As a "jazz advocate" there are times when one plays musical prospector panning for gold. Looking for hidden talent that is deserving of far wider recognition and one such vocalist is Connie Evingson. From national commercials to a wide ranging discography, Evingson is the real deal and was kind enough to sit down and field a few questions for us!
Tell us about the origin of Sweet Happy Life. Norman Gimbel is a brilliant lyricist but I can not recall a collection of his work ever packaged in this fashion. Do you think his catalog does not get near the credit of attention it deserves?
C.E. - "I happened to hear three tunes with lyrics by Norman Gimbel in a short period of time that caught my ear: "Sway", "Sweet Happy Life" and "So Nice." I was familiar with these songs, but wasn't aware the lyrics for each of them were written by the same person. I looked into Norman's catalog, and when I discovered the number and variety of songs for which he'd written lyrics, I was inspired to make the record. Yes, I think his catalog has been under-recognized. I was surprised no one had dona collection of his songs before I did!"
In the liner notes you refer to this release as an adventure, can you expound on that? Your releases are varied and with that in mind how would you label yourself as a vocalist?
C.E. -"Each recording project is an adventure, from the original conception through the research phase and production of the project. This particular adventure began with my discovering Norman's catalog, being inspired by the depth of it, becoming curious about him as an artist, tracking him down, then meeting with him several times and becoming friends. Then there was the exploration of the catalog, finding and listening to many, many versions of the songs and narrowing the song choices down to a manageable number (a difficult task! there were at least 10 other songs I really wanted to include but couldn't). Then conceiving of arrangement ideas, choosing different musician for different tracks (there are 18 different players on this record), choosing a photographer, working with the designer on the package, etc. When you're self produced, there's a lot to do and it can be quite a ride! As for labeling myself as a vocalist, I never really think about that. When I get an idea for a record ( I have lots of them!), I just delve into it. I've always loved researching things - as a child, I wanted to be a librarian - so I guess that explains my curiosity and penchant for exploring themes."
From Prairie Home Companion to national commercial work and of course regular appearances in your home state of Minnesota does it ever get a tad overwhelming? How do you stay fresh?
C.E. -"Ah, an interesting question,...;-) I've always believed that versatility is key to a performer's survival, which is why I was involved in various kinds of things, i.e. theatre, voice over and jingle work (Target, Andersen Windows etc.). I have to admit, though, these days it's more difficult to keep a lot of balls in the air. Simply because of the speed and resulting demands of technology. More and faster communication means more time trying to keep up - that becomes overwhelming. To stay fresh, I get away from my computer and listen to music!"
Back to Sweet Happy Life...Is this simply a snapshot of where you are artistically at this stage in your career or would you like to do more of this work? Who are your influences?
C.E. - "Actually, I've been singing bossa nova and samba tunes for years - it's really part of most any jazz singer's repertoire. But with this project, it was fun to dig in a little deeper and learn more about the roots of bossa nova and how it became part of the American jazz scene. Songs like "Girl From Ipanema" and "Meditation", etc. can be heard in elevators all over the world - they're ubiquitous, so they're easily taken for granted and all most considered cliche'. But their influence on American jazz is quite profound. Most every live jazz set includes at least one latin tune, and it's often a Brazilian one. Anyway, to answer your question, yes, I'll probably continue pursuing the genre - as I mentioned, there are more Norman Gimbel songs that I love and would really like to do, as well as songs by other Brazilian writers. But true to my nature, my next record will most likely take me in a new direction. As for vocal influences, there are many,...there are the original greats - Ella, Billie, Carmen, Sarah and Peggy are the big ones for me. Really they are the bedrock. But I also love people like Natalie Cole, Al Jarreau, Janis Siegel, Rene Marie, Ray Charles etc."
I gotta ask...Minnesota is not known as a jazz mecca. I live in Kentucky whose musical heritage is primarily made up of crickets and banjos. I'll ask you the same question I get, ever consider moving to New York or Los Angeles?
C.E. - " I moved to New York early on in my career and came back to Minneapolis temporarily for a singing job that I thought would be just 6 weeks. It was extended 6 months, and after that, I just kept getting work here that was interesting, so I stayed. I've never regretted it. The Twin Cities has a sophisticated, vibrant arts scene, so it's a great place to develop work. Plus, it's a very livable city - most of the year ;-)."
I've been called a naysayer by some but lets face it, jazz sales are not great and they do call it the music business for a reason. What advise would you give a young singer trying to make it and what is the best advise you have received in your career?
C.E. - "You're right that it's a tough business. And for that reason, my advise to people who are starting out is that the only good reason to pursue jazz is if they really can't avoid it (! :-). Seriously, ( and forgive the double negative here), the only reason to do it is if you can't NOT do it. That's what it takes - absolute, slavish dedication and focus. You gotta love it. And if you do, it can be a great joy!
Special thanks to both Connie Evingson and Michael Bloom of Michael Bloom Media Relations
My review: http://www.criticaljazz.com/2012/07/connie-evingson-sweet-happy-life.html