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Jackie Ryan Jackie Ryan

'An Instant Classic!'

"Extraordinary -- a world-class talent!" Don Heckman, jazz critic for the Los Angeles Times, calls her. And it's no wonder. She has a magnetic stage presence.

Wherever she performs - domestically, or in Europe, Japan, Australia, Canada -- it's the same story. She's been such a hit at London's famed Ronnie Scott's Club that the owner, Pete King, asked Jackie to appear on Ronnie Scott's own prestigious Jazz House label and the London Evening Standard called her "one of the finest singers to perform at Ronnie's since Shirley Horn."

Among the many jazz greats Jackie has sung, recorded, or toured with are: Clark Terry (at the Monterey Jazz Festival), Toots Thielemans, Barry Harris, Cyrus Chestnut, Terry Gibbs, Buddy DeFranco, Red Holloway, Eric Alexander, Jeremy Pelt, Ernie Watts, Roy McCurdy, George Gaffney, Amina Figarova, Mike Wofford, Larry Vuckovich, Jon Mayer, and Jon Hendricks - just a few of the legends with whom she has shared the stage, and who sing her praises as well.

Jackie's new album 'Doozy' is, as Los Angeles Times critic Don Heckman puts it in his Liner Notes, "a stunningly diverse 2 CD collection of irresistibly compelling performances." Designed as 2 sets one might experience live in a club, it provides the listener with all the dynamic variety of songs one would expect from a concert, including an opening and closing song for each set.

Exclusive Magazine had the recent pleasure of speaking with Jackie Ryan about her new album, her run at Ronnie Scott's Club, her musical influences, and, of course, penguins!

Your music has a Spanish-jazz style. So, who were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? "Oh! I've never been told that before. A Spanish –Jazz style is a very new perspective. Well, I suppose that might make sense since the first music I heard was Spanish music from my mother who was from Mexico and a singer so played a lot of Spanish albums."

"As far as the music I have recorded goes, I can see one song being described in that way in particular; ‘Besame Mucho’ on my "You and The Night and The Music" CD. The arrangement is so unusual, so unlike the original that I suppose you could say it really is a blend of jazz and Spanish. All the jazz audiences loved it, but also the non-jazz audiences loved it. So that one was really special. It stayed true to its Spanish roots and yet had a brand new twist on the arrangement. Since it is in my blood it was easy to bring the authentic soul to it no matter that it had an unusual and I guess jazzy arrangement."

"But for the most part, I'd have to say I don't really blend the two styles together. I sing jazz, blues, Brazilian and Spanish songs, yes. But I don't usually blend them together too much. Maybe I do with the blues and jazz sometimes. But really not with the Spanish and jazz. But now you have me thinking I should explore this idea even more than I have!"

Being that your album 'Doozy' has been #1 for 7 weeks on the Jazz Week Radio Chart, I'm wondering what dizzy heights are next for your wonderful album to accomplish? "There are some formidable competitors out there so this really knocks me out! I'm quite happy with how well it has done. Not sure there is anything else I could ask for here. I try to be thankful for these kinds of beautiful gifts in life. And not be greedy and need more, more, more all the time! This success has been such a great gift. Quite an unexpected gift. I'm still floating on air because of it. I am very grateful."

And, whilst on that subject of being talented, what does it mean when you are quoted as having recorded 'vocalese’ lyrics for be-bop improvisations'? "Well, most non musicians wouldn’t know the term vocalese so I am happy you asked; vocalese in jazz music means a written lyric to an instrumental solo. Taking each note of that solo and writing a lyric to it. So, that can be a challenge. And I might add, a lot of fun! You can imagine that some of those saxophone solo melodies go by pretty quickly."

"So, to listen to the melodies and write a clever lyric that rhymes in just the right spots within those cascading melodic lines can be quite invigorating. Jon Hendricks (of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross) , Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure were the first to pioneer this art form. And you might know the song Annie Ross wrote called "Twisted". That was her vocalese to the instrumental blues solo by the great tenor saxman, Wardell Gray."

"That song became quite popular with all audiences as Joni Mitchell made it a hit. The first one I ever wrote was Joe Henderson’s The Kicker. That is on my Passion Flower CD."

Being that you are a regular at Ronnie Scott's Club in London (8 years now, I think), what is it about performing there that makes it feel like home to you? "I was there for 8 years but haven't been there in a few years since the owner, Pete King, sold it. He booked me there because he liked my singing. He and saxman, Ronnie Scott, started Ronnie's together about 45 years ago. After Ronnie passed on it was just Pete. Such an amazing man. I just loved him. But finally he had to retire as he was getting on in age. When it got sold the whole venue and everyone who worked there changed."

"Everyone I knew there is gone now. The staff that worked there, the management and Pete King were all very, very much a family to me and I absolutely loved them. We had a ball. It was a real important part of my own personal growth in music. As here I was singing to this very sophisticated international jazz audience. And the club had such an amazing history. It was the premier jazz club in Europe. With photos of everyone who was ever anyone in jazz all over the walls. Ella, Sarah, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, just hundreds of the biggest names in jazz worked there. You could just feel their presence there. It was a terrific experience."

"I haven't gone back since they sold it but I may check it out again to see what the new club is like."

Of all the multitude of honors that have been bestowed on you, and trust me, I have read oh so many, which is the one that still sits with you today? And who did it come from? "If I answered that I would sound like bragging. I don’t want to sound that way. But I'll just say, that all the kind reviews and the beautiful things people have said over the years have all stayed with me and given me strength and an appreciation for what I am privileged to do in life."

"Every time someone says something complimentary; whether it be a critic with a very kind and thoughtful review, or an audience member who was so touched by a song that they came up to hug me with tears in their eyes, or the letters I‘ve received from disc jockeys, all of these things keep me going. I don't sing to get praise, but when people respond in these positive ways it is very validating."

With the release now of 'Doozy' what are you bringing to the table with this new incredible new double album that your public may not have heard from you before ... and why that title?! "I am bringing many of the songs I have known for many years. Many of the tunes on Doozy are songs I learned when I first started to sing Jazz. So they are like old friends. I am doing a lot of variety here as well. And these songs are all different shadings from my past experience as a singer."

"So there is just a lot of different color on this CD. Although it is a double CD, it doesn't feel too long because of the variety of material. Maybe it is more me than any other album I have done before because it is so extensive and the songs are all very personal to me. Doozy is also the name of one of the songs on it written by Benny Carter. That is the one I added a vocalese to."

Indeed, how easy or hard is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "Well, that is an interesting question. And you can't think about that or else you would be trying to second guess what the public wants. You can only do what feels right to you. That's the only way it is going to work. That way you are yourself! And the audience pretty much will pick up on that honesty. I believe that is the only way you can be successful."

And it includes the wonderful Cyrus Chestnut, a musician once named as 'the best jazz pianist of his generation'! So, how did that collaboration come about with the great man? "Several forces must have been at work in the universe on that! A man from the east coast who was Cyrus' agent called my label and spoke of co-producing a CD with our label and having Cyrus as the pianist. And of course I had always loved his music."

"At the same time Cyrus appreared on a radio talk show on WRTI and the DJ there was a fan of mine and gave him my CD with high recommendations that he check it out. That was just kismet. I heard about all this after the fact. Cyrus liked it a lot (or so I heard) and the rest is history!"

It's been noted that you are blessed with a three and a half octave range ... but, for those not in the know, what does that mean you can do that others in your genre/field cannot?! "Well, I guess it just means I can take on some challenging songs. Hit the highs and the lows I suppose without having to change them to fit into a shorter range. I enjoy songs with a wide range."

If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today...and why? "Gee, I can't think of anything cheesy offhand that I would want to sing! Oh my! You got me here! The 80's; No one has ever asked me these questions before! That’s good! You’ve got me going now! So I have to think a bit."

"Well, let's see, not sure if I would record these songs but here are ones I liked from that era: I loved Chaka Khan and Rufus, I'm A Woman, I loved TOTO's ‘Africa’ and ‘Rosanna’, Sade was great, of course, Anything by Stevie Wonder, of course - during that time he wrote Songs in The Key Of Life and Master Blaster and Deed I Do, I loved Phil Collins’ voice a lot and Michael McDonald’s, “I Keep Forgettin”’,” Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics and Annie Lenox, I always loved Aretha Franklin so anything she ever did at that time I loved, and I liked Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love, Every Breath You Take by The Police, all Of Cat Stevens music from that time period, Donald Fagin and Steely Dan, well I could on and on!"

"But there are really many pop songs from the more distant past I liked too , songs by the Beatles like In my Life, or Simon and Garfunkel’s songs like Homeward Bound I loved, or James Taylor’s Fire And Rain, Joni Mitchell. Of course I love all the R&B standards, too. Like Lean on Me or Stand By Me. Anything by Sam Cooke or Otis Redding or Gladys Knight. I love to sing those songs anyway! All music is good that is honest music. If it is written with a joy and truthfulness, then I consider it good music."

Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves you? "How did you know I love Penguins! And right now I am looking at a small photo on my desk of two penguins walking side by side touching arms or, er, wings. A friend sent it because it reminded her of our friendship and how we love to walk and talk together!"

"I used to have a huge poster of penguins when I was younger! I mean this poster was about 4 feet by 3 feet. It was a great photo taken in the South Pole from a distance of all these penguins lined up for MILES and miles as far as the eye could see. I mean this was a real photo....and at the end they are all in line taking turns jumping off the tip of a glacier! They are so happy! And it just always put me in a good mood to look at them!"

"How can you be depressed looking at a picture like that? These little guys really know how to have a good time! One would think there wasn’t anything to do down there on the South Pole, eh?"

"Yes, I even saw the movie "Happy Feet" with Robin Williams' voice over and that cute little penguin who danced his way to acceptance! So, there ya go! And you thought you were throwing me a journalistic curve!"

Interview: Russell A. Trunk

To keep up with Jackie Ryan, check out her MySpace page once a week!

So, if you would like to win a copy of Jackie's new CD, just answer this easy question: 'Doozy' was recorded mostly at which famous musicians' personal studio?!

Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these wonderful new CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before January 15th with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: JACKIE RYAN CDs to:

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