Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

March/April 2017: Neil Watson

Grace Hrabi

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Grace Hrabi has been singing since she was a kid. She says “it always felt so good to sing—like getting something off your chest, or coming home at the end of a long day.” She wandered into jazz toward the end of high school, and then joined the jazz vocal studio at the University of Manitoba. She’s now a busy singer around town, writing original songs and performing at clubs and cafés and stages. This spring has a couple of big hits for her: a record release with Casati and a Nu Sounds gig with Collection Get! Charlene Diehl

Who are your singer idols?

I would say my top five singing influences are Kurt Elling, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Jill Barber and Norah Jones. Kurt Elling challenged my beliefs about what a voice could do and what a vocalist’s role is in a band. Ella Fitzgerald introduced me to a world where my favourite songs from musicals could be performed in an entirely new way. Carmen McRae taught me that you have to be brave to sing, and that the words you’re singing are empty unless you mean them every time. The first time I heard Jill Barber’s album Chances I felt moved to start writing—she took me out of myself and into the music. Norah Jones’ soothing voice and honesty bring me back over and over.

What’s on your playlist at the moment?

I am always on the lookout for artists who dance the line between genres and this always seems to lead me back to Norah Jones. Her new album Day Breaks is full of great tunes and with an amazing band including Wayne Shorter, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Brian Blade. The Punch Brothers’ album The Phosphorescent Blues is one I just can’t seem to take off of my playlist. Amazing arrangements, beautiful lyrics—such a treat to listen to. I have also been listening to as much electro-swing as I can find as I work on music for the Nu Sounds show. Caravan Palace has been a favourite of mine for years but it’s been great revisiting them with fresh ears. Theirs is such an infectious energy.

Tell us about your upcoming Nu Sounds concert.

When Eliot Britton and I started working on the Collection Get! project in 2009, I faced a lot of new vocal challenges working with pre-recorded sounds. Over the years Eliot and I have learned to balance what we each need to create interesting music that represents both of us. For the Nu Sounds show on March 26, we will be working with bass player Ashley Au, saxophonist Kyle Wedlake, and beat boxer Beatox (Adam Fainman). The whole show will be original music, much of it new, and the majority live with some backing tracks. I plan on emulating some fun effects using only my voice. Adam and I are working on some amazing visual components that will play behind the band too. It’s going to be a really fun show!

You’re also releasing a record this spring.

My main focus for the past year has been the folk/jazz trio CASATI (named for the Marchesa Luisa Casati—I highly recommend reading up on her!) and featuring myself on vocals and ukulele, Jesse Popeski on guitar and vocals, and Quintin Bart on bass, vocals, and hurdy-gurdy. Our jazz background definitely influences our arranging, as well as our interactions in rehearsal and performance—it’s a beautiful, creative relationship that I feel very lucky to have wandered into. On March 4, we release our second recording, There Will Be Days, and in April we head out on a western Canadian tour. You can track us at

What have you learned about life from singing? 

I’ve learned that trying to fit in will never make you stand out, and that trying to stand out puts your authenticity at risk. All you can do is be honest and true to yourself and your art and hope that people can connect with you and the message that you are trying to deliver. Music is about this moment, this room, these people, this note—and that’s it. I teach vocal students from ages 6 to 60 and I always stress how much your approach to music will turn into your approach to life. It’s hard to change the way we interact with the entire world but if we can change the way we do this one thing, and we can see how good it feels to be honest and true to ourselves, we might just become courageous enough to bring that feeling into our everyday lives.

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