Angela Verbrugge and the Ray Gallon Trio (Pizza Express Soho, 3 and 4 June)

Described as “both hip and a hoot” by JazzWeekly, Canadian vocalist, songwriter and lyricist Angela Verbrugge Is coming to London’s Pizza Express, Soho on June 3rd and 4th. Originally from Victoria, Ontario, she is now based in Vancouver. JazzTimes named her 2020 vocalist of the year in their readers’ poll (ahead of both Cecile McLorin Salvant and Diana Krall). She’ll be singing her witty, swinging songs with stellar NYC pianist Ray Gallon and the UK’s Mark Hodgson (bass), and Stephen Keogh (drums). Her new album is Love for Connoisseurs. Interview by Alison Bentley:

London Jazz News: How did you get into jazz?

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Angela Verbrugge: I grew up watching old movie musicals (love Fred Astaire!) and I used to sight-read sheet music in books like “Classics from the Big Band Era”. As a teen in Kingston, I started doing musical theater where I connected with local jazz musicians. As a classically-trained musician, I was amazed at their ability to improvise and be so creative with the songs I knew and loved. Years later, after I survived three near-death experiences, I realized I needed to follow the magic path of jazz. I found instructors and started sitting in at jazz jams. I’ve had the “jazz bug” ever since. A remarkable thing about dedicating one’s life to this music – it continuously forces me to face my fears and challenge myself.

LJN: You mention Blossom Dearie and Sheila Jordan as influences- you have their playfulness. Who are your favourite jazz singers?

AV: I loved hearing some of the early swing standards in old musicals I watched performed by Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Rosemary Clooney and others. When I arrived in Toronto, I spent my grocery money on collections that featured Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Blossom, Dinah Washington, and Helen Merrill. As time went on, I found my way to more contemporary artists.

LJN: You have a range of styles on your albums from bebop, blues and swing to Latin- which jazz instrumentalists have influenced you?

AV: When I attended courses with Sheila Jordan, she recommended learning the blues melodies: it would help to hear the harmonics, bebop vocabulary, and melodic variations. I really love Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Hank Mobley, Ahmad Jamal, Count Basie…

LJN: What prompts you to write a song and which songwriters have most influenced you?

AV: When it was decided I would go to New York to record my first album, The Night We Couldn’t Say Good Night, with bassist Cameron Brown, and pianist Ray Gallon, a jazz singer friend encouraged me to write some originals, since I did character studies as part of my acting training, and played piano. With Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, Lorenz Hart, Frishberg, and even Gilbert and Sullivan swimming around in my head, I started writing lyrics and then added the melodies. From the positive audience responses, and enthusiastic magazine reviews of my first efforts, I decided to pursue songwriting further during the pandemic. I won an arts grant and worked hard to pull together various brainstorms and unfinished works, to be ready to record. The new album, Love for Connoisseurs, is 100% original compositions and song-writing collaborations where I added the lyrics to contemporary NYC and Vancouver-based jazz artists’ compositions. 

With some songs, a phrase will jump out at me that fits the rhythm and authentically matches the word stress of a phrase. After that, I fill in the rest of the story. For Ray’s piece “That’s the Question”, I heard the phrase  “I’m running late…” and that song became an Annie Ross-style bebop song about all the reasons one might be late. His other song, “Plus One”, I heard “enough’s enough” within his melody, and I thought what could enough be enough of? And then I thought- cleaning! And that song became an ode to the irrational anger domestic partners feel when one has the house clean and another person disturbs that hard-won tidiness. Of course, as a mom and artist running a million miles a minute, in reality, it is often me who is guilty of the offences listed in the song! These are the first songs introduced to the jazz repertoire that I know of about being late and cleaning, and I think that’s the fun of songwriting collaborations: that the instrumentalist’s melody inspires unlikely topics.

Angela Verbrugge. Photo credit: Cassidy Nunn

LJN: New York pianist Ray Gallon will be accompanying you on your gigs. How did you start working with him?

AV: Ray and I met through the Vermont Jazz Center. He is a well-established jazz pianist who grew up in NYC being mentored by the likes of Hank Jones, John Lewis, and Jaki Byard. Ray worked for many years as a sideman with such jazz giants as Lionel Hampton, Ron Carter, Art Farmer, Dizzy Gillespie, George Adams, Jon Hendricks and Sheila Jordan, before leading his own trio. He has a new album coming out in the fall recorded at Van Gelder with Ron Carter and Lewis Nash. He has been an amazing mentor and friend to me on my jazz journey. We are presently working on a duo album of standards and new originals in a classic jazz standard style.

LJN: What can we expect at Pizza Express?

AV: Ray, and the wonderful rhythm section of bassist Mark Hodgson, and drummer Stephen Keogh are such an incredible trio with a fantastic chemistry, and feel authentically rooted in the tradition of bebop, swing, and blues. We will have a fun romp through some swingin’ standards folks in the audience will know and love, and pepper in some thought-provoking originals written in the classic songbook tradition. We are going to also feature the trio instrumentally in the set. Hope to see you there, London!

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LINKS: Artist website

Bookings at Pizza Express Live for 3 and 4 June

Jazz Times Best Female Vocalist 2020

Ray Gallon short biography (!)

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