Five Questions With Denise Leslie

Canadian artist, Denise Leslie has released her brand new album, One Fine Morning along with a brand new single, “Day After Day”.

Produced by award-winning producer and guitarist Bob McAlpine, One Fine Morning sits squarely at the intersection of jazz, R&B and rock, and features bassist Pat Collins, drummer Paul DeLong, pianist Don Baird, and horn players from Brass Transit and Lighthouse.

“This album is paying tribute to the music I cherished in my formative years,” Leslie shares of the release. “Particularly the 70s.

The music of that time had a pureness,” she continues. “It was a time when music could really make a difference, and when melody was more integral to songwriting.”

One Fine Morning serves as both a professional and deeply personal milestone for Denise Leslie.

“I put my music aside for a number of years,” she says, citing her career as a sought-after interior designer and busy mother of three, and that the album was three years in the making. “At some point, however, I felt a deep inner calling to rekindle my passion for singing.”

Check out the video for “Day After Day” below and find out more about Denise via our Five Questions With segment.

Care to introduce yourself to our readers?

I’m Denise Leslie. I’ve been singing jazz professionally now for about 16 years.  I was very musical all through my youth – I sang in choirs and played piano.  It wasn’t until my work as an Interior Designer had subsided, and my young family had moved to Calgary Alberta – when I finally came to the realization that I had to explore my musicality again. I soon began to get pretty serious about it.  I enjoy many musical genres but I especially adore jazz music.  I find it almost hypnotic at times. Likely because of its syncopated rhythms and improvisation – these musical devices, I feel are the reason why it has this effect on jazz lovers. I have also enjoyed fronting some fun R&B bands earlier on – you hear these influences in my performance and vocal stylings. I love to experiment and love to scat.  I’ve been under the radar on the Canadian jazz scene for years. That was fine, as I had a family to raise (I’m not a very good multi-tasker!). I now seek to be heard by more Canadians and more music lovers internationally with my debut recording ONE FINE MORNING.  I feel quite strongly that I have something unique to contribute to the jazz scene.

Tell us a bit about your music and writing style.  

My music is primarily jazz but often incorporates elements of pop & R&B.  At the beginning, I focussed on singing my favourite standards – bossas , ballads and swing tunes.  I still enjoy this but I then grew to enjoy creating interesting arrangements (or seeking out other artist’s arrangements) of the beautiful music of the Great American Songbook. Taking a standard like Oh What a Beautiful Morning and hearing Ray Charles’s 6/8 time swinging version of it knocked me out flat. Its become a staple in my repertoire. Another is Buddy Holly’s Rave On.  The simplicity of the melody allows for a lot of flexibility with the arrangement. So my version switched back and forth from swing feel to a Latin feel. Similarly, with ONE FINE MORNING, we created jazz arrangements for the title track, the Police’s Driven to Tears and Badfinger’s Day After Day. Our cover of Lighthouse’s One Fine Morning combines bossa and swing feels, allowing the lyric more breathing space. Well written music with strong melody lines allows for this. That’s what I love to do.  Writing is a relatively new endeavour that I find hugely satisfying. I’m typically a “music first” writer, but usually a lyric idea is not far behind. The two components end up chasing each other with lyrics trying to catching up to melody.

Do you have any upcoming shows?  For someone who has yet to see you live, how would you explain your live performance?  

I have my Album Launch Party for ONE FINE MORNING coming up Sunday, January 19th, 7:00 – 8:30ish pm Its happening at Jazz Bistro in Toronto. There’s also a more intimate show booked Thursday, Jan 23rd 7:00-9:00 pm.  at Common Ground Cafe in Westedge Community Church, 157 Lakeshore Rd West, Mississauga. Look for more shows this spring at Home Smith Bar, Old Mill Toronto and in London Guelph & Hamilton.

I enjoy working my scat chops but only when I feel it can really add colour to a performance and when there’s more to express or say in the moment!  My background in r&b and rock inspires me to bring a mixed eclectic repertoire to setlists and it informs my vocal style as well. I still seek out gems from the great composers like Cole Porter Duke Ellington and Gershwin. Most of my music reflects who I am and has to have some meaning to me personally. I love the process/challenge of befriending my audience while on stage and I love surprising them.

If you were asked to suggest only one of your songs for someone to hear, which would it be? 

The ONE song I’d like people to hear would be “I’m in the Mood for Love/Moody’s Mood”. It encapsulates exactly what jazz is all about.  Moody’s Mood is based on the stunning sax solo of James Moody’s while playing the gorgeous standard I’m In The Mood for Love. It was later set to lyrics. We chose to combine the two tunes to pay tribute to both the beautiful original ballad AND the brilliant bop solo take on that original. I’ve loved it for years and I feel nothing but pure joy while performing it. I feel it defines who I am. It doesn’t hurt that the version that inspired me was George Benson’s.

Canadian Beats is all about Canadian music so who are your current favourite Canadian bands/artists?

There’s no shortage of Canadian talent. In the jazz world, I am a big fan of Diana Krall, Molly Johnson, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, Kellylee Evans, Michael Buble, Emilie Claire Barlow, and Micah Barnes. I’m currently revisiting the music of legends like Michel Legrand, Ginette Reno and Oscar Peterson. Bands like Brass Transit, Monkey House, legendary Lighthouse (of course) are favourites. I always thought Gino Vannelli was an incredibly talented musician/performer who should be more celebrated. Locally I really enjoy /songwriters Melissa Lauren and Whitney Ross-Barris and I’ll often put on Amy McConnell & William Sperendai’s recordings while making dinner. Love those guys!

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