Known as “Australia’s first lady of jazz singing’, the Sydney-based cabaret singer and accomplished pianist JANET SEIDEL passed away last Monday 7 August, following complications related to ovarian cancer. Active from the 1980s with a prolific recording and touring career, Seidel was also a music educator and influential figurehead of the Australian jazz scene. As well as collaborating frequently with her brother, leading Australian bassist David Seidel, she also played with other notable figures from the Australian jazz scene such as guitarist Ian Date and pianist Bobby Gebert.
In an interview with LondonJazz News from 2011, she spoke about the appeal of learning and singing new repertoire, saying ‘I still especially love the excitement I feel when I’ve got new material to play. A stand-out feature of her personality as a vocalist was also her humility, as she emphasized that ‘the song is more important than the singer’, showing her commitment to her music above all else.
Born in the small South Australian town of Cummins in 1955, Seidel began performing at the tender age of 17. She attended the University of Adelaide where she studied for a bachelor’s in music. There in the early 1980s, she formed her first trio with her brother on bass and the legendary Billy Ross on drums. Next, she moved to Sydney where her career took off in the cabaret scene as well as in jazz.
Seidel recorded almost exclusively for the independent jazz label La Brava, releasing up to 18 albums from 1994 onwards. She acknowledged the influences of vocalists Doris Day, Peggy Lee, and Blossom Dearie, releasing Doris & Me in 2001, Don’t Smoke in Bed in 2002, and Dear Blossom in 2004 to high critical acclaim. Her recording output has proved diverse as well as consistent, ranging from the intimate-sounding French chanson-themed album Comme Ci, Comme Ca, released in 2000, and her 2001 album Love Letters, where she collaborated effectively with harmonica player William Galison.
Seidel enjoyed substantial success overseas as well as in Australia, especially in Japan where she engaged in prestigious tours across Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, occasionally sharing the bill with the likes of Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin. Her album 2005 Moon of Manakoora, dominated the Japanese jazz vocal charts for three months consecutively.
Tributes have come pouring in around the world, recognising Seidel’s warm and generous personality as well as her musical achievements. Jazz vocalist Anita Wardell acknowledged the encouragement and support that Seidel had given her in a post on Facebook, describing her as ‘kind’, ‘encouraging’, and ‘funny’.
Her most regular outfit in recent years comprised of Seidel on vocals/piano and her brother on bass, with Chuck Morgan on guitar. In this trio, she toured and performed internationally, singing at Ronnie Scott’s as recently as last year.
LINK: LJN Interview with Janet Seidel from 2011