Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

November/December 2014: dig! magazine Turns Ten!

You’ve Got A Friend: Anna-Lisa Kirby Sings Carole King

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The Rady Jewish Community Centre once again hosts Tarbut: Festival of Jewish Culture in mid-November. Alongside lectures, films, readings, art, and a market, festival goers have an opportunity to see three great concerts with Jewish connections.

Israeli violinist Michael Greilsammer opens the festival November 15, performing his intriguing mix of traditional fiddling with Irish and reggae styles. One week later, audience favourite Yemen Blues takes over the stage. Led by Israeli singer Ravid Kahalani and featuring a group of high-level brass, string, and percussion players, Yemen Blues blends ancient Jewish melodies with West African rhythms, mambo, and funk.

Right in the middle, on November 18, Winnipeg jazz singer Anna-Lisa Kirby assembles a high-powered band for a concert of music by 70s chart-topper Carole King. Born Carol Joan Klein, King was a prolific songwriter and a spirited singer who collected four Grammy awards and an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame with songs like “It’s Too Late” and “You’ve Got a Friend”—songs that have moved into our collective consciousness.

As always, Tarbut: Festival of Jewish Culture has a music lover’s pass. You can see all three concerts for only $90–$80 if you’re a RJCC member.

How do you know which songs to choose?

The Carole King songbook is huge! It was quite the task choosing material for this concert, because there are way too many great songs! I wanted to choose songs that I love to sing, but also songs that the audience can sing along to and will put a smile on their faces. Certain songs, like “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel the Earth Move,” just can’t be left out!

I always like to throw in a few surprises. I have a deep childhood attachment to the soundtrack of the 1975 children’s cartoon movie, Really Rosie, which features King’s songs with lyrics by Maurice Sendack. I’m hoping that singing a couple of those songs will trigger in others the same warm and fuzzy memories of a 70s childhood that I have. My kids and I have watched the videos of “Chicken Soup with Rice,” “Alligators All Around,” and “Pierre” since they were both toddlers, and they love these songs. Hopefully the guys won’t mind playing these cute and silly children songs!

How important are lyrics to you when you’re choosing your repertoire?

The lyrics are paramount for songs of any genre—they carry the story and focus listeners in a specific way. It’s important to note that Carole King didn’t actually write all of the lyrics to her songs. Her first husband, Gerry Goffin, wrote the lyrics to dozens of her greatest hits, such as “Natural Woman,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up On the Roof,” and “The Locomotion.” King did write the lyrics to most of the songs on her pivotal 1971 recording Tapestry, including “You’ve Got a Friend” and “I Feel the Earth Move,” which I’m presenting at my concert. Wow! Can you believe Tapestry came out over forty years ago?!

Can you speak about the arrangements for this concert?

I am very fortunate to have a band full of highly capable arrangers and composers, so I have enlisted their help arranging the music for this concert—and they have thankfully obliged! Will Bonness, Quincy Davis, Steve Kirby and Larry Roy all worked with me on the Leonard Cohen songs back in 2010. This time around, we’ve added the formidable arranging skills of Jon Gordon and Derrick Gardner too. I’ve shared some of my ideas for each song, and these great musicians are responding with their own musical ideas.

We are all clear that the melody, the lyrics, and the singing need to stand out—this concert features Carole King’s songs, not our arrangements. We’re determined to avoid the trap of re-arranging and re-harmonizing a song until it is almost unrecognizable and only impressive to other jazz musicians! I’m excited by our collaborations—we have some real gems to present!

You have a high-powered band!

Only the best in Winnipeg! I’m a very lucky girl to get to perform on a regular basis with the members of the U of M Jazz Faculty. They all bring something unique and exciting to the stage and to the repertoire. With these guys, it’s a guarantee the music will be played at the very highest level, with plenty of soul, groove and spontaneity. I am making sure to leave space for them to stretch out and improvise on some of these tunes—otherwise they might get grouchy!

I have also enlisted three of my former and current students, Jay Buchanan, Joanna Majoko and Heitha Forsyth, to sing some harmonies. Lee Tran, a talented second-year student, will play tenor sax on a few tunes. It will be tight up on that stage but it’s going to be a lot of fun!

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