Emerging singing star Jaclyn Guillou will bring her fresh touch with jazz standards and new originals to White Rock's First United Church

Emerging singing star Jaclyn Guillou will bring her fresh touch with jazz standards and new originals to White Rock's First United Church

Singer breathes new life into old standards

Jaclyn Guillou, presented by Peninsula Production at First United Church next month, draws on her experience in dance and musical theatre

Call Jaclyn Guillou’s music jazz with a difference.

The format of a jazz singer playing off the swingy, tasty accompaniment of a small ensemble of talented sidemen is far from new, of course, but Guillou gives it a new spin.

The fresh style of this emerging artist – winner of the CBC Galaxie Rising Star award at the 2009 Vancouver International Jazz Festival –  will be spotlighted for residents of White Rock and South Surrey Oct.12 at 8 p.m. at First United Church, 15385 Semiahmoo Ave., presented by Wendy Bollard and Geoff Giffin’s Peninsula Productions.

Whether breathing new life into a ’40s standard like No Moon At All, adding lyrics to the compositions of famed jazzmen like Dave Brubeck and Wayne Shorter, or singing new originals like To The City, Little Red Shoes or California – which flutter by the listener almost like pages from a personal journal thrown to the four winds – Guillou invests her music with a light touch, subtly rhythmic phrasing and an engaging, almost conversational way with a lyric.

It turns out that none of this came about accidentally.

Until she devoted herself to jazz singing five years ago, the Vancouver-based Guillou’s principal credits had been in the world of musical theatre, particularly Arts Club shows like the wildly successful Beauty and the Beast.

Before that, from almost the time she took her first steps, she trained and performed as a tap dancer. That discipline left her with an understanding of the intricacies of rhythm that still surprises the jazz instrumentalists who work with her.

“My drummers, particularly, can’t believe how intuitive I am, but it’s because of all the years of tap dancing,” Guillou said.

Joining her for the White Rock show will be three of Vancouver’s most impeccable jazz sidemen; pianist Bruno Hubert, bassist James Meger and drummer Andrew Millar.

It’s definitely a homecoming for Meger, who grew up in White Rock and went to school here. But it seems the same for Guillou, even though it will be the first time she has performed in the city.

“I’m somewhat of a local girl,” she acknowledged. “I was born in Surrey and raised in North Delta, but my grandparents lived in White Rock, and I visited there a lot.”

Guillou also did a lot of her stage training in Surrey with Valerie Easton, until she left for Toronto at age 17 to study in the musical theatre program at Sheridan College (now Sheridan Polytechnic).

It was Easton who brought Guillou back to Vancouver to appear in an Arts Club show, and she wound up doing five musicals back-to-back for the company, including Gypsy, in which she had the gift part of brassy burlesque dancer Electra.

“I was a little young for the role, but they thought I had what it took to put it over,” Guillou said.

Cabaret was a turning point for her – it was through that show that she met noted Vancouver bassist Rene Worst, who, in turn, introduced her to his wife, well-known Vancouver jazz diva Jennifer Scott.

Guillou immediately sensed, in their world, a potential for the kind of self expression she needed.

“It was definitely the musical freedom that drew me to jazz,” she said. “The ability to experiment, to come up with an idea and develop it, where in musical theatre, everything is set and written down.

“I wanted to do one thing and do it well, but to incorporate everything I’d done in  musical theatre.

“In jazz, there’s always something new to explore. I felt limitless, like I have millions of years ahead of me, while in theatre I felt I had done everything I wanted to do.”

While Guillou enjoys the sense of moving forward and creating fresh jazz-based music capable of attracting new audiences to the idiom, she recognizes a need to revisit the roots of the music by exploring jazz standards.

“Actually, I go back and forth between doing new material and covering standards, and right now, I’m revisiting standards again,” she said. “I feel they’re terribly important – they are the foundation of writing new music. Either I’ll sing them as simply as possible to bring out the quality of the song, or revamp them, as I do with All Or Nothing At All, bringing in different chords and a new arrangement.”

Guillou said she looks forward to the upcoming local show, particularly because of a sense of momentum with her current back-up trio.

“We have a lot of shows in October, including the Cellar Jazz Club the night before the White Rock performance,” she noted.

The musicians have an intuitive rapport built on gigging together frequently, although Guillou said she wasn’t aware of that when she booked them for the shows.

“It’s great, but it happened accidentally,” she said. “I called them all separately, and it was only afterwards I realized they’d all been working together regularly.”

Tickets ($25 advance, $30 at the door) area available from Tapestry Music, or online at www.tickets.surrey.ca