Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

July/August 2014: Curtis Nowosad

Brooke Van Ryssel

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Brooke Van Ryssel started singing about the same time she started to talk, and everything since then has confirmed her desire to sing her heart out. A new graduate of the Jazz Studies program at the University of Manitoba, Brooke brings to the stage a great voice and convincing storytelling, plus a dose of old-fashioned glamour. She’s fresh off an Amy Winehouse tribute show at the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, and will be singing around town all summer. If you haven’t yet discovered Rudy’s Eat & Drink in the Manitoba Hydro Building downtown, she’s worth the trip on a Saturday evening…

Who are your jazz idols?

Nancy Wilson is definitely at the top of my list. Her voice is beautiful but it’s her conviction that I strive to achieve. Of course I completely idolize “the big three”: Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday. I admire Ella for her insane rhythmic abilities and her sense of pure joy. Billie for her truth—every word and every note came purely from her heart. And Sarah for her soul. She said, “When I sing, trouble can sit right on my shoulder and I don’t even notice.” That’s my mantra!

Who else are you listening to these days?

I’ve been listening to a lot of male vocalists lately too. I love Gregory Porter, and I play the 1963 recording of Johnny Hartman with John Coltrane every night before I fall asleep.

What has studying jazz taught you?

I try to live by Maya Angelou’s observation that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” To me this perfectly sums up what I’ve learned through studying jazz. Jazz is perhaps the most difficult genre of music to learn, mostly because it’s a combination of almost all genres. But with all of its intricacy, what people love about it is how it makes them feel. That’s why I try to go into every performance focusing not on making everything musically perfect but on how I want everyone to feel after I’m done.

What is the most common misconception about jazz?

That we just go up and sing or play whatever we want!

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