every time, turns me into a great sopping mess.

You’re also an award-winning novelist. How does your writing self connect with your musical self?

Writing is what I do for a living. Singing is what I do for joy. That being said I do love to write books, but it’s exhausting and so ridiculously up-your-bum. But yes, words, how I love words, and how I love a good song with great lyrics. I think that’s largely why I don’t scat—I’d rather deconstruct the melodic line and play with time while still keeping the poetry of the language. But I do like a bit of vocalise—maybe that’s the classical singer in me.

Tell me about your November gig with Glenn Buhr.

You can expect to hear Glenn powering me up—which he does brilliantly for every musician with whom he works. We’ll be performing Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” Glenn’s composition (with Margaret Sweatman’s gorgeous lyrics) “I’m in Love With Sleep,” Patricia Barber’s “The Moon,” Joni Mitchell’s “In France They Kiss on Main Street,” and a couple of other surprises, along with assorted jazz standards. It will be an intimate cabaret-style concert for jazz friends.

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