Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

July/August 2012: Will Bonness

Erin Propp

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Erin Propp graduated from the U of M’s Jazz Studies program a year ago, and has since set about the work of establishing herself as a singer-songwriter. At this year’s TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, she opened for Gretchen Parlato—her clear-as-a-bell voice and intimate delivery stole people’s hearts! — Charlene Diehl

Have you always loved to sing?

I have always loved to sing. As a child I took piano lessons, and would ask the teacher if I could sing at my recital rather than play. My family was always having to make up rules for me: No Singing at the Dinner Table, quickly followed by No Humming at the Dinner Table. I have three sisters, and I liked to annoy them with song after song…

Which jazz singers inspired you along the way?

The first was Nina Simone. I’m always drawn to female voices that are unusual, and hers was one of the first. She seemed to combine classical and folk sounds into a jazz style, and that was attractive to me, having trained classically for many years and having a folky kind of sound myself. Cassandra Wilson is another artist I admire—she has a distinctive sound, her band is always killer, and her albums are produced with great effects and careful treatment of each song.

I’m inspired by the newer singers out today, like Gretchen Parlato, Rebecca Martin, and Becca Stevens. They’re subtle, sensitive, smart—these are things I want to be.

What is the hardest thing about being a jazz singer?

Probably telling people I am a jazz singer! To say you are a jazz singer opens up a world of history and knowledge that isn’t common in a lot of places, so mostly I just say I’m a singer. Musically speaking, the hardest thing about being a jazz singer is being in the moment. After all your work and practice and study (which continues throughout your life), you have to be able to put all that intense thinking aside when you’re performing and be open to hearing the possibility in each moment. What you thought a song was can change in an instant.

What life lessons does jazz offer you?

In jazz, I can’t be in control of all the decisions, and in many situations it is better and brighter if I am not. How I respond is what I can be in control of, and in my finer moments, I respond with openness, vulnerability, and humility.

Tell me a bit about your small ensemble work now.

Over the past year, Larry Roy and I have been writing and arranging together. I usually create a melody and some lyrics, and Larry weaves harmony and rhythmic ideas around that. Luke Sellick is the perfect third for our group, and always manages to add the right tone and feel with his bass. We plan for a release later this year, with a good mix of originals and a few jazz standards with our own approach to them. Otherwise, I work freelance a fair bit—I am happy to partner with other musicians and try just about anything.

What big projects are on the horizon?

Releasing the album is a big project—I’m excited about that! Also, Larry, Luke and I are going to be performing with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra this December, so we will be writing symphony arrangements for a couple of our songs for that concert.

What was it like to open for Gretchen Parlato?

It was an honour to be given the gig—which quickly turned into a responsibility to represent well. The whole experience has induced in me a big appetite for the artistic development I witnessed from Gretchen and her band…



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