Earlier this summer, Carol Welsman invited us to dance with her on her latest album. You can (and should) read all about that HERE. Today, the veteran jazz singer-songwriter and pianist goes toe-to-toe with my dumb questions. Step right up and see how she does:
Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base, other details you’d like to share (height, weight, identifying marks, astrology sign, your choice).
Hi, this is Carol Welsman, jazz vocalist and pianist. My home base is between Los Angeles and Toronto. I’m 50-something, a true Libra, and yes, 5’11”! And I love Latin jazz!
What is your musical origin story?
I am the granddaughter of the founder of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Frank S. Welsman. Music filled our house from the get-go. My mother taught classical piano before she married, and my cad played clarinet and saxophone and piano by ear — all jazz. With three brothers who also had the gift of music, there was no shortage of variety of musical genres in the house. When one was listening to bluegrass, the other played reggae, while I was spinning my dad’s big band and bossa nova records wondering how to figure out jazz and jazz harmony.
What do we need to know about your latest project?
Creating this Latin-jazz album Dance With Me has been a longtime dream of mine. For years, I have listened to my fans say how much they enjoy the Latin rhythms in my concerts, so I knew I was determined to make this dream a reality. Dance with me is an eclectic collection of international music arranged with Latin rhythms, including salsa, boleros, cha cha cha and calypso; all the while keeping within Latin jazz and traditional rhythms. These songs include popular Latin standards adapted into English, Great American Songbook standards, original compositions, and a Latin-flavored song penned by fellow Canadian, the great Randy Bachman of Bachman-Turner Overdrive. For me, the piece de résistance on this album is the duet with multi-Grammy winning Latin superstar Juan Luis Guerra, called Dance With Me. I met Juan Luis a few years ago in Santo Domingo, where I told him how much I loved his song Si Tú No Bailas Conmigo, among others. Recently, I wrote an English adaptation to it, and when he heard it, he was gracious enough to accept an invitation to sing a bilingual duet with me. My dream of creating this special album has come true, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. I would like to personally thank all of my fans who pledged, for without you, this album wouldn’t be possible. I am eternally grateful. Finally, I must acknowledge my all-Latin band for your exemplary artistry; you contributed wholeheartedly to the recording of this album.
What truly sets you apart from other artists?
I sing jazz, and jazzed-up pop, accompanying myself on piano, and I write and arrange, so there is a certain signature sound I have developed over my previous 12 albums. As an soloist, I have developed a an improvising style of block chording and singing the top line of the chords, which is unique. Languages have always been a passion for me. I speak English, French, Italian and Spanish and I sing in all four as well as in Portuguese. This brands me as a truly international artist.
What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
A fan once said that my singing voice is like a warm hug, with a honey and whiskey delivery that seems to draw the listener in. Renowned critic Rex Reed says: “Carol Welsman is blessed with so many musical gifts — taste, time, projection and a rhythmic sense of when to change chords. Carol’s piano is beyond reproach, warm yet rhythmically sharp, giving her voice a perfect hammock of support to swing in.” I believe there is something in my music for everybody. Whether you like swing, bossa nova, samba, salsa, blues or ballads, my music seems to touch people in a variety of ways. Fans share with me that my music helped them through their cancer treatments, or it enhanced their travel experiences, or that the music took them to places unexplored. That could be “life” changing I suppose. I’m a storyteller. The song lyrics mean everything to me, and I make it a point to convey the message in each song so that the emotion is truly felt by the listener.
Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
I started writing music in my 20s, and the first real co-writing experience happened in Rome, Italy, writing lyrics for renowned producer and songwriter Romano Musumarra. Our song Baby Close Your Eyes was recorded by Celine Dion in 2004. To hear an artist of her stature sing our song was life-changing. The first gig I played was at an elegant bar/restaurant called The Houndstooth in Boston, Mass. I was attending Berklee College of Music and I played there three nights a week for $75 an evening. That was good money back then. It was the most wonderful setting with oriental rugs and a grand piano in the bar; truly a pleasure to entertain there.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you gave?
I was fortunate enough to be asked to co-host the first Billboard Jazz Awards in 2000 on BET with jazz icon Herbie Hancock. He had never heard me, but I was a huge fan. I opened the awards show at the piano singing my jazzed up re-harmonized version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. At sound check, this caught Herbie’s attention. He walked over to the piano and proceeded to talk to me about a few different songs he had re-harmonized for artists like Stevie Wonder and Take 6. I was awestruck. I felt like I had made a new longtime friend. He also accepted an invitation a few years later to appear in a documentary they were shooting about my career. Herbie flew to Toronto on the eve of his recording with Sting for his album.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
A close friend of mine was holding a party to honour the Governor of California at the time. Stevie Wonder was her special guest, and bassist Dave Carpenter and I provided the musical entertainment. Since Stevie Wonder and his musical gifts are the primary reasons I chose to become a musician, I felt deeply honored to be there, and to be able to share that with him after the performance. The hostess introduced me to him, and he whispered to me “Do you speak all those languages too?” which proved to me that he was listening to us play the variety of international repertoire. It was then suggested that we play something together! I knew this would be a performance opportunity of a lifetime for me. Stevie suggested My Cherie Amour, and off we went; me playing the chords and him improvising in the higher range of the piano keyboard. We sang in harmony, and I’ll never forget it, modulation and all. Afterward, Dave and I sat down behind Stevie, who proceeded to play a newer ballad of his called I Can’t Imagine Love Without You. To this day, it is my all-time favourite song of his, and listening to him sing live was like listening to a perfect recording; his voice soaring as it always does, putting a velvet cloak around song.
What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
I honestly don’t know, but I have a feeling it will be something very creative and musically related. However, my multi-lingual abilities are conjuring up ideas of incorporating music in messages that reach out to people who are less fortunate, and who need a voice. Music is powerful, and I hope I can find venues for it that bring more and more people together to empower them.
What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
I’m very lucky to collaborate with Latin superstar Juan Luis Guerra on my new latin jazz album Dance With Me. For now, I am basking in this dream come true. Down the line, I would like to perform an intimate duo concert with my friend, jazz superstar Diana Krall. Two blonde Canadian singer/pianists accompanying each other would be most exhilarating and unique.
What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
Albums: Keith Jarrett, Koln Concert; Donald Fagan, The Nightfly; Shirley Horne, Here’s to Life.
Artists: Charlie Puth.
Songs: Jeremy Lubbock”s arrangement of Spring is Here; Taylor Swift’s The One.
How about some other favourites: Authors, movies, painters, you name it.
Painters: Van Gogh, Monet.
What do you drive and why?
A BMW I3Rex electric car. I am proud to say I have not been to a gas station in six years!
What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
I’d like to be able to understand how tone-deaf people hear, just for a day, or be blind or deaf for a day, to understand people better. It would be wonderful to feel and experience what powers they possess that make them whole, like music makes me whole.
What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
Languages. Love them! Good eye-to-ball coordination. Tennis anyone? In a pandemic, one has to learn a whole new set of skills so as to be able to wear many hats, as we continue to be distanced from each other. They are useful, but sometimes very stressful.
What do you collect?
Precious memories, every day.
If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
Penne with home-made pesto, or linguine with lobster sauce, or halibut in a Thai curry sauce on a bed of trumpet mushrooms and scallions. Dessert? Home-made vanilla ice cream with a divine dark chocolate sauce made from dessert chocolate flown in by the Swiss Chocolatier shop in York Mills Plaza, Toronto.
What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
Two lovely yellow Labradors, Lucy and Boomer, light up my life. They have from the moment they were brought into our house. They are my children, and together with my husband we are bonded for life.
If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
I’d like to work for the United Nations as a multilingual spokeswoman, or I’d like to help Hispanic immigrants.
What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
Best: To listen to your heart and follow your passion.
Worst: I was told by a renowned ear, nose and throat doctor in Toronto to have surgery to remove vocal cord polyps, which I had when I was 20; that it was the only way to get rid of them, and that I would never regain my vocal range. I rehabilitated my voice over many years with no surgery, and I have a bigger vocal range today than I ever had. When I went back to see him 15 years ago, I reminded him of what he said, which was devastating to me at the beginning of my career. He told me my vocal cords were perfect and one would never know I had polyps. Hmmm.
Feel free to write and answer your own question here: What is my favourite thing other than music?
Laughter. It boosts the immune system, and takes you away to a wonderful place.