Jillian Lebeck
interview by Josephine Ochej

Jillian Lebeck (pronounced lee-beck) has everything going for her. She's a gifted composer, versatile instrumentalist (piano, trumpet) and an enticing singer. And all that talent comes in the highly marketable form of intelligence, personality and a hard-to-miss attractiveness. The first time I heard Lebeck was one of those rare, magical evenings when you could feel the impending rise - the excited buzz rang in the air with every note and through every person in that packed room. The hammer-over-the-head was the excited chatter afterwards amongst people wanting to categorize and define and label. But with her quadruple-whammy combination, Lebeck's already defying being stuck into one slot. And with a stellar group supporting her (see below), Lebeck's very clearly on her way up.

How old are you?


Talk briefly about your background in music and what lead you to jazz in particular.

Being classically trained already, I started studying jazz piano and trumpet when I was 14. My high school had a great music program and we would go to different jazz festivals, and got a chance to hear professional musicians playing at that time. Also at this time, I started checking out the local jazz festival, and going down to the Glass Slipper, and Alma Street Café and listening and watching a lot of great local musicians - like Brad Turner's band, Hugh Fraser's band, etc. I studied at Berklee College of Music, and at Capilano College, but studied trumpet as my major at both schools. Piano - I just picked up stuff along the way from occasional private lessons, and listening.

What or who are the biggest influences on the music you're making AND the music you want to make?

It's difficult for me to think of my biggest influences because I have a lot of them. I've been really inspired lately by John Taylor's piano playing and improvising. Also Keith Jarrett, and Chris Gestrin. I love Bjork and Ron Sexsmith's writing. As far as vocalists, I love Ellis Regina, Lhasa, Joni Mitchell, Caetano Veloso, Bjork, Ron Sexsmith, Norma Winstone, Jeff Buckley, Ani DiFranco and Roberta Flack.

Describe your thoughts in general on the state of the Vancouver jazz scene?

Besides the fact that there are plenty of very talented musicians, I think the Vancouver jazz scene needs more people like Cory Weeds. He works so hard at what he does. If it wasn't for Cory, running the only jazz club, there would sadly be no places for us to play on a regular basis. Also, I think it would be great if the general public supported the artists who live in this city a bit more. It would be nice to see people checking out live jazz music all year round, not just during the jazz festival.

Where do you feel you fit in on the Vancouver scene? What do you feel you've achieved on the scene, and what would you further like to achieve?

I think that I'm doing something a little bit different, in that I compose and play instrumental tunes, and also sing cover tunes, so I'm not really sure how I fit in the scene. I might be a category all to myself.

Do you feel you can make a career in jazz in Vancouver - what's THE PLAN?

Yes, I plan to make a career in jazz. I don't know how easy it will be just in Vancouver, since there being only one venue to play at, but hopefully I will get more opportunities to travel and play - like the tour I'm just about to do.

Have you considered the possibility of moving elsewhere to further your career?

I haven't really considered this yet.

Looking ahead 5 years, what would you have like to achieved? How about 25? And even 50?

I'm 26 now and I don't really like to think that way, I just go day to day and see what happens. I find that if you choose a path, and then something happens, and you end up doing something else, that it shouldn't be considered a failure. It's just how people grow, and what influences us at some point, could change a lot as we grow older.

You display such diversity in your wonderful music, but people often see you before they hear you. What are your thoughts on packaging and marketing in jazz, and specifically for your career, especially considering you're a vocalist as well as an instrumentalist? Are you hands-on with regard to the marketing of you/your music or are you trying to be more focused on the music and let the rest take care of itself?

Right now, I'm just trying to be focused on the music.

You're like two artists in one: the cool vocalist and the intensely driven instrumentalist/composer - was there ever an attempt to decide between the two, or is simply a case of doing all that you want to do, concurrently - i.e. having it all, so to speak?

Yes, I've mostly been a pianist/composer. I started singing on some gigs, and a lot at home for fun and I really enjoyed doing it, but singing is fairly new to me. I've been discouraged in the past about singing, especially when I heard some remarks that were made by another musician who said "I hope she's not trying to do a Krall thing". For me, the reason I sing is because I personally enjoy expressing myself through vocals. I'm not singing to be like someone else. So, I guess you could say that at some point I thought about not singing because of that.

Describe your record label and/or distribution situation.

Maximum Jazz/Universal has picked up my record for distribution. It will be out June 22.

You're playing a multi-night (or is it week-long?) stand at the Top Of The Senator in Toronto during festival season, which is huge. Do you feel yourself poised at the start of something, or does it feel more of a natural progression than that?

It's five nights. I'm really looking forward to playing these gigs just because it will be a great chance for the band to play together every day. I do feel, musically, poised at the start of something - because of getting a chance to play with Brad Turner, André Lachance, and Paul Townsend every night. I can't think of a better opportunity to grow as a musician.

Have you played the US or Europe at this point? Any plans for touring (beyond the above)?

No, I haven't, but it's something that I've been thinking about for next year. Hopefully something will work out. I would love to play in Europe.

Friday, June 25
Jillian Lebeck Quintet (open for Joe Lovano)
Centre for the Performing Arts

Thursday, July 1
Jillian Lebeck Quintet
The Cellar

Visit Jillian Lebeck's web site for more info and tour dates.