reviews

One of Canada’s top jazz singers…

She can improvise with the best… Kate Hammett-Vaughan has a highly expressive and lovely voice, one that is heard at its best throughout this accessible and tasteful set.

CD Review by Scott Yanow, Los Angeles Jazz Scene
July 5, 2007

Kate Hammett-Vaughan, one of Canada’s top jazz singers, has the rare ability to sound quite credible and creative in both avant-garde and relatively straightahead settings. While she has gained some fame for her adventurous work with Garbo’s Hat and the NOW Orchestra, on So Lucky To Be Me she sings a wide variety of ballads and standards while being joined by pianist Chris Gestrin and bassist Andre Lachance. In addition to a few familiar tunes, her repertoire includes a Joni Mitchell medley, Hank Williams’ Cold Cold Heart, Kenny Wheeler’s Everybody’s Song But My Own and Charles Mingus’ Sweet Sucker Dance. While she can improvise with the best jazz singers, and she scats a bit on the closing Please Be Kind, during the remainder of this set she concentrates on interpreting and swinging lyrics, even making Love For Sale (which is taken as a duet with bassist Lachance) sound fresh. Kate Hammett-Vaughan has a highly expressive and lovely voice, one that is heard at its best throughout this accessible and tasteful set, available from www.katehv.com.


A singular jazz voice

Hammett-Vaughan’s subtle inflections of tone, timing, make her a standout

CD Review by Stephen Pedersen, The Chronicle Herald
April 25, 2007

Kate Hammett-Vaughan says she can’t believe how simply she’s singing these days. But simple for Hammett-Vaughan is the kind that only comes when things shake down to their essence, like vintage wines and improvised choruses in a jazz tune.

“I worried for so many years about just sounding like ME,” she said over the phone last week as she was about to head out the door to guest-host CBC’s DiscDrive for Jurgen Gothe. “But jazz is a tradition. You have to tell the stories the way the masters tell them before you can do your own thing. I just wanted to be me without the voices of other singers in my head.”

Among the voices in Hammett-Vaughan’s head are two of her teachers from 20 years ago — Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton. Joni Mitchell is another, and so is Carmen McRae. But on So Lucky To Be Me she may be the only one still hearing those voices. In our ears, she’s just Kate Hammett-Vaughan, the finest vocal jazz artist of her generation.

The repertoire, as so often in her CDs, is choice, from the title track by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, to Hank Williams’ Cold Cold Heart, and Cole Porter’s Love For Sale. Tunes by Kenny Wheeler, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, and Sammy Cahn are rarely heard not-so-standard standards.

But two tracks by Joni Mitchell give Hammett-Vaughan the chance to pull out all the stops in a way that is as far from the American Idol belt-it-out-of-the-park style as Los Angeles is from St. Margarets Bay. She dances the poetic lyrics of these songs over the capricious breezes of melody with the lightest touch on the tiller.

In combining Mitchell’s Fiddle and the Drum and Woodstock, Hammett-Vaughan laments an increasingly warlike America during the Vietnam period dropping the fiddle of dance for the drum of war, and urges in Woodstock that we have to get ourselves ‘back to the garden’. The thought is as relevant today as it was in the summer of 1969 on Max Yazgur’s dairy farm near Woodstock, N.Y.

“I believe I should take care of the fact that I have an instrument that uses text”she said.

Her care shows in the absolute clarity of her delivery of the words, which is all for the good. Every one of the nine songs on So Lucky To Be Me allows the singer to mine the depths of their meaning by way of subtle inflections of tone and timing, two aspects of musical expression at which Hammett-Vaughan excels.

Pianist Chris Gestrin plays a drum-beat motif under the lyrics of Woodstock. His improvised solos throughout the CD are elegantly simple. André Lachance’s bass playing is flawlessly choice.

The other Mitchell song, Sweet Sucker Dance, like all tracks on the CD, compels your attention. It resists being treated as background music. You have to listen to it with your mind to hear how the trio of voice, piano and bass clarifies Mitchell’s metaphorical style of writing in such lines as ‘tonight the shadows had their say, their sad notion of the way things really are.’

Hammett-Vaughan no longer worries about the voices she hears coming out in her singing. “I’m at peace now with my ancestors,’ she said. “The repertoire of jazz standards has been mined so deeply and yet so shallowly. I’m always looking for the undersung songs. My generation is going back now to tunes by Stevie Wonder, Joni, James Taylor and Carole King. We are listening anew to those tunes, as standards of our lifetime, but people are making a lot of the same choices. The day after So Lucky To Be me was finished, I heard that Norah Jones sings Cold Cold Heart on her new CD.”

So Lucky To Be Me is available on cdbaby.com.


More than just a standards singer

By Roger Levesque, Edmonton Journal, April 20, 2007

Vancouver vocalist Kate Hammett-Vaughan is one of the best jazz singers in Canada, or anywhere for that matter. So if you’re in the mood for a club encounter, note that she’s back at the Yardbird Suite on Saturday with her trio featuring pianist Bruno Hubert and bassist André Lachance.

Since her last tour, Hammett-Vaughan was the principal singer on the tribute album Poor Boy: Songs of Nick Drake, and recently released an independent solo project called Conspiracy. In both cases, she was acclaimed for making unusual material fresh and accessible in a real jazz format. More than just a standards singer, she can do it all, and she does so with a rare sense of taste, imagination and sincerity.


… in addition to being one of the rare breed of contemporary art song improvisers, Kate Hammett-Vaughan is one of the great contemporary standards singers…

… a unique example of the high artistic plane a contemporary singer with imagination can reach.

CD Review by Laurence Svirchev, Misterioso A Propos of Creative Music
September 8, 2007

Until she had a stroke in 1957, Jane Bowles had been considered a major new fiction writer. Stroke is a medical condition caused by a blood clot blocking an artery that leads to the brain. The cell structures that regulate speech, coordinated movement, and memory begin to die from oxygen deprivation. Jane Bowles lived for sixteen more years under conditions of increasing hospitalization. By the force of her will, she kept notebooks and wrote letters, but published very little new work.

On “Shattered Mind”, Kate Hammett-Vaughan verbalizes from Jane Bowles’ last letters to her husband Paul Bowles (best known for his novel The Sheltering Sky). The letters open simply, such as “Dear Paul, I miss you very much…” but then begins the slow train of thought that becomes slower as the words collapse into fragments. “I wonder if…I d- d- don’t know what I was going t- t- to ask you…but I miss you.” In each subsequent letter, the words become increasingly disrupted as the neurons attempt to transmit their impulses through the detritus of dead tissue. The tracks that guided her thoughts have become progressively more wobbly and the train arrives at the station unintelligently skewed. The letters to Paul become not the literature Jane Bowles had been known for, but the most basic cries for human companionship to a husband who was not there to support her.

Hammett-Vaughan articulates those words as if she herself were suffering the shattered mind, as if she were stumbling through molasses, pronouncing individual words as if the handwriting had degenerated into an inscrutable scribble, the tongue, the motion of the throat, and the swallow mechanism unable to shape the saliva-clogged sound into a human language. Plenished by her wordless vocabulary, she does not emphasize those sounds, but diminishes them into a morass of suffering. Hammett-Vaughan’s rendition sounds exactly like that of a stroke victim.

Now that is exceedingly hard to do, the effort requiring an extreme control of the voice, something not many singers would want to attempt, and fewer would even dare. The final words of “Shattered Mind” are not those one would identify with a shattered mind, but with a rendered heart: “I want so badly to go home.” The music composed by François Houle is one of appropriately dark, long tones from clarinet (Mike Braverman) and violin (Cam Wilson), and a piano (Chris Gestrin) that clocks off a time of doom.

Welcome to the world of modern art-song. Not all the songs on Conspiracy are as illuminatingly dispiriting as “Shattered Mind,” but each has a life-like semblance to reality. There are songs about bones that plump like moistened wood with the discovery of love, a moldy moldy man, a really bad habit, and some dialectic philosophy.

Art song can stretch over a wide range, such as the themes mentioned above, but it is not usually considered the terrain on which to base modern improvisation. Look in any standard musical reference and it’s described as poetry set to music, typically for one singer and one piano. Staid stuff.

Few have treated the art song form as modern creative music. Perhaps its leading contemporary proponent was Steve Lacy (1934-2004). Lacy was constantly inspired by other artists, contemporary and ancient. His great works included music composed to display the works of poets as disparate as Judith Malina and Julian Beck, Taslima Nasrin, and Blaga Dimitrova. Lacy wrote idiosyncratic melodies and harmonies to the poetry and typically his vocalist matched him note for note in singing the words at the beginning of the composition and as the coda. In between the poetry was the time for instrumental interpretation and improvisation. His vocalist of choice was Irène Aebi, her highly stylized voice unerring when it came to articulating Lacy’s music. The stunning results can be heard especially on “The Cry” and “Vespers” (both on Soul Note).

Hammett-Vaughan goes at the form a different way. She invited a series of composers to submit music and text. There was only one criteria, a requirement that the composers had some intimate connection with Vancouver, Canada. It was up to her and the other instrumentalists to improvise around the written material.

Mark Nodwell’s contribution “The Moon on the Thirteenth day of the Ninth Month” has the longest title but the shortest text and duration. It consists of violin rendered pizzicato and voice expressing a haiku by 15th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. It contains seemingly enormous stretches of silence and may be a perfect way to enjoy Hammett-Vaughan’s voice: the word “worm” stretched into a sine wave, “moonlight” as a soft fire that draws the ear into its’ warmth, and a double take with changing emphasis on the final letter in the word “chestnut.”

A third way is the lovely “Botanical Garden” (music Mark Armanini, words Carolyn Zonailo). The pace is slow, the subject is the music-making by monarch butterflies. The atmosphere is dreamy, the kind of fantasy that can occur in a sun-lit summer garden isolated from the sounds of human activity.

Kate Hammett-Vaughan demonstrates that improvisation for vocalists need not dwell in the domains of (re)interpretation of jazz standards or copping off pop tunes. (I’ve said it before that in addition to being one of the rare breed of contemporary art song improvisers, Kate Hammett-Vaughan is one of the great contemporary standards singers). The CD grew on me with each listening. Conspiracy, Art Songs for Improvisers, is sterling, a unique example of the high artistic plane a contemporary singer with imagination can reach.


Hammett-Vaughan, quintet brilliant

From Ellington to Waits, personal command of songs astounding

Concert Review by Stephen Pedersen

Nova Scotian born singer Kate Hammett-Vaughan “speaks” jazz so fluently it must be her native tongue. Well before the two sets she swung us through in the Commons Room of the Halifax Holiday Inn on Saturday night were over, it was obvious that she thinks in jazz as easily as any of us thinks in English.

Seldom do you hear from a singer such a spontaneous flow of compellingly apt improvised notes and phrases. Hammett-Vaughan binds them to the lyrics so tightly they become a gloss on the song while she sings it, all commentary, emotional side-lighting, illustration of detail – and all by way of a subtle vocabulary which is virtuosic in its eloquence.

Her rhythmic groove is flawless, her use of flatted notes and altered intervals so easy and natural, her command of the tune so personal that a song issues from her mouth like a cloud of butterflies. You could swear she was making the tune up entirely.

But she isn’t. Her repertoire is mainly standard (but choice) stuff by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, Bobby Troup – stylishly bracketed between tunes like the pop standard, On The Street Where You Live, and the improvisational adventures (her term) of Tom Waits.

I didn’t catch the name of the Waits tune. But I did catch some of his extraordinary lyrics, phrases like: “a woman tries to save what a man will try to drown,” and “a love like ours, dear, is best measured when it’s down.” It gave Hammett-Vaughan an excuse to unleash a brilliant episode of squeaks, vocal squiggles, pops and squeals, exploding out of some extremely hot scat-singing, and ranging, I am sure, across at least three octaves.

Dazed and amazed, we barely noticed her segue into Duke Ellington’s I’m Gonna Go Fishin’, which she used to lead us gently home from her interplanetary excursion into the wilds and darks of outer space.

Her quintet is a singer’s dream. Drummer Tom Foster, bass Ken Lister (subbing for André Lachance), pianist Christopher Gestrin, and tenor/soprano saxophonist Jim Pinchin, scale everything they do to Hammett-Vaughan’s range, not only dynamically as you would expect, but also by matching the lightness and fluency of her quicksilver energy.

She sings with the virtuosity of an instrumentalist, they play vocally. Pinchin has every opportunity to blow down the walls. Few tenor players can resist the instrument’s natural-born robustness and love of roaring. But he plays lyrically, expressively, and with a honey smooth sound. His solo on My Heart Belongs To Daddy was swept on by a great running groove in which the note choices, all of them tasty and oh so right on the money, practically jumped up from the grass to get aboard as he flew by. It brought down the house.

It was a fine evening of music from Windsor native Hammett-Vaughan, the sister by the way of Alex Vaughan, well-known host with Kenny MacKay of many a happy Saturday afternoon at the Peddler’s Pub and other oases.

Unhappily, sister Kate lives in Vancouver where she teaches jazz vocal technique, and gigs with her wonderful quintet. We should be so lucky.

Most of Saturday night’s repertoire can be found on her recently released CD, How My Heart Sings.


Hammett-Vaughan unleashes assured Devil

Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quintet: Devil May Care

Chris Wong, Vancouver Courier

Kate Hammett-Vaughan sings with compelling assurance throughout the album of both jazz standards and not-so-standard tunes. The standards include “I Remember You” and “All of You.” But for the most part she consciously avoided covering tunes from the American songbook of standards that have been over recorded. Instead, Hammett-Vaughan convincingly interprets “Poor Boy” by Nick Drake. That’s one of the songs she performed at the 1999 tribute concert to Drake, the late British folk-rock icon. Hammett-Vaughan also pulls off “Strange Weather,” the extraordinary piece that Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan wrote for Marianne Faithfull.

Then there are tracks like “Weird Nightmare” by Charles Mingus and “You Know Who” (based on “I Mean You” by Thelonious Monk) that instrumentalists have primarily covered. As well, she provides her affecting take on “Throw It Away,” an obscure tune that Abbey Lincoln recorded for an album called A Turtle’s Dream. On all of this material, Hammett-Vaughan projects a warm tone, expressive phrasing and other qualities that transcend real and perceived boundaries between standards and non-standards.

As for the members of the singer’s quintet-pianist Chris Gestrin, tenor and soprano saxophonist Jim Pinchin, bassist André Lachance and drummer Tom Foster – they’re in sync with her vocalizing and each other. There’s ample room for the musicians to stretch out, and they do so in crisp solo turns. Overall, the quintet, which has been together about four years, achieves a rare affinity. “It’s the thing that allows us to put a truly individual spin on the music,” says Hammett-Vaughan. All in all, Devil May Care continues the momentum Hammett-Vaughan and the group established on the wondrous, Juno-nominated How My Heart Sings, and effectively explores some new moods.


Vancouver singer gives sparkling show

At the Music Gallery in Toronto on Wednesday

Mark Miller

It was, Kate Hammett-Vaughan observed, “by far the largest crowd I’ve ever played for at the Music Gallery.” At that, Vancouver’s most vivacious jazz singer was talking to a paltry 30 or so listeners Wednesday night on the Toronto stop of her current Canadian tour. Any other performer might have been discouraged. Not the ever-cheerful Hammett-Vaughan. She is, after all, making progress – however slight – in a career that has taken far too long to catch fire east of the Rockies. Hammett-Vaughan, now 42, paid her previous visits to the Gallery in 1991 and 1993 with Garbo’s Hat, a provocative trio that was exactly this venue’s cup of tea. Her latest show is more of a Montreal Bistro proposition, really, with its preponderance of Cole Porter songs and other classic American pop standards. At the same time, the Bistro crowd would surely be baffled by her elastic version of Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Dream and by the scatted squiggles and squeaks that she introduced into Duke Ellington’s I’m Gonna Go Fishin’ at the Gallery. In truth, Hammett-Vaughan falls betwixt and between on the Canadian scene. She’s as convincing one way as the other – inside or out, in jazz parlance – and it’s an easy bet that she’ll have touched both ends of that spectrum before she has finished any given two-hour performance. At the Gallery, she worked her way from inside to out very gradually. To wit, Porter first, Monk and Ellington much later. At her most “inside” – her straightest – Hammett-Vaughan still reveals traces of one of her formative influences, Sheila Jordan, specifically the American’s stylized ornamentation. But Hammett-Vaughan has her own voice, a naturally sultry and altogether throatier alto, and her own, more deliberate timing, both heard to particularly good advantage in two of the evening’s ballads, Bobby Troup’s The Meaning of the Blues and Billy Strayhorn’s Something To Live For.

She has shaped all of her songs very carefully, in fact, with no small assist from her musicians, tenor and soprano saxist Jim Pinchin, pianist Chris Gestrin, bassist Ken Lister and drummer Tom Foster, each man the model of control, no matter how far “out” things might get. Pinchin and Gestrin, as her primary soloists, contributed a measured lyricism shorn of all unnecessarily extravagant gestures, leaving the taking of risks entirely to Hammett-Vaughan. And take them she did, with a sparkle in her eyes and great joy in her voice.


Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quintet: Devil May Care

Mark Miller, The Globe and Mail

**** (four stars)

If the photos that grace Diana Krall’s CDs are open to comment, then Kate Hammett-Vaughan’s topless mermaid pose on the cover of Devil May Care cannot go unremarked. So consider it remarked. The Vancouver singer is warmer-blooded than her Vancouver Island counterpart when it comes to the sensuality of the jazz voice. She’s also more relaxed – enough, in fact, to employ some fairly provocative arrangements that leave a lot of room to manoeuvre for her musicians, notably saxist Jim Pinchin and pianist Chris Gestrin.

Her choice of material encompasses melodies by Thelonious Monk, Tom Waits, Nick Drake, Abbey Lincoln and Charles Mingus. Her singing -increasingly knowing and secure, as the formative influence of Sheila Jordan fades in favour of a style far more personal – is equally hip.


Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quintet: Devil May Care

Dave Nathan, JazzReview.com

**** (four stars)

AMG EXPERT REVIEW: Many contemporary singers who want to get to wear a jazz mantle but at the same time wish to attract a younger set of fans more accustomed to rock and adult pop cut CDs with a mix of songs covering several popular music genres. That’s fine, as long as intelligence and discretion are used in shaping the agenda. That Kate Hammett-Vaughan took the time to do just that separates her album from many other contemporary jazz vocalists who were not as discerning in putting together their play list. Hammett-Vaughan has reached back to the 1970s and before to include Tom Waits’ Strange Weather, which she delivers in a nocturnal, moving manner, and Nick Drake’s Poor Boy. This cut sets aside plenty of room for the bass of André Lachance and the drums of Tom Foster. Somewhere along the musical spectrum comes Show Me from My Fair Lady. This latter track is not only used to display the singer’s vocal virtues, but allows for solos and give and take by Jim Pinchin on soprano sax and Chris Gestrin on piano. Then there’s a little vocalese with an arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s I Mean You refigured to come out as You Know Who. The obligatory piece by Abbey Lincoln is here as Throw It Away. (It’s either Lincoln or something by Joni Mitchell that predictably shows up on these albums.) But the real point is that whatever Hammett-Vaughan and her quintet chooses to perform, it’s done with verve, élan, and a flawless sense of what they are supposed to do with the music. This is a fine album providing both an entertaining vocal and instrumental experience, and is recommended.


NOW Magazine

Toronto’s Weekly News and Entertainment Voice

CD Review by Tim Perlich

How My Heart Sings

Rating **** (“a solid addition to any collection”)

At a time when substance in singing jazz standards has almost completely been out
weighed by cocktail style, the winsome Kate Hammett-Vaughan – whose daringly intuitive delivery reflects both the pragmatic economy of Sheila Jordan and the soulful assuredness of Abbey Lincoln – is redressing the balance.

There’s a slight suggestion of Hammett-Vaughan’s sense of adventure in the offbeat song selection for How My Heart Sings, which features Duke Ellington’s I’m Gonna Go Fishin’, but what sets her apart from your average lounge chanteuse is her willingness to mix it up with her bandmates. Swooping, sliding and scatting with verve, Hammett-Vaughan takes risks, and that makes for exciting music and thrilling performances.


Giving Compromise the Cold Shoulder

Mark Miller, The Globe and Mail

It is, by all accounts, a good time in jazz for singers. They’re the ones who are garnering all the hype and selling all the records right now — Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Jane Monheit and the rest. Kate Hammett-Vaughan is having her moments, too. Fresh from concerts in Europe with the American trombonist/conductor George Lewis and Vancouver’s NOW Orchestra, she is kicking off a Canadian tour with her own musicians tonight at Edmonton’s Yardbird Suite in support of her latest CD Devil May Care (Maximum Jazz). But Hammett-Vaughan isn’t exactly one of “the rest”. Or, as she observes in a telephone interview from her home in Vancouver, “I don’t really have much of a sense of a trickle-down effect from the Diana Krall phenomenon.”

At 45, she’s a little older and a lot more experienced than Krall et al, boasting a career that predates by several years her move to Vancouver from her native Nova Scotia in 1979. She’s also cut from rather different cloth, as vocalists in jazz go these days. “I’m not particularly fascinated by the idea of being a clone of a 1950s jazz singer,’ she admits, “which is not to say I don’t have great admiration for that, but for me, it doesn’t seem relevant to where I want to be.”

And where does Hammett-Vaughan want to be? It’s a simple question without a simple answer, unless it’s this: “Somewhere provocative.” Consider her quintet, which is completed by tenor saxophonist Jim Pinchin, pianist Chris Gestrin, bassist André Lachance and drummer Tom Foster. That’s a standard enough jazz configuration, and it does indeed find Hammett-Vaughan singing the songs that a 1950s jazz singer might. Cole Porter classics are a particular favourite. But she has also been sorting carefully through the contemporary pop repertoire for new material. Tom Wait’s Strange Weather appears on Devil May Care and Joni Mitchell’s songs For The Roses and Cold Blues Steel and Sweet Fire are recent additions to her live shows. “These are tunes that, for me, have open possibilities,” she explains of the Mitchell songs. “When I listen to some of her other tunes, they seems so much like her music. Stevie Wonder’s tunes, too. Beautiful tunes, but how are you going to approach them so it just doesn’t sound as though you’re doing a lame cover version?’

She certainly has no worries on that count when she’s singing with the NOW Orchestra. There she is, smack dab in the middle of a 15-piece band, doubling lines with the horns around her and improvising wordless solos brimming with odd sounds, syllables, utterances and ululations on her own.

“I’ve always had an interest in dissonant music,” she notes, putting in a personal context her sympathy for the orchestra’s avant garde inclinations and for New Music more generally. “When I was a kid playing Chopsticks on the piano, that initial tone apart thing was so attractive to my ear; when you moved (the notes) further away to the more consonant sounds, it was like ho-hum. When I finally heard (Thelonious) Monk’s music when I was a teenager, I said ‘Oh, he’s my guy.’ So crunchy sounds have never been a scary thing for me.”

Of course, it’s a long way from Cole Porter and Joni Mitchell lyrics to wordless improvs. Lately, Hammett-Vaughan has been trying to shorten the distance by integrating elements of each approach into the other and finding a place that’s entirely her own, neither Jekyll not Hyde, somewhere on the continuum between them.

“I’m hoping that people will just hear me,” she says of her desired result. “It’s a tough goal I’ve set for myself, and I don’t know if I’ll get there or not – if I’ll ever get to a place where it feels as integrated to the audience as it does to me.”

So she’ll go off into something ‘weird’ — it’s her word— with the quintet every now and then. And for good measure she was heard recently to break into Body and Soul with George Lewis and the NOW Orchestra, prompting Lewis — typically at least one step ahead of everybody at all times — to coach the rest of the orchestra into chanting the song’s refrain ‘sad and lonely’ behind her.

It was, in fact, Lewis who introduced Hammett-Vaughan to improvisation during a class at he Banff Jazz Workshop in 1986. And it is Lewis who continues to present her with new challenges, as he did with the NOW Orchestra’s concert at the Chicago Jazz Festival this past September. “George gave me a lot of rope to hang myself with; he gave me this big solo space and he said, ‘You go out there and show them what you can do.’ “

Chicago, Lewis subsequently reported, was quite impressed with what Hammett-Vaughan could do. His latest notion, apparently, is that she should make a move on the Windy City by herself. “George is telling me. ‘Don’t wait too long; those people in Chicago know who you are now.’ “

Still singing at the Chicago Jazz Festival with Lewis and the NOW Orchestra is one thing, and singing at Edmonton’s Yardbird Suite or Toronto’s Top O’ The Senator with her own musicians is quite another. Hammett-Vaughan takes a practical view of the accommodations that are required.

“I’m not into shoving anything down anyone’s throat. I think you have to play to the crowd to a degree. But I’ve always felt that it was part of my job to be in the business of audience education. Not in a pedantic sense, but just to say ‘This is what an artist’s search is about.’ “

In Hammett-Vaughan’s case, the artist’s search has been about giving compromise the cold shoulder — “I’m not wanting to make a painting to match anyone’s couch,” is the way she puts it — and simply persevering for more than 25 years. “I know of a few other singers who are exploring the improvised thing,” she comments, “but I don’t know anyone else in Canada who has been as weird as I have for as long — if I can put it that way.”

She can if she wants, and she does so with a throaty laugh that she quickly cuts short. “I don’t know, is it weird? For me, it’s not. I still maintain that it’s all music. And I haven’t really driven anyone out of the house yet.”


Love Is All Around

Jazz Quintet basks in mutual admiration

Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quintet at the Yardbird Suite

Don Buchanan, See Magazine, Edmonton

Things are going pretty favourably as of late for Canadian songstress Kate Hammett-Vaughan. She just came back from a successful trip to the Berlin Jazz Festival as the featured vocalist with the NOW Orchestra (a 15-piece improvising ensemble from Vancouver), she’s getting good reviews for her 2002 CD Devil May Care and she’s crazy about the players in her quintet who record and tour with her.

“I love the fact that these guys all feel like my musical family,” says Hammett-Vaughan. “All of them really make me laugh. That’s very important for me, that we have fun playing.”

And who are “these guys?” They are among the elite of Vancouver jazz players, notably including two transplanted-Edmontonians: drummer Tom Foster and saxman Jim Pinchin. Bassist Andre Lachance and pianist Chris Gestrin round out the formation.

Lachance and Hammett-Vaughan have made music together for years, as a duo and in other settings. “I loved Andre’s playing the first time I heard him. It’s very lyrical and melodic and I really appreciate the way he supports what I sing.” Although Hammett-Vaughan is the one who gets the spotlight in her quintet, she’s more than willing to share the musical glory. “Tom is the drummer of my dreams, a risk-taker, a painter. I met him first at a gig in Edmonton about 10 years ago, and I just knew right then that he was it. Chris, for me, is just heaven-sent. A beautiful player, a wonderful spirit. And Jim is so fantastic. There’s a great connection when we play. His sound is so beautiful.”

With these musicians behind her, Hammett-Vaughan recorded How My Heart Sings in 1999, which was nominated for a Juno in 2000. With Devil May Care, the top-grade sound continues. “We’ll be playing tunes from both CDs. We’ve also added some new material to the book, including songs by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, and other musical friends.”

While Hammett-Vaughan has been garnering solid praise in jazz circles for her improvisational skills and her fresh takes on old standards, she knows she has yet to peak. “I’m happy that my work is getting some recognition and that it’s coming at a time when I feel that I have matured into an artist with something to say.”

Hammett-Vaughan’s visit to Edmonton is part of a Canada Council-backed tour, with other stops in Regina, Medicine Hat and a major six-night stand at the respected Top ‘O The Senator club in Toronto. The Toronto gig is a big deal for Hammett-Vaughan, as she aims for more recognition down east. “I’ve never played the Montreal Jazz Festival. Really, I’ve really hardly even made a dent on the eastern side of the Rockies. Not that many people out east know what I do, but I hope that will change.”


Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quintet: How My Heart Sings

Dave Nathan, AllAboutJazz.com

This album earned Kate Hammett-Vaughan a nomination for the Juno Award as Canada’s best vocal jazz singer of the year. It is well-deserved recognition not only for the exciting vocal presentations, but also for the instrumentalists on the session. They work hand in glove with Hammett-Vaughan for almost an hour of artistic playing. Don’t let the play list fool you. This is not another one of those albums routinely offering classic standards. Nothing is routine with this album. Alone Together opens with an off center Hammett-Vaughan chorus, then the musicians take over for a boppish excursion. Jim Pinchin on sax and Chris Gestrin on piano approach the bop small groups of the 1960’s. The singer returns taking pleasant liberties with the melody line. Hammett-Vaughan’s view of Monk’s Monk’s Dream recalls Jon Hendricks’ vocalese treatment of this classic.

But not everything is grounded in the Bop mode. Forget about other renditions of Bobby Troup’s The Meaning of the Blues. Hammett-Vaughan’s soulful interpretation is dirge like and a Pinchin soulful sax supports her position. But it’s the modern, closing in on avant garde, that prevails. The Duke Ellington/Peggy Lee standby, I’m Gonna Go Fishin’ is treated like it was a modern classical composition by John Cage or Arnold Schoenberg. The way Hammett-Vaughan presents the lyrics recalls those poetry with jazz sessions of the Alan Ginsberg days. This fishing trip is not a pleasant, relaxed summer outing, but an adventure akin to climbing Mount Everest. Hammett-Vaughan’s way with My Heart Belongs to Daddy would be downright incestuous if “Daddy” in the song was her biological father. For those who are looking for truly different and legitimately innovative expositions of familiar music, this album is for you. It’s also for those whose musical ears are in need of significant cleaning. Recommended.


Festival Report: The Opening Pages

Vancouver International Jazz Festival

Laurence Svirchev

The first set of the opening at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre was The Kate Hammett-Vaughan Sextet performing her Conspirac: Art Songs for Improvisers project. While there my have been pre-Festival press in one of the community newspapers to the effect that Vancouver musicians get short-sheeted, this gig demonstrated that home-town creative artists of Vancouver get to shine in front of our sophisticated audiences.

In a post-gig interview, an ecstatic Kate Hammett-Vaughan first said what a thrill it was to open for the art-song master, Steve Lacy. But then she went on to explain that Conspiracy was a community-based project. In concept, the project is simple: Kate asked a series of Vancouver composers to write a song for her. “I didn’t even have the commission funding in place when I started the project, but nobody turned me down. This really speaks well of our sense of community, of the desire to make music in spite of economic difficulty,” she said.

Her only instructions to the composers were to limit the song from two to ten minutes in length, and that the music should explore the line between contemporary music and improvisation. The concert opened with an improvisation by the five instrumentalists and then KHV floated bare-foot, gracing a one-shouldered muted-brown-blue dress, onto the stage. Her first composition was “Bone Thirst” with text and music by Grace McNab. A palpable shudder went through the crowd when she sang, “I never knew that bones could drink until mine did today. They plumped, like moistened wood.”

That same kind of rapt attention was achieved again when she sang “The Moon” by Mark Armanini, “Where my belly curves, your hand rests.” With that kind of erotic line, who could resist being enthralled?

Composer Ron Samworth’s contribution centered around John Lennon. His dedication to Lennon was called “Oh, Yeah” in which KHV explored a-cappella sound permutations expressing just those two words. Then she segued into Lennon’s poem “The Moldy-moldy Man.”

KHV has the savoir-faire to present some may perceive as difficult music and make it entirely accessible. When she introduced music by Vancouver Symphony resident composer Rodney Sharman, she announced the text was by Joan Skogan. “And I haven’t met Joan yet. Joan, if you are in the audience tonight, please meet me in the lobby after the concert. I want to thank you in person for these beautiful words.”

I later asked KHV about the homey feeling in the concert hall. She said, “I grew up in Nova Scotia singing with my family in the kitchen. I just try and go with my instinct and feeling when I’m telling a story through song.” If prolonged audience applause is an indicator that the artist has achieved her intentions, Conspiracy accomplished its goal. Once again, Kate Hammett-Vaughan demonstrated why she is Canada’s most important jazz singer.

© Laurence Svirchev


Sonic Boom 2001

A Vancouver Pro Musica Society presentation
At Performance Works on Friday, March 9, 2001

Alexander Varty

Anyone wandering into the second night of Sonic Boom 2001 during Kate Hammett-Vaughan’s segment D might have been forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled into The Vagina Monologues instead. Performing guitarist Ron Samworth’s semi-improvisational tour de force for solo voice, Oh Yeah, the singer gibbered and squealed and moaned, running the two syllables of the title together into a panting, lubricious torrent of sound. Should Elvira Kurt or Jann Arden come down with a sudden cold, there’ll be no need for a frantic casting call; Monologue producers can rest assured that Hammett-Vaughan’s coming from the right place.

Thoughts on where new music in Vancouver is going? … Improvisers like Plimley, Hammett-Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Chris Gestrin, and François Houle added life to this chamber-music recital, even when they were simply reading notes from the page.

Hmmm… All these collaborations; all these interdisciplinary forays! Might we be finally arriving at a place where categories are meaningless and only the music matters? I certainly hope so, and if that’s the case then composer James Maxwell will be well placed to profit from it. His Charis, played by Lee on cello, Houle on clarinet and flutist Mark McGregor, seemed indebted to no particular stylistic camp, but instead was simply an elegant and highly personal investigation of beauty.


“I always expect everything from Hammett-Vaughan, particularly when she’s backed by this remarkably finely tuned group…” Josephine Ochej

Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quintet: Live at the 2004 Vancouver International Jazz Festival
Josephine Ochej review

How does she do it? Yes, vocalist Hammett-Vaughan’s repertoire of standards, musical classics and, well, good songs, is vast, and I’ve heard her sing very often. Yet she manages a different delivery on songs I’ve heard her do before, and every time she makes them sound like the delivery the composer intended. Interpretation is key to good jazz and Hammett-Vaughan is a jazz singer through and through. Her Quintet (André Lachance/bass; Tom Foster/drums; Chris Gestrin/piano; Jim Pinchin/tenor sax) sailed through an exciting and emotional set (dedicated to Hammett-Vaughan influence Katharine Hepburn, who died earlier this day), which included “Monk’s Dream” (major scat break in the middle); a number from “West Side Story” (sexy and saucy and theatrical – Hammett-Vaughan specialties); two heavily weighing Joni Mitchell songs – “For the Roses” and “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire”; “On The Street Where You Live” (all-out swinger featuring that ol’ Gestrin verve and fresh-idea factory set on high for a jumpy, swinging solo that touched down in classical, blues and swing) and the quiet and disturbing Charles Mingus’ composition “Weird Nightmare”. I always expect everything from Hammett-Vaughan, particularly when she’s backed by this remarkably finely tuned group of big-eared musicians (and you know I mean that metaphorically), but the thrill is always compounded in being one-upped by their excellent, creative musicianship and constant freshness. A knockout show to end the Roundhouse festivities with.

Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quintet: Eclipse

(Maximum Jazz/Universal)

Geoff Chapman, Toronto Star
April 29, 2004

Rating ****

The excellent Vancouver singer is back with a new disc that maintains her miraculously high standards of interpretation and emotional appeal.

This sophisticated session, recorded live at the city’s Cellar club a year ago, also features her strong, attentive band — tenor saxman Jim Pinchin, pianist Chris Gestrin, bassist André Lachance and drummer Tom Foster. There are eight very long workouts from a broad repertoire, including two wry Joni Mitchell songs (an almost apocalyptic For the Roses and Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire), standards plus old and new jazz compositions, with each mini-epic letting bandsmen display their considerable skills.

This singer is a marvelous storyteller with a bag of vocal tricks big enough to compel constant attention, and the knack of making everything she attempts sound newly minted and admirably assured as her free spirit roams and experiments. Tatamagouche Tango is a special treat. Surely this disc will ensure she gets proper recognition at the next Junos


Kate Hammett-Vaughan

by Laurence Svirchev, Coda Magazine 1993

There is an axiom in artistic circles that one has to become well-known far away before being appreciated at home. Not so with Kate Hammett-Vaughan. She gets standing-room only crowds in Vancouver. Take the night the line-up at the Glass Slipper extended into the street. Enthusiasts were turned away the night she performed with her Quartet and Garbo’s Hat.

Garbo’s Hat has an unusual instrumentation, with Kate Hammett-Vaughan voice, Paul Blaney bass, and Graham Ord reeds and flute. The repertoire is an eclectic melange of abstract voicings and deconstructed standards. The Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quartet is a jazz standards group with Hammett-Vaughan voice, Miles Black piano, Miles Hill bass, and the legendary Claude Ranger on drums.

While many musicians stay within a defined and perhaps comfortable style, Hammett-Vaughan is an explorer. However, she had never presented the whole range of her music in one evening, and naturally there was discussion about which band to present first. Some felt the eclectic music might drive some of the audience out.

Ms. Hammett-Vaughan knows her audience from years of working the restaurant trade, from her experimental work in the New Orchestra Workshop, and as an organizer of the “Jazz at the Gallery” series at the grunt gallery.

She went with her instincts, putting Garbo’s Hat first. After introducing Blaney and Ord, she explained that the music of Garbo’s Hat might be difficult for some, unlike anything they had ever heard before. So she wanted the audience to hear it while their ears, and hers, were still fresh.

The explanation worked like a charm. Faces that have only seen Ms. Hammett-Vaughan perform at a restaurant may have been puzzled by an edgy piece like New Directions, but they broke into broad smiles at Burglar Bop. The room remained just as crowded for the standards Quartet. The evening was a triumph.

Kate Hammett-Vaughan is a major influence on the Vancouver jazz scene and is branching into a wider audience through her recording with Garbo’s Hat, selections on a CBC recording of Canadian jazz vocalists, and a planned standards CD. Her improvisational work dances with the aplomb of someone who has no place to fall, and she is certainly the finest jazz standards singer in Canada.


Musical Milestones Along The Road

Mark Miller, The Globe and Mail 1990
(excerpt)

The Canadian definition of a jazz festival may be more a matter of emphasis than semantics. The Festival International de jazz de Montreal, for example, puts its money squarely on ‘festival’, while Vancouver’s du Maurier Ltd. International Jazz Festival has given its heart to ‘jazz’. Decentralized though the latter event may be, there’s no shortage of interesting musicians, nor any end to the variety of venues around town. A typical day on the road in Vancouver – Tuesday, in fact – might look like this.

Garbo’s Hat, Pacific Centre Atrium, 1:10pm:
Tough room. The ceiling is a good three stories up, the stage extends out over a reflecting pool, and the audience drifts by from adjacent stores and a fast-food mart in this downtown office-tower mall.
Kate Hammett-Vaughan, vocalist with Garbo’s Hat, captures the essence of the situation at the start of the second set. “We’d like to remind you of our B-flats,” she announces as she takes the stage with bassist Paul Blaney and saxophonist Graham Ord. “Shoppers, we have a special on B-flats.”

B-flats should sound so good. Hammett-Vaughan is a wonderfully breezy singer who slips free of a song’s formal constraints at no risk to its familiar sentiments. Blue Monk, Afro Blue, and Mr. P.C. are on the set list, along with a variety of pop standards, and each one announces more loudly than the last an important Canadian jazz voice.


Poor Boy: Songs of Nick Drake (Songlines)

by Marc Hogan

The same intricate acoustic guitar figure opens Poor Boy: Songs of Nick Drake as does 1994’s Way to Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake. And what was so right about that “best of” compilation is what’s wrong with this new, well-intentioned tribute album.

The guitar riff is from “Cello Song”, which in Drake’s hands was breezy yet decidedly somber, as was so often the case with this brilliant, depressive English folkie. On Poor Boy, his lick is painstakingly reproduced, note-for-note. So far, so-so. Then an atrocious electronic beat joins in, and I lose it. Yes, an electronic beat.

Despite several tracks like this one – wan, misguided attempts to imitate and then update Drake’s classic sound – Poor Boy boasts several winning qualities. But it’s more likely to appeal to jazz aficionados than to Nick Drake fans.

You see, Nick Drake is doleful. Nick Drake is, in his quiet, forlorn way, delightful. At the finest moments on this new tribute album, he’s, with apologies to Cole Porter and a current Hollywood movie, de-lovely.

Oddly, Poor Boy is at its best when it and its cast of relative unknowns (to me, anyway) present his songs as part of a canon of new standards.

The most memorable tracks here are piano-based. Drake’s bizarre tunings and complex finger-picking are virtually inimitable; perhaps that’s why anyone attempting to play his notes on guitar inevitably sounds like a mere shadow of the master. But on piano, Drake’s gorgeous melodies are given free rein, without concern for copying the original recordings.

I’d buy the album for Kate Hammett-Vaughan’s smoldering take on the title track alone. To be fair, “Poor Boy” does feature some piano on Drake’s original Bryter Later rendition, and with swooning saxophone it was always one of his jazziest tunes. But Hammett-Vaughan’s performance, aided and abetted by pianist Chris Gestrin, guitarist Ron Samworth and bassist Simon Fisk, makes a compelling argument for “Poor Boy” as a should-be jazz standard. Hammett-Vaughan’s throaty alto evokes clouds of cigarette smoke and martini shakers. If jazz clubs everywhere start tackling this number, I’ll be a very happy camper.


Hammett-Vaughan Tells Tales

Alexander Varty / Local Motion
Georgia Straight, Vancouver
April 1, 2004

Back in 1999, Kate Hammett-Vaughan made a record called How My Heart Sings, her first with the talented and sympathetic band that has accompanied her ever since. With its deep-blue ballads and sorrowful hymns to love lost, it was indeed an accurate portrait of where the singer’s heart was at; but that heart sings a little differently now, as her just-released Eclipse attests.

It’s not just that new love has entered Hammett-Vaughan’s life or that she’s developed a profoundly intuitive relationship with pianist Chris Gestrin, saxophonist Jim Pinchin, bassist André Lachance, and drummer Tom Foster. Both those statements are true, but the first thing the listener will notice on hearing Eclipse is that Hammett-Vaughan has become as much a storyteller as a singer. Her vocals are more direct and conversational, and they have more of her in them. It used to be possible to play spot-the-influence whenever she hit the bandstand, but that’s not the case anymore.

“Well, thank you for saying that, because I really hope that’s true,” she says, on the line from the offices of the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, where she’s been writing artist bios for the 2004 Vancouver International Jazz Festival program. “I certainly do think that my influences have been easy to recognize over the years. People have commented on the Betty Carter and the Sheila Jordan aspects of what I do, and the Jay Clayton thing–and it’s wonderful, in a way, that people can hear their influence in my music, ‘cause I think that’s a great tribute to how much their music has moved me. But I think it’s also pretty wonderful that I’m getting to a point where that stuff is less obviously apparent.”

Eclipse, a satisfying mix of jazz standards, Joni Mitchell tunes, and items from the Kurt Weill canon, was taped almost exactly a year ago, at the Cellar nightclub. “Chris Gestrin recorded the whole thing while he was playing,” Hammett-Vaughan says, laughing. “Genius Boy brought in all his amps and hard drives and everything and set it all up in the backroom and did all the recording. And then later he did all the editing and mastering and mixing.”

But before Gestrin did the final edits, Hammett-Vaughan let the tapes sit undisturbed for a few months. When she went back to them, she was both pleased and surprised. “I was really shocked at how pure some of the melodies seem to be,” she explains, alluding to her former tendency to toy with her tunes as if she were more a saxophonist than a singer. Yet it’s not just the presence of Mitchell’s “For the Roses” and “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” that account for the almost folkish direction her singing’s taken; she’s toned down her love of adornment to let the songs’ messages come through more clearly.

“The artists that move me the most, and not just in music, are the people who speak to me through their heart and not through their mannerisms or their technique,” she says. “I’m certainly interested in the idea of improving my ability to sing, technically, because there’s a great book of material that I’m excited about that I don’t really have the chops for yet: some of the new-music stuff that I’m really quite interested in, and some contemporary art songs. I’ve been interested in that stuff for a long time, and I’ve gradually been taking more lessons; things are changing in my technique. But I never think of that as a way of trying to improve my ability to deliver. In fact, the more I’m able to strip technique away and just get to the telling of the story, the happier I am.”

She’s also happy to announce that the Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quintet will celebrate Eclipse’s release by returning to the Cellar this Saturday and Sunday (April 3 and 4). She considers herself lucky to have kept the same musicians together for almost six years, and says that their support has been an integral part of the artistic advances she’s made.

“I don’t really feel that it’s me in front of the band, at all,” she explains. “My name is on it, but I think it’s really important that those guys get equal credit, because we are all, simultaneously, making the music. There’s no sense, ever, of having to second-guess each other. And now it seems to me that this is a situation where we can just say, ‘Go’ and we all trust that something musical will happen.”

Something profoundly musical, if Eclipse is any evidence. Deeper and more diverse than any of her earlier outings, the new disc is proof that the song in Hammett-Vaughan’s heart grows stronger day by day.


Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quintet: Eclipse

Doug Fischer, Ottawa Citizen
Saturday April 17, 2004

Rating (***1/2) very good

Vancouver’s Kate Hammett-Vaughan, who thinks of herself more as a complete musician than a singer, takes chances with her repertoire and is happy to share the spotlight with the members of her band. As a result, her disc features a richly eclectic mix of songs – Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses and Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire, Charles Mingus’s Eclipse and Chelsea Bridge’s Tantamagouche Tango alongside a few standards, including a superb take on the Rodgers-Hart gem Falling in Love with Love. The disc also blazes with extended improvisations and tight ensemble work that give saxophonist Jim Pinchin and pianist Chris Gestrin frontline time to shine beside Hammett-Vaughan’s expressive innovations.


Here’s One Juno Jazz Judge’s Picks

Roger Levesque, Edmonton Journal
March 14, 2000

(excerpt)

Back in the first week of this year, when many people were laughing off the Y2K scare, your humble scribe was holed up at home next to the stereo with more recent Canadian vocal jazz albums than you might have thought possible.

About two-thirds of these discs fell pretty close to the industry definition of “cocktail jazz”, an entirely valid style, even if it leans to the predictable. It’s really about popular songs performed in an accessible way, and that’s where you will hear a chanteuse singing I’ve Got You Under My Skin or the much over-done Fever.

Diana Krall is the current queen of cocktail jazz, and given her notoriety she’s a shoo-in for the Juno. But is it really about jazz?

In fact, yours truly ranked Vancouver singer Kate Hammett-Vaughan as my first choice because her excellent disc How My Heart Sings has a key jazz ingredient that seems lacking on Krall’s album: risk. I would urge true jazz fans to seek out the Hammett-Vaughan disc because it still has a whiff of spontaneity and surprise.