La chanteuse de jazz ontarienne Carol Welsman n’a pas manqué d’occasions de faire entendre son talent d’interprète par le passé, mais elle a tenté une expérience particulièrement pour son dernier album : elle a fait appel au public qui a choisi pour elle des classiques à jouer. Puis elles les a interprétés en solo, assise devant un piano. Cela donne l’album For You, littéralement enregistré pour les fans qui la suivent depuis des années et qui avaient envie de l’entendre dans un autre contexte.
Les chansons retenues sont, pour la plupart, des standards de jazz archiconnus, mais il faut accorder que Carol Welsman n’a pas fait les choses à moitié en décidant d’interpréter les chansons dans leur langue d’origine. On l’entendra donc passer de l’anglais au français, à l’espagnol, au portugais et à l’italien.
C’est Skylark qui lance l’album. On y entend tout de suite les deux éléments centraux de l’album : la belle voix chaleureuse de Carol Welsman et son jeu de piano discret, mais précis. Les pièces sont généralement assez brèves : on tourne autour de 2 à 3 minutes, ce qui est bien assez tenant compte des arrangements minimaux, et de l’absence de solos par la pianiste-chanteuse. Elle en profite pour faire de brefs clins d’œil à des chansons comme The Shadow of Your Smile, ou encore It Had to Be You.
L’album est très beau et s’écoute bien dans différents contextes où on veut faire baisser la tension, mais cela pose aussi le problème dans la mesure où toutes les chansons se ressemblent sensiblement toutes, sauf lorsqu’on change de langue. Ainsi, on se souvient de sa sobre interprétation de Les feuilles mortes, mais aussi de Besame Mucho, où elle fait exceptionnellement appel à une guitare pour l’accompagner. Elle répétera cette «exception» à quelques reprises, avec Corcovado et Garota de Ipanema. Puis il y a Ti Guarderò Nel Cuor (More), sublime de simplicité, en formule piano-voix.
La version régulière offre déjà 16 chansons, mais il existe trois chansons bonus, dont ceux qui attireront particulièrement l’attention des Québécois qui écoutent l’album : Je voudrais voir la mer et Une chance qu’on s’a. Disons qu’il aurait été surprenant que Une chance qu’on s’a ne soit pas une incontournable de l’album, tellement c’est une belle chanson.
L’album For You, rappelons-le, est composé du choix du public. Par définition, le public offre rarement de grandes surprises, optant plutôt pour le consensus. Le concept reste intéressant, mais on ne retiendra peut-être pas l’album dans quelques années, à part pour certaines de ses pistes incontournables. Et dans tous les cas, ça reste un opus qui s’écoute bien si vous avez besoin d’un petit smooth jazz qui détend l’atmosphère, chose que vous avez exactement ici.
À écouter : Besame Mucho, Corcovado, Ti Guarderò Nel Cuor (More), // Bonus : Une chance qu’on s’a
Review by Olivier Dénommée
Chanteuse d’origine torontoise, maintenant installée en Californie, Carol Welsman possède indubitablement le gène musical. Petite-fille de Frank S. Welsman, fondateur et premier chef d’orchestre de l’Orchestre symphonique de Toronto, ainsi que fille d’une professeure de piano et d’un saxophoniste, elle a grandi les oreilles baignées de musique.
For You, son onzième album, est donc loin de la carte de visite d’une chanteuse débutante qui pourrait sentir le besoin de nous en mettre plein les oreilles. Au contraire, nous avons plutôt affaire ici à un album tout en douceur, construit sur des standards jazz (et quelques surprises), en anglais, en français et en portugais, interprétés sobrement dans la formule voix et piano. Sa voix est claire et juste, et son articulation est impeccable, portée par un jeu au piano sans fioritures et ce désir d’épater la galerie que l’on peut entendre parfois chez certains musiciens qui manquent un peu d’assurance. Carol Welsman n’a clairement plus rien à prouver. Elle peut se permettre d’offrir sa musique, tout simplement.
C’est la même chose pour le répertoire offert. Les feuilles mortes, chantée dans un français presque sans accent, nous rappelle que Welsman a passé quelques années à Paris. Idem pour Les parapluies de Cherbourg et Les moulins de mon cœur, qui coulent de source. Évidement, on n’oublie pas les incontournables Corcovado, Garota de Ipanema ou My Funny Valentine, mais ce qui surprend vraiment, ce sont ces chansons qui viennent en bonus, alors que Welsman s’attaque à Je voudrais voir la mer, de Michel Rivard, et à Une chance qu’on s’a, de Jean-Pierre Ferland. Il s’agit d’un très beau clin d’œil de la chanteuse à ses origines canadiennes que de s’attaquer à deux chansons québécoises (qui sont, malheureusement, offertes en bonus lors de l’achat de l’album et qui ne sont pas disponibles ici). La surprise est agréable, comme l’est cet album, qui s’écoute d’une traite, sans effort.
Review by François Lemay
Canadian vocalist Carol Welsman, a six-time Juno Award Nominee, turned to her fans on social media to help select the tracks for this sweetly evocative new album. In an online event spanning Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and her website, Welsman provided 30-second sound bites of 23 solo piano/vocal tracks recorded by Japanese producer Takao Ishizuka in 2016 and asked her online following to vote for their favorites. The top 15 songs selected by voters became the program on For You.
The resulting album is an intimate affair spanning songs in multiple languages, including Spanish (“Besame Mucho”), French (“Les Feuilles Mortes”) and Italian (“Ti Guardero Nel Cuor”). But the bulk of the material is drawn from the Great American Songbook, and Welsman takes to classics like “Skylark,” “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “My Funny Valentine” from angles of adoration and invention. Her voice – satiny and emotive – drapes magnificently across the contours of “My Foolish Heart,” which she adorns with delicate clouds of piano, while on Carpenters-associated “Close To You,” she casts soaring wordless vocals into the carefree, windswept melody.
Review by Brian Zimmerman
CAROL WELSMAN/For You Solo: The great jazz vocalist may not have made the record she’s always wanted to make, but after letting fans vote for what they wanted to hear her sing, she’s made the album they wanted her to make. Up close and personal with just her and her piano, this is the classic cabaret album you have to grow into before you can make it sound as good as this does. This is a real career defining set. Killer stuff throughout.
Review by Chris Spector
Carol Welsman says she hasn’t been out West in a long while. It’s an odd thing to say for someone who lives in Los Angeles.
But the six-time Juno Award-nominated, self-managed jazz vocalist puts it in context: “I’ve lived in California since 2003, in a glorious place on top of a hill with beautiful views very close to the Santa Monica Mountain Wildlife Area. Beautiful. I’m from Toronto and I do still work more in that part of the country, rather than Western Canada. So it’s good to be coming back to B.C. with an album that I’m really excited about.”
That album is the well-reviewed Alone Together. It’s a collection of fresh takes on standards and not-so standards that were recorded in New York. It also features bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Lewis Nash, trumpeter Wallace Roney, guitarist Jay Azzolina and percussionist Steven Kroon.
Why did she choose to work with a New York City crew when she’s on the other coast?
“Although it once was, L.A. is not a jazz town, it’s a movie town,” Welsman says. “As I found out from a few Grammy-nominated friends of mine, there is still quite a stigma about New York being where the real jazz is. My producer wanted me to do the album there, so that I could come full circle back to strong jazz roots and be seen being that way.”
Besides the new album, Welsman is celebrating another career milestone: She is a decade cancer-free. After getting a clean bill of health from her oncologist, she decided to go public with the news she had kept under wraps from almost everyone but her closest family members and a small coterie of trusted confidants.
“I went for a biopsy and the doctor said he would only call if there was a problem, and he rang me as I was heading on stage to perform at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival,” Welsman says. “I’ve never done a concert that numb, and the long story short is that I was extremely lucky to have ductal carcinoma in situ, which is a pre-cancer that, if left undiscovered, turns into full-blown breast cancer.”
The brush with mortality was an eye-opener for the artist. One of the reasons she kept it quiet was because her father intuited that the word “cancer” could be misconstrued and blown out of proportion by bookers and so forth, leading to a loss of income. Welsman didn’t want people to think she might not be around to fulfil commitments.
“Cancer is a really nasty word in the entertainment business,” she says. “There is a lot of negativity around it and people can get things wrong.”
Welsman continued to work while undergoing light radiation treatment following her operation. As years passed, she became used to keeping the information quiet, even from siblings.
“As time went on, I learned to leave the stress on the back burner and focus on what matters,” she says. “We didn’t have cancer history in the family and I sort of believe that the always on the go, constant stress of my chosen profession played a key role in me getting it. One of the reasons I want to talk about it now is the importance of early detection and how you have to make the time in your schedule to get the tests run.”
Standing up to be counted among the survivors feels good — as does going back to her traditional jazz roots on Alone Together.
Though celebrated for her Latin-tinged numbers, bossa nova and grooves, Welsman went another direction for Alone Together. For one song, she went back to the Berklee School of Music School, where she studied in her teens, and also launched into a heady exploration of jazz classics.
“The Charlie Parker tune Disappointed was one that a singer at the school performed in concert, and I learned it from her and then just left it,” she says. “I had this whole list of songs which had been done live over the years but never recorded and decided to pursue them. Also, I wanted songs written by jazz musicians, so there was the McCoy Tyner song or an Oscar Peterson song.”
Welsman has used her songwriting talents to pen pop tunes for singers such as Celine Dion, Ray Charles and The Pussycat Dolls’ Nicole Scherzinger. She is well aware of the tendency of vocalists to over-sing and keenly sensitive to jazz vocalists who sometimes go to great lengths to showcase their every chop in a single song. Alone Together benefits from her restrained, respectful takes on the material. Welsman is not about to sing a line without thinking about it.
“I remember when I was working with top-10 songwriter Romano Musumarra and had an important lesson in lyrics,” she says. “We were writing a song called Baby Come Easy for Ray Charles and it had a line, ‘I need you beside me/to hold me/to guide me,’ and he said there was no way that Charles would sing it because he was blind, and he was completely right. You really need to consider all these things in writing and performing.”
Where: Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, 6450 Deer Lake Ave., Burnaby
When: Friday, April 8, 8 p.m.
Carol’s 2015 release, “Alone Together,” reviewed by Christopher Loudon in Jazz Times January/February 2016.
Though Carol Welsman’s lengthy career has been liberally dotted with fine albums, she reaches a lofty new plateau with Alone Together. It’s a well-traveled route. Many of the past century’s foremost jazz and jazzinfluenced pop singers didn’t find their sweet spot, their defining sound, until middle age—Fitzgerald, McRae, Sinatra, Tormé and Bennett among them. As with those masters, Welsman’s interpretive and stylistic maturation evinces a seeming effortlessness, an organic oneness with each song.
Welsman’s flowering extends to her scat skills, lightly but winningly exercised across a lithe “Day by Day,” and her deft navigation of the Eddie Jefferson vocalese masterpiece “Disappointed,” based on Charlie Parker’s “Oh, Lady Be Good” solo. With stellar support from bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Lewis Nash and trumpeter Wallace Roney, joined by guitarist Jay Azzolina on four tracks, Welsman divides the rest of her elegant playlist between sturdy chestnuts and less-familiar standards. Highlights among the latter: a shimmering treatment of Frank Loesser’s romantic Cuban travelogue, “Sand in My Shoes,” winningly accented by guest percussionist Steven Kroon, and “Killing Time,” Carolyn Leigh and Jule Styne’s heartrending ode to post-breakup loneliness. Least known among her 11 selections is “The Blues Are Out of Town,” a hip delight, crafted by the late (and underappreciated) singer-pianist Joe Derise, that Welsman resurrects with jubilant verve.
Review by Christopher Loudon
Canadian jazz pianist and vocalist Carol Welsman unveils her eleventh album as leader with the audacious Alone Together where she’s never alone and altogether very spicy and splendid on vocals as well as on the keys. The album contains a superb selection of time-honored standards like Sammy Cahn’s “Day By Day,” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s oft-recorded “It Might As Well Be Spring,” Duke Ellington’s classic “I Didn’t Know About You” and of course, the Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz 1932 title song, “Alone Together” among many others. A recipient of many Canadian Juno Awards nominations for several of her previous ten albums, Welsman, a former Toronto native, now embraces the standards from her new base and home in the Hollywood Hills central region of the City of Los Angeles.
The songstress adds her lush cushy vocals to a new interpretation of jazz and classic standards that comes off quiet well here especially, because she assembles an A-list of players that also provide their own imprint on the music making this a vocal jazz project bolstered by excellent instrumentals. Drummer Lewis Nash and trumpeter Wallace Roney are both pronounced on the opening “Day By Day” where bassist of note Rufus Reid also weighs in as the vocalist does some swinging scatting. Borrowing lyrics from the late great cabaret singer Bobby Short, Welsman belts out the song “Sand in My Shoes” with gusto with a little help from guitarist Jay Azzolina, and percussionist Steven Kroon.
Delivering a fresh new treatment of an old warn-out classic, the familiar title song undergoes a metamorphosis of sorts with Nash pounding the drums and the vocalist pounding the keys, some high-note reaching and more scatting in a great arrangement of the standard. One of the many beautiful songs on this disc is, “You Taught My Heart to Sing” where Welsman takes the Dianne Reeves lyrics and puts a new spin on it assisted by a humble bass line solo from Reid and some engaging guitar riffs from Azzolina.
The blues are in order on the swinging “The Blues Are Out of Town,” featuring some nice horn play from Roney, while Ellington’s immortal love song “I Didn’t know About You” is voiced softly and gentle as it was penned to be. Vocalist and pianist Welsman goes it alone on the Carolyn Leigh/Jule Stein finale singing softly and playing a tender chords befitting the tender tune “Killing Time.” For those who can appreciate the splendor of the standards, Carol Welsman’s Alone Together is an impressive vocal jazz album that captures the music of the ages and the emotions of love songs forged here by the rich lush vocals of a beautiful singer and a talented pianist all in the same person.