I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—one of the most rewarding parts of this job is discovering new artists making music in town. That is certainly the case with the young and aspiring singer-songwriter named Christine Jakel, who I crossed paths with at Bar Robo last year when she played with her other project, Grace Note. Her talents are immediately impactful, and draw listeners in like a tractor beam through the headphones or on stage. As someone with a degree in classical voice from the University of Ottawa and lifelong piano training at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Christine’s kind and modest demeanour struck me as endearing given the sheer level of skill and experience contained within her. Thus, I took a mental note and made sure to keep an eye on her music-related ventures.
Fast forward a year or so, and Jakel announces that she’s releasing a solo EP called Satellite Moons, once again at Bar Robo, on September 30. It came as no surprise, and it seemed to only be a matter of time before she explored her solo songwriting in a formal studio setting. While I’ve only heard a couple songs off of the upcoming EP, my initial impression is that she has a musical “sense” about her that is well beyond her years. The songs weave between genres and influences, as certain polarizing elements of jazz and folk are somehow drawn together and melded with one another in her songs.
Her vocal prowess is put on full display, as Jakel seamlessly reaches the highs and lows of her octave—and everything in between—with laser-sharp precision. The rest of Satellite Moons is sure to contain more treats for us to hear. In the years to come, Ottawa should prepare itself for Jakel’s inclusion into a group of local women such as Kathleen Edwards, Catriona Sturton, and Lynne Hanson, just to name a few, who have consistently shown that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Ottawa valley and beyond.
I caught up with Jakel this week in advance of the Satellite Moons EP Release, which takes place at Bar Robo on Saturday, September 30th at 8 pm. She will be joined by Mike Giamberardino (drums), Szymon Szańczuk (bass), Dean Watson (electric guitar), and Charlotte Esme Frank (harmonies) on stage, along with opening acts Grace Marr and David daCosta. Tickets are $13, and include a download code for the album. Find more information here.
Interview with Christine Jakel
Can you talk a bit about how has music been a part of your life growing up?
Both my parents took it upon themselves to expose me to music growing up. My dad has been obsessed with jazz ever since I can remember and used to play jazz guitar in his spare time. There are some artists whose CD’s are deeply ingrained into my system from having listened to them so often: George Benson, Chet Baker, Diana Krall, Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, to name a few. I’ve probably heard Autumn leaves thousands of times because my dad used to practice it relentlessly. He was also the one who introduced me to Joni Mitchell, now my main source of inspiration for songwriting. Her song Big Yellow Taxi was the reason I started playing guitar. Wondering Where the Lions are by Bruce Cockburn was the next song I learned. He was another artist that I heard a lot of growing up because of my dad. My mom was the one who made sure I was taking classical piano lessons starting at a young age and shortly after we moved to Ottawa, she enrolled me in an arts high school (De La Salle) where I chose the voice program and subsequently became actively involved in its various vocal ensembles, while being trained as both chorist and a soloist.
You explore many sounds and themes in your music. What is most important aspect you focus on when composing a song?
For me songwriting always begins with lyrics and melody. The song craft and the overall message of the song are as important to me as the music itself. This is also what I listen for in other artists’ music. I find that I am most drawn to songs that are cleverly thought out but also genuine and direct. This is what I aim for when composing my songs. Overall atmosphere, chords and instrumental riffs come are there to enhance those elements.
What was the Shot in the Dark experience like for you? Can you describe it for those who may not know?
It felt great to be a part of something that I knew was contributing to the local music scene in a positive way. Not only did I get one of my own songs recorded and filmed for the first time, but I had the chance to hear and meet so many talented local artists that I never would have discovered otherwise. In a way it acted as a spring board for me as a newly emerging musician because it led to more opportunities for shows and collaborations.
The performance itself was unlike anything I have ever done before and I don’t think it’s one I’ll be forgetting anytime soon. When I came on, Dean made the call to remove all amplification and to bring the audience close in around me, so there was zero background noise and I could feel everyone watching and listening to me intently. It was terrifying in the best way (I don’t think I’ve ever felt so exposed), and I couldn’t be happier with the result! (video available below)
What reaction or emotion do you hope to evoke from those listening to the new EP, Satellite Moons, for the first time?
I hope that anyone listening finds something they can relate to in my songs and feel moved or inspired by even if it’s just in a small way. I also hope to send an empowering message to other women out there who may feel intimidated or out of place taking up space or making themselves heard in the music scene. From what I’ve seen, the industry could really use more female representation. Knowing this reality is partly what fuels my work. Furthermore, I would love for people to perceive the depth in my songs and to hear beyond something that’s “cute” or “pretty.” Those are two words that I’ve been called my whole life, that bother me when they are used in a belittling way (whether intentionally or not), and that I’d like to break free from at least in the context of my music. This is why I’ve made sure to include some angry songs on the record.
Do you have a memorable concert experience that you can recount that perhaps influenced your music?
This past March I had the opportunity of seeing The Staves play live at the Bronson Centre. I was floored by how polished their performance was and by the wide range of soundscapes they managed to create using their voices and various instrumental skills. What I particularly like about them is that they stray from the traditional lead-singer vs. band setup. Each member plays an equal part in the singing and the balance between their voices shifts from one song from the next in fascinating ways. Their sound is very much contingent upon them gelling as a team. For me, the experience of hearing them opened doors to new realms of possibility when arranging music, which made me want to go home and write songs immediately.
Is there one venue or city that is on your bucket list to play? Why?
I am open to the possibilities of where my music might take me. Playing music is what makes me happy. Whether it’s in a noisy bar or the NAC or at an intimate gathering, I am grateful for any opportunity to share my work, the more unexpected the better! Short term, however, I do currently have my sights set on Megaphono. I have so many good memories from attending the festival as an audience member and it seems like something I’d like to experience and be a part of, hopefully as a performer this year.
What’s the next step for you musically?
In the next year I am hoping to gain regular instruction at guitar and to lock in a few more hours of practice per week than I usually do. Everything I know so far, I taught myself, besides the odd trick I picked up from my dad and my uncle, and there is so much I have yet to learn about the instrument. This would give me a whole lot more to work with when writing songs, which I intend to continue doing as much as possible. My goal is to have enough songs written by next summer to be able to start on an album. I already have a few on the go.
James Parker and his brother Jon Kimura Parker are both distinguished pianists from Vancouver, B.C., whose mad skills have them sought after across the globe for all kinds of concertos and commissions. And to their family and friends they are simply Jamie and Jackie. They’re not exactly bros but they are definitely fraternal. At the Chamberfest tonight, James will play with A Far Cry for the festival’s first gala, and he’ll play many times over the next two weeks, including a rare instance where he gets to play with Jackie. On Monday the 28th the Parker brothers will present a First World War commemorative piano programme of Debussy, Ravel & Stravinsky, and on Wednesday the 30th they’ll be hosted in a Siskind Snapshot on their upbringing in a musical household.
Research is a wonderful part of interviewing. Before we spoke I learned that Jamie wasn’t only an artistic advisor to the Chamberfest, but he met his wife at the festival in 1999, he’s won two JUNO Awards with the Gryphon Trio, he has a sharp sense of humour, and often he practices until 2 or 3 a.m. We look forward to seeing him play!
Jon Kimura Parker & James Parker. Photo: Abbey Chamberlain
Q&A with James Parker
You come from a very musical household don’t you? I’ve read that your brother and his wife will be participating with you in a Siskind Snapshot on July 30th on the subject of growing up with music.
Well it’s gonna be a lot of fun because my brother is based in Houston, TX and we don’t see each other often. We’ll play a Gershwin duet, “Cuban Overture,” a real fun piece, and we’ll have a chat about growing up in musical families. Jon and his violist wife Aloysia Friedmann also run a small festival called the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival. Musical family is what it’s all about: he’s a concert pianist and she’s a violinist and violist who does PR for musicians, my mother is a retired music teacher, my uncle is a teacher, my cousin is a concert pianist.
So it’s a real family affair. I’ve read that you say classical music is perceived as stuffy or up-tight. What are some of the ways you try to counter this stereotype?
The lingering stereotype that it’s music for older, rich people, right? That’s something it’s not. This music communicates emotions very directly. It’s just great music. You don’t have to admire it, you don’t have to respect it, just go and enjoy it. We play at places like the Lula Lounge in Toronto, and the Poisson Rouge and Subculture in New York. These are places that cater to younger audiences.
Usually we’ll talk to audiences about what we play but most of the time, growing up, our audiences were other amateur musicians. Now we still commission living composers, so you have to tell the audience what’s going on and not just slam through some crazy piece. Give them context!
Your Gryphon Trio counterpart Roman Borys has been artistic director to the festival six years running now. What’s it like to be his artistic advisor alongside his wife and the third of the Trio Annalee Patipatanakoon?
I think basically we’re the sounding boards. We’ll spend weeks and months together, I pretty much spend more time with him on the road than with my own family. Sitting in airport terminals we’re always seeing Roman planning things, and he’s asking us if we’ve heard from so-and-do and what they were up to. He does all the heavy lifting and we support.
You’ve won two JUNO awards for your recordings with the Gryphon Trio, a group that has played together for 21 years now. Did you foresee that partnership taking you this far down the road?
We actually had no idea. I think the two of them had studied as a young professional trio and that they greatly enjoyed. I always enjoyed chamber music from university onwards, they just called me and asked if I was interested in doing something. And I said, sure, let’s just see how it goes for a couple performances.
We still have a great time traveling, although that TSA has really sucked out all the joy of flying, and we still love performing together. You get on stage and you get to share with the audience. It’s all about the triangle between the composer, yourself and the audience. There are some days when that’s the easiest part of the day, just walking up on stage. I’m up til 2 or 3 a.m. practicing most of the time to make sure I’m ready for the those moments.
Friday we had a concert in Orford, QC, then we performed on Sunday at the Elora Festival, Parry Sound on Tuesday, and Friday night in Ottawa. We have a trip in the middle of the Chamberfest to San Francisco, CA. Beethoven wrote a concerto, which is typically for one soloist and an orchestra, but he wrote one for a piano trio with an orchestra. So we get a chance to do it with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Hall on Aug. 1. I might have to miss some of that judging… I have five other rehearsals with many other musicians. It’s a frantic, frenetic, exciting couple of weeks. We’re also trying to catch up with old colleagues, sneak in a quick pint with some of our friends, and of course in our professional roles we have to greet people and each be spokespersons for the festival. We love it! I wasn’t at the very first year of the festival but the Trio arrived in the third year and it’s in the Ottawa area where we’ve developed our favourite and most loyal audience.
Most of your life you’ve been interacting with piano and chamber music students, either as peers or pupils. Where do you feel their interest in musical careers stems from? Is it tradition or heritage, or the call to create sounds and play them for others?
I think ultimately it’s about the connection — you and the composer, you and the instrument, you and the audience. I don’t think many people at the student age think, “You know, we have a tradition to uphold!” No, it’s about the music and the people. It invariably comes back to the two things.
The best example of music bringing people together could be when you met your wife 15 years ago at Ottawa’s Chamberfest. Could you please remember that evening at the Mayflower Pub in 1999?
Of course, it turned into numerous evenings! The first one, a number of us played a small concert and had a quick little get-together at the pub. Then Mim came. She had been a volunteer and wanted to check in with people running things, and we ended up going out for a few more pints. Now we’ve got two little boys and they’ll all be here for the festival. We always come to Ottawa because her dad and some of her best friends are there.
Between chairing committees, teaching students, being a father and a partner, do you still find time to compose?
I’ve never been a composer, it was sort of one of those things I never had the urge to improvise with as a kid. I do have some regret about that, I suppose it’s never too late to learn but where do I find the time? I still want to learn to speak French properly and I’m finding it hard to find the time. At this point in my life I know I’ll never write anything as good as Beethoven so I’m just glad to play Beethoven.