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Jazzing up jazz in Whitehorse

Emilie-Claire Barlow grew up playing pinball in Toronto's famous Manta Sound studio. Her parents were session musicians there.

Emilie-Claire Barlow grew up playing pinball in Toronto’s famous Manta Sound studio.

Her parents were session musicians there.

And while recording artists like Neil Young and Oscar Peterson laid down tracks in the studio, the little girl played in the hallway.

“I have a vivid memory of that hallway, with rows of gold records on the walls,” she said.

The Juno award-winning jazz singer also has vivid memories of her first performance.

Standing in front of her class during show and tell, the young student raised a tiny violin to her chin.

“I was so nervous,” she said.

Then a string broke.

“I didn’t know how to fix it,” said Barlow.

“Neither did anyone there.”

Barlow doesn’t play the violin anymore.

But she still gets nervous.

“About 10 to 15 minutes before I go on, I start thinking, “Who would want to go on stage and sing in front of people?” she said.

“But as soon as I start singing, it’s all joy.”

Barlow is addicted to the “after glow” she feels following each performance.

And to get there, she needs those pre-show jitters.

“When you get through that moment and the performance, it’s a real pay-off,” she said.

“I need to feel that nervousness.”

It gives the show an edge, she said.

“If I didn’t get butterflies, there would be something wrong.”

In Grade 7, cast as Anne in the school musical Anne of Green Gables, those butterflies were dramatic.

“I was absolutely terrified,” she said.

“But I was at my calmest when I was singing.”

All through her years at an arts high school outside Toronto, Barlow continued performing in musicals.

“Acting was not my strong suit,” she said.

But the singing came naturally.

By the time she was in Grade 12, Barlow had her own jazz quartet.

“And I’ve never stopped,” she said.

Barlow’s mom was a singer; her dad was a percussionist.

“Music was just a way of life for me and my family,” she said.

She grew up listening to her mom sing Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett tunes.

Inspired by this and by the American Songbook, Barlow started putting out albums of her own.

The tunes were jazz standards from the 1920s through 1940s, with a unique twist.

“I get excited thinking about ways to cover someone else’s songs,” said Barlow.

“Usually ideas come right away, like, ‘That song might sound good with a Latin beat.

“Then I chip away at arrangements.”

Barlow doesn’t write any original tunes.

“I don’t feel compelled to write, I don’t feel it’s my strength,” she said.

“I’m more interested in transforming the work of others.”

Her most recent album, The Beat Goes On, is a departure from the more traditional jazz she usually covers.

Made up of 1960s tunes, including songs by Bob Dylan and Buffy Sainte-Marie, the album “crosses into more pop jazz,” said Barlow.

Jazz covers a broad range of music, she said.

“So when people say, ‘I’m not really a jazz fan,’ they’re missing out on great music.”

People think of jazz as “acid jazz with 10-minute drum solos,” said Barlow.

“But not all jazz is cerebral.

“A lot of it is very accessible.”

Signing autographs after a show, Barlow regularly runs into people who have been dragged to her performance by friends.

“They say to me, ‘I didn’t think I liked jazz, but I loved that,’” she said.

“And I say, ‘Well, you love jazz.’”

Barlow is at the Yukon Arts Centre with her five-piece band on Thursday, March 24 at 8 p.m.

And the band is a treat, she said.

“They’re all A-list musicians and they all really bring it.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at