“There’s two kinds of blues: happy blues and then sad blues… blues is sort of a mixed-up thing. You just have to feel it. Everything I do sing is part of my life.” – Billie Holiday (1957)
Anybody who knows me or who has followed me as a singer knows that I love to sing ballads: love songs and sad songs. I am drawn to these songs because I love to sing what I feel. For me the most important part of a song is the lyric. I cannot sing well a song with lyrics that have no resonance for me. The blues have a resonance for me and when I perform blues, I hope people who have felt down or depressed, downtrodden or angry, betrayed or hurt, remember those times that have passed or which still linger and feel a bit better. After all, there’s no fun being blue alone and, as my friend entertainer Ross Vegas once reminded me, “When you have the blues, there’s nothing better than the blues!”
It took nearly two years, but my dream of performing at the Perth Blues Club became a reality on Tuesday October 7th 2014. The desire to perform there came to me late one night as I sat admiring the club’s glowing neon blue logo through their website. Most of my career as a singer I had never delved into blues music per se but I had sung many emotionally heavy bluesy songs. Diving into the blues genre is thrilling.
Two singers who really speak to me through their work in blues are Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, and Nina Simone. Since hearing the haunting, fragile, life-worn and fry-heavy vocals of Lady Day on Lady In Satin (1958) as a teenager, I have been mesmerised by her work. As a racially-aware political adult, the hard-edged, spunky, anger-fuelled blues of Nina Simone began to appeal to me. Through hearing Norah Jones perform “Drown In My Own Tears” and “You Don’t Know Me,” I became a fan of Ray Charles. However, putting together a blues band for a show turned out harder than I expected.
In the end, my cabaret Like Blown Smoke turned out to be the catalyst for adding blues songs to Mint Jazz Band’s repertoire. In it, I finally had the opportunity to sing a lot of blues. Artists, musicians, creative of the world, if you want to succeed in your craft and in your work, create work that you can be proud of, work that excites you. Our lives end in a second so use your life to create and be a part of moments that make you happy. If you are a struggling expressionist try turning face-painting jobs into works of expressionist art. If you are a fantasy fiction writer working in data entry, find a way to only enter data part-time. If you are a rock god guitarist stuck playing military marches, find a way to leave! You will be happier performing and creating work you truly feel.
Don’t get me wrong, I still perform and feel jazz and pop music. But for a few great nights DownStairs at the Maj, and one night I’ll never forget at what is recognised by many national and international acts as “the best Blues Club in Australia,” I was my own brand of the jazzy blues man. I am proud to write that on my inaugural night at the Perth Blues Club, my band and I received three encores!
As the Disney song promises you, “When you wish upon a star your dreams come true.” What the song omits is that, even if you are lucky enough to have your dreams come true, you often face years of struggle and heartache. “If you hold on to your hopes and dreams,” my mum has always reminded me, “you will one day succeed.” Love, support, faith, and a determination to never give up can make all of your dreams realities.
Since childhood I’ve wanted to perform to appreciative audiences at a top concert venue like my idols (Judy Garland, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, etc.). This year it finally happened when I performed two SOLD OUT nights of my self-devised cabaret show Like Blown Smoke as part of the 2014 Cabaret Soiree season DownStairs at His Majesty’s Theatre! Dedicated to my girlfriend Maneera de Mel and directed by the super talented Rhoda Lopez and Ross Vegas, the show featured Mint Jazz Band with a supporting cast of contributors on and off-stage. To the Cabaret Soiree team, publicity and media supporters, technical and audio crew, helpers on & off-stage, my band, directors, and cast, and to each and every audience member, I thank you. The show strengthened me as an artist and, has been the highlight of my singing career so far.
Thank you to Ridzwan Mahdi for these incredible photos.
Thank you also to local artist Karen Murphy for this beautifully designed theatre show programme – my first ever!
The show received some terrific publicity, including interviews on Fremantle Radio, RTR FM, and Twin Cities Radio. You will be able to hear these later through my SoundCloud account. Until then, check out this interview uploaded by Twin Cities radio programmer Malti Elliott as well as this awesome interview from Out in Perth. Thanks to Australian Stage, I also received my very first show review which wonderfully said I have “a fine voice and an impressive vocal range… charm to spare… the voice and the moves!” I was proud of the glowing review of my band Mint Jazz Band. Perth Concert Hall publicist Claire Condry wrote that they performed “excellent solos,” displayed “marvellous” musicianship, and described us as “a young, vibrant ensemble [who] recreate the classic night club vibe of the 50’s/60’s, where a singer introduces a song and each member goes on to cleverly embroider the theme instrumentally.” Such a blessing to receive such a review.
If you would like to know more about future shows, stay in touch, or provide any feedback, please feel free to contact Jake Dennis through Facebook or the Contact Jake page.
Music, rather than poetry, has consumed my life lately. My upcoming gig at The Ellington Jazz Club has been the reason for this (you can see the promotional fliers I had made for the event below). This gig will be one of the most important gigs in my singing career. In preparation, I have been rehearsing regularly with Mint Jazz Band (like our Facebook page if you haven’t already) and attending concerts to inspire me. Mint played its first gig recently at The Wild Fig Café in Scarborough and they liked us so much that we have been booked to play there every Friday night from November 23rd to December 28th! This is really reassuring and exciting for me because it will be the first musical residency I have had since I sung every Sunday at the New Orleans Restaurant in 2009! In terms of concerts that I have attended recently to inspire me, I had the privilege of seeing The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra (read my review in my Freelance Journalist page) and I recently saw the musical “A Chorus Line”. I was really inspired by the characters’ struggles to succeed in the business and I related heavily to some of their experiences. It has definitely assured me that I am not alone in the struggle to be a successful entertainer.
Last Sunday, I attended a vocal workshop master class with Speech Level Singing teacher Greg Enriquez. It was a life-changing experience. Prior to that morning’s class I thought that my vocal range was that of a bass singer. I was astonished to find out from the exemplary vocal coach that I am in fact a leggireo tenor! With his aid, when I relaxed and sang naturally, the sound that came out of my voice was incredible to me. He said I have “a beautiful voice” and after the class a few others came up to me and said the same thing. As a result of this class I now firmly believe that, once I train the upper registers of my voice and work on overcoming the bridges in my voice, I will be able to sing as good as I have always believed I could sing; that is, as good as I have always wanted to sing. To reach my vocal potential will be a dream come true. I am going to start singing lessons very soon. In fact, my first class is this Monday with Chloe King. Wish me luck and come see me at The Ellington or The Wild Fig Café if you can!