Jay Buchanan heard Ella Fitzgerald for the first time when he was still a teen, and something awakened inside him. “I had never heard someone sing a melody so beautifully, or with such joy, freedom, and control,” he muses. When she forgot the lyrics and launched into scat, he knew he too wanted to be a part of music where vocalists get to interact with the band, and where mistakes can lead to innovation. Fast forward less than a decade and Jay is sharing his own kind of sophistication and playfulness with Winnipeg audiences, as a singer as well as a pianist and composer.
Alongside Ella, who are your jazz icons?
The jazz musicians I have a soft spot for always have their own style and push the boundaries of their music. I enjoy the music of Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans and Miles Davis for that reason. When I started university in 2011, I was obsessed with male vocalists Chet Baker and Kurt Elling, and those two continue to have a powerful influence on my singing.
Who’s on your playlist at the moment?
I’ve really been digging the newest albums of both Hiatus Kaiyote and Cyrille Aimée. Cécile McLorin Salvant’s version of “The Trolley Song” on For One to Love blows me away every time I hear it. As I develop my own music, I’ve been getting into singer-songwriters like Brandi Carlille and Dan Mangan for their unbelievable voices and powerful writing styles.
Tell us about your projects.
Lately I have been collaborating with the wonderfully talented Chelsey Young in a folk-jazz duo, Two Hip. It has been a learning experience writing for and performing on various instruments, including guitar, cajón, ukulele and loop pedal. Our next big project is a Jazz Festival show featuring the music of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. (Previews on YouTube!)
I’m also singing lead and playing piano for Sir Luc & the Dukes, an R&B band comprised of Jazz Studies alumni, and I’m looking forward to singing back-up on May 14 for the Stevie Wonder tribute show (with Kenny Washington!) that closes this year’s Asper Performances series. I continue to work on solo projects as well and plan to release an EP by the end of this year.
What has jazz taught you?
One of the key elements to improvising is keeping yourself open to how your bandmates are responding to you. Many new improvisers miss what other players are doing because they are busy yelling their musical ideas—basically, you can never be so married to your own ideas that you stop listening to another person’s.