“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.
Pursuing your passions can be difficult. When you have so much to do and so little time to do everything you would like to, you often feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and stressed. Working full time affords me only nights and weekends to do everything necessary to get my poetry, singing, and freelance journalism careers in order and on track. It is a challenging balancing act. What makes everything more difficult is that I am a perfectionist so I strive to produce work that is only the best. This drive for excellence is the reason I do not produce as much creative, literary, and musical work as I would like to. However, my drive for excellence ensures that most of whatever I do create is a success.
One solution to relieving the stress created by a self-imposed drive to achieve success is to select fewer goals. In the six months since my previous post I have chosen to focus entirely on my singing and poetry careers while actively seeking out professional development opportunities at work. As a result, I have not written any articles for journals and even had to turn down a Content Editor position with Theatre People. However, my decision has enabled me to satisfy my desire for poetic and singing success while still managing to up-skill at work. Nevertheless, pursuing three passions is still a lot of work and, admittedly, reducing the number of goals I pursue has not freed me from stress. I still often feel overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable list of tasks ahead. Despite that, and to quote Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, “it has not been an easy time but in this time which wasn’t easy I have prevailed.”
If you are interested in staying motivated and talking about the struggles you face as you try to achieve your goals, you are more than welcome to join me on Facebook or Twitter. I believe that giving positive energy, support, and encouragement to others is one of the foundations of a happy and successful world.
Here are some of the fruits of my hard work these last few months:
Poetry NZ (Auckland) and Lost Coast Review (California) accepted two of my poems, one inspired by my favourite Australian poet Gwen Harwood and the other by Adrienne Rich. These acceptances represent my first international poetry publications. Down Under, journals that have accepted my poems in recent months for publication include Cordite Poetry Review (VIC), Windmills (VIC), Tamba (VIC), Studio (NSW), and SpeedPoets (QLD). Again, at least in terms of journal publication, I seem to be more popular over East than in WA although I did receive notification that a poem of mine was long-listed for publication in Westerly. In terms of publication, I have yet to crack the ACT, NT, and TAS.
“After Midnight,” a poem I have been workshopping since studying at Curtin University was Highly Commended in the Eastwood/Hills Fellowship of Australian Writers literary competition and another poem I developed in my final year at Curtin is due to be published in an anthology called The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry. In terms of poetry competitions, my goal is to keep honing my craft and to keep entering more competitions so I can be as successful as one of my new poet-friends Fran Graham. To achieve this goal I enrolled in three poetry courses/workshops: “The Poem Tells a Story – Workshop with Established Writer-in-Residence Judy Johnson” (along with poetry workshops by Zan Ross and Sue Clennell, Judy’s was one of the best I have ever attended) offered by the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, Brook Emery’s “Online Poetry Workshop” (like Ron Pretty’s brilliant online course, this provided excellent constructive feedback and introduced me to another new poet-friend, the delightful Kelly Blaney-Murphy) offered by Australian Poetry, and the “2013-2014 Advanced Poets Workshop” (which had fantastic sessions by Jackson and Andrew Landsdown), offered by the Peter Cowan Writers Centre. Facilitating a poetry workshop is a rewarding experience that I will again have the pleasure to do next month as part of KSP’s Write-a-Rama!
At UWA’s School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (PaLM) as part of the New Approaches To Teaching (NATT) team, I have had the tremendous pleasure of helping reinvigorate teaching at the School through our team’s creation of educational e-learning content grounded in constructivist pedagogy. The content we create is founded upon collaborative learning environments and a student-centred approach to teaching. As our Administrative Officer, I have had the pleasure of enhancing my events management skills by helping coordinate the Grand Opening of our newly completed multi-million dollar e-learning suites as well as our School’s involvement in UWA’s biggest Open Day. Besides contributing to the training of staff in using the e-suites and providing in-class assistance, I have had the opportunity to develop my marketing and design skills by creating promotional posters for PaLM. What I am most proud of is the thirty educational laboratory technique videos which I filmed, edited, and narrated, that are now used in UWA classes. In addition, my computer and website development skills have greatly increased through my work updating the PaLM website using MySource Matrix and the creation of a staff community Learning Management Site using Moodle. This work has enabled me to amplify my presentation skills as I was invited to give presentations at UWA’s Teaching and Learning Week eLearning Expo run by the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning as well as for The Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Visual Arts, the university’s Safety Committee, and at a Human Resources Management Committee meeting after which I was proud to accept a Certificate of Appreciation.
Mint Jazz Band and I put on our second show at The Ellington Jazz Club and our first at the Subiaco Arts Centre for the City of Subiaco’s Sunday@Subi concert series. The excitement for the Ellington show began with my first appearance in The West Australian as a jazz artist. Budding Italian filmmaker Enrico del Gamba recorded the show and local Asian-Australian photographer Michael Walker captured some great publicity shots. The Ellington appearance led to our band being invited to perform at two really special events, a wedding and a 50th birthday party. Both experiences are precious to me because they meant that the clients loved our show so much that they selected us to be a part of a significant milestone in their lives. It is something I treasure as a singer.
The Subiaco Arts Centre show was another amazing experience for me as an entertainer. The venue is one I have been to countless times to see incredible theatre shows so it, like the Ellington venue, allowed me to do what I love best: putting on a show. Super talented Perth actress Rhoda Lopez helped me with ideas for both shows. Once again, the excitement began with an article in a local paper, this time The Post. Rhys Smith joined us on piano as Mark was in China and the show was well received (a beautiful birdie told me that the Mayor of Subiaco said it was one of the best shows they had had as part of Sunday@Subi).
In a wondrous turn of events, I finally got to make my dream come true of being a part of a hip-hop track as a guest artist. The rappers, known as AfroKingz are currently working on a project and I was happy to contribute the chorus for their song “Party Like That.” The collaboration lead me to start on another goal I have been asked to do for years: write an original song. As with “Party Like That,” the song which is tentatively titled “It’s You” is a continuing work-in-progress.
I am still working on Chocolate Blues Band, a project I began in January. The challenge of learning blues and soul classics by Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke has been exhilarating. When I finally get to show you my blues show I think you will like it as much as I have enjoyed working on it. Until then, you can still catch me live with Mint Jazz Band at our first run of gigs at the Naked Fig. Like us on Facebook to stay in touch!