interviewed by Josephine Ochej
at The Cellar, December 2000
Photo by Brian Nation
One of the great things about jazz that earns it lifelong
fans is that at its core it's about change, taking chances, and
being receptive to new ideas. So long as your ears are open, it'll
never get boring. During the last few years, Vancouver vocalist
Kate Hammett-Vaughan has shifted the ground beneath herself a few
times in the name of growth. Her former Quartet underwent a personnel
change when guitarist Ron Samworth departed and pianist Chris Gestrin
entered. Shortly after, long-time friend and occasional collaborator
saxist Jim Pinchin became a permanent member of Hammett-Vaughan's
group (along with bassist André Lachance and drummer Tom
Foster), making it a Quintet.
Vancouver jazz musicians and fans alike know that
not many groups get to play together regularly in their entirety,
and practice time is rare, so a lot is riding on finding the right
combination of talent, skill and chemistry to connect with. It starts
amongst the musicians and, if you're lucky, opens up to include
the audience. The Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quintet has that 'certain
something' and you can see it play out with the musicians on stage
and hear it in their music.
"Devil May Care" is the follow up to Hammett-Vaughan's
sublime 1999 debut recording as a leader and as she gets set to
release the disc, Hammett-Vaughan took some time out to chat about
this ever-changing world of jazz we live in.
JOSEPHINE OCHEJ: "How My Heart Sings" feels like
it just came out and yet here you are with another album, "Devil
May Care". Is having a great working Quintet part of the inspiration
for getting more material documented?
KATE HAMMETT-VAUGHAN: Having a working band of any size is
an amazing thing, but I feel especially blessed that Tom, Jim, Chris
and André have been a part of this unit for so long. It offers
a greater sense of freedom and more open communication in the music.
And we all share a sensibility that is definitely helping in developing
a real sound for the group. And we like to play music together!
JO: What effect (if any) did getting a Juno nomination for
"How My Heart Sings" have on you as a vocalist?
K H-V: None. Well, I guess I shouldn't say none, really,
as it is very nice to be recognized in your field and all that.
And it did inspire Maximum Jazz to get behind the production of
"Devil May Care", which is great. ("How My Heart
Sings" was a self-funded project that Maximum put out on their
label). But as far as having any effect on my singing or my life
as an artist, I would have to say none. I've been doing what I've
been doing for such a long time now that being nominated for an
award (or winning one!) is just a nice sort of recognition. Losing
won't stop me from playing and winning won't inspire me to play
more. This is just what I do.
JO: Tell me about choosing material for "Devil May Care".
K H-V: As always, I'm looking for songs that suit the character
of the band and that haven't been over-recorded or over-performed
by other vocalists. A lot of my contemporaries are in the same boat
now. We're looking for material, and a lot of us are fishing in
the same pool, looking at songs by Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, Tom
Waits, Bob Dylan, etc. We've got a Tom Waits tune on this record
("Strange Weather"), and a Nick Drake song as well ("Poor
Boy"). As far as standards are concerned, there are so many
great songs to choose from. I've dipped into the Monk, Duke, Mingus
pool again, and added a couple of other long-time favourites like
"I Remember You" and, of course, Bob Dorough's "Devil
JO: About the recording process for the "Devil May Ccare",
did you decide on any major process differences from the last one
(recording "How My Hear Sings" live at the Western Front)?
K H-V: This time, working with Brian Watson at Maximum Jazz,
we actually had the opportunity to record in a studio with isolation
rooms and all that stuff. We worked at Turtle Sound in White Rock
with Larry Anschell, and had a pretty good experience with making
this recording. The isolation and headphones thing make it difficult
in a way, because jazz is music that people play 'together'. You
know, I'm used to the sound of the band around me in an ambient
way, so it's hard to imagine the same sense of spontaneity and interaction,
and just the plain physicality of the sound, when it's coming at
you through headphones. I know this separation of sounds is a common
and much-desired thing in our modern recording world, but even the
greatest engineer on the planet can't put those separate sounds
back together in a way that sounds truly live. So, we got great
sounds for the most part and it's a kick to be able to adjust things
so minutely, but the live recording thing has its charms as well.
Especially, for me, in the way the sounds gel.
JO: What had you learned last time around - or since - that
affected this project?
K H-V: Well, we were excited to try a different recording
process. Recording your music is always such a great learning experience,
and every method has its pros and cons. What we decided to do this
time was to just go in and play without over-rehearsing or planning
too much of what would happen. I think it was successful in a lot
of ways, but we definitely found that we had to plan some of the
things. And, as I said, the headphone/separation thing can be problematic
where spontaneity is concerned. You just have to hope for the greatest
headphone mix in the universe.
JO: Were you working with the same team, i.e. Shawn Pierce,
and Brian Watson at Maximum Jazz? Tell me about those relationships
and how they're developing.
K H-V: Shawn and Brian are just the greatest. It's like
a dream relationship, really. There's total respect around the table,
very open minds and hearts, and Brian cuts me so much artistic latitude
(let's talk about the cover art)! Maximum Jazz is really getting
behind a number of Vancouver artists, and I think they're going
to make a big mark on the national, and eventually the international,
scene. And Shawn Pierce is so fantastic to work with. Very creative,
musical, hip, calm, open, hardworking, reliable I really love
working with both of those guys.
JO: You have some very sexy photographs in the new CD package.
Tell me about the process of coming up with artwork ideas regarding
how you wanted to present the visual aspects of the project?
K H-V: The artwork was totally a matter of happenstance
and whimsy. We were taking photographs on this lovely little beach
in Vancouver and I had brought a couple of things to wear, like
I would to an indoor photo shoot. Chris Cameron, a wonderful friend
and fantastic photographer, was shooting (he did the photos for
HMHS as well). So, my friend Stephen was helping out, being stylist
and photo assistant and general all-around Mr. Indispensable, and
I was changing behind a sheet on the beach. I pulled this velvet
dress up to my waist and looked at all the sea colors in it and
cracked a joke about being a mermaid. So we did a bunch of shots
of me as mer-babe with my arms over my breasts and a couple of shots
from behind too. It was starting to rain, so eventually we thought
we'd call it. But I was standing on this big flat rock, and Chris
says to me "we have to do the Venus on the half-shell shot,
you know". So I took off my dress and we shot these demure
nudes at dusk in the rain. And when I saw the pictures, I loved
the feeling of them. I was just certain that this was the way to
go. So the mermaids are on the cover and the Venus nude is on the
actual CD. My standard response when people ask me 'why' is to crack
that I may never be this old and look this good again, so why not?
JO: What would make "Devil May Care" a success
K H-V: To sell enough CDs for Maximum to consider it successful,
for the record to open some doors for us so that we can tour and
enlarge the audience for the Quintet's music,
JO: Anything unexpected on "Devil May Care" that
you can share?
K H-V: Hmmm
JO: Where will the record be distributed?
K H-V: Maximum Jazz takes care of distribution, but it will
be available all across Canada. I'm sure they're making inroads
to the US and European markets as well, so I hope it will eventually
get there, and to Japan (and take us with it!).
JO: What are your thoughts on the state of jazz in Vancouver?
K H-V: I'll try not to make you sorry that you asked that
question. I'd have to open a lot of cans of worms to really tackle
it (oops! sorry about the fishing metaphor and the bad pun ).
It would be easiest just to say that, big picture, this is a city
of fantastically talented and committed artists who are living and
creating art that exists, sadly, on the margins of Vancouver's identity
as a 'world-class' city. Archaic liquor and public assembly laws
play a large part in that, but the people of this city have to take
more responsibility for supporting live music (and other arts) year
round. The jazz festival is always a fantastic thing, but I think
that the fact that the fest audience sees us on major stages during
that ten days maybe contributes to their perception that our lives
are full of those performance opportunities and that we're all living
well off the huge dough we make as jazz players. Nothing could be
further from the truth. The reality is more like this: we just work
on projects and occasionally make CDs, gig when we can (the Cellar
is Vancouver's only real 'listening' jazz club), and mostly just
work hard to stay committed to our art and creativity in a society
that undervalues art perhaps more than any society in the history
JO: What are your thoughts on the state of jazz in the world
K H-V: Jazz is in big transition, I think. There are plenty
of people in the Wynton camp who are taking care of the tradition,
but jazz as an art form is essentially about growth and experimentation
and communication, and I hope more people will start to dig that.
A guy like (New York trumpeter/composer) Dave Douglas is the epitome
for me of what a modern 'jazz' artist is. He's got a wide range
of musical interests, his cultural and historical references are
really hip, and his music sounds totally individual and creative.
Wide open ears. Years from now, the creative music that gets labeled
as jazz may bear only a passing aural resemblance to the music that
Bird or Trane or Miles or Billie laid down, but the roots will be
deep. You have to know where you've come from to know where you're
going. That's what makes Dave's music so happening for me. It's
not a fly-by-night sort of fusion of stuff. It's really considered
and artful and played with real passion.
JO: Does your teaching world give you hope for the future
of jazz and music, in general?
K H-V: I think the future of jazz as a vital art form that
reflects its time is up for grabs, given all the commercial pressures
placed on artists to conform and play 'what sells'. Everybody wants
to make a buck doing what they like to do. But I always have faith
in and hope for the future of music. Music that comes from the heart
is inherently a force for good and for peace. Working with young
musicians every day helps me keep that faith alive, just knowing
that so many creative spirits are being nourished and encouraged.
Teaching is great for me. I really love it.
JO: Do you have a long-term plan, say for the next couple
years or even beyond?
K H-V: To continue growing and exploring, as a person and
as an artist. That's long-term and short-term.
JO: Do you have any touring plans?
K H-V: Across Canada next fall, I hope.
JO: Any other projects you're working on?
K H-V: Lots. I'm learning a new music piece by a young composer
named Matt Rogers that my friend Katherine Harris (a classical soprano)
and I will premiere in February, I'm singing Kurt Weill's music
in a cabaret trio with Katherine H. and Marguerite Witvoet, and
I'm working toward a night of original cabaret music and art songs
for later this year. There are always a few irons in the fire.
JO: Anything else you want to add?
K H-V: That you're the greatest. Thanks for all the support
you give me and my guys, and all the artists you write about and
photograph. You swing!
Writer/Photographer Josephine Ochej is a regular contributor to
The Jazz Review, the Westender and Coda Magazine.