In the Media
  • For the Love of Jazz: Diana Panton is now one of the top singers in the country
    by GRAHAM ROCKINGHAM, Hamilton Spectator

    Diana Panton was in high school when she first discovered jazz. It didn’t take long for her interest to turn into passion. Some might even call it an obsession.

    Every weekend, she’d walk down to the Westdale library and max out her card on tapes and CDs. Next stop would be the main branch. She’d max out her library card there, too.

    Every weekend, she’d come home with piles and piles of CDs and tapes. She’d take them to her bedroom, play them and piece together mix tapes of jazz. She’d even draw her own cover art.

    There was also all that sheet music. Panton photocopied everything the library would let her. Jazz standards from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Literally, hundreds of scores.

    It was the ’90s. Panton was still in her teens. There was no such thing as iTunes. Back then, you had to work for your music.

    All that work paid off. Panton is now one of the top jazz singers in the country. Her first album, Yesterday Perhaps, won Panton praise from jazz aficionados across the country. Last year, her second CD, If the Moon Turns Green, earned her a Juno nomination.

    Tonight, at a sold-out concert at the Carnegie Gallery in Dundas, Panton introduces her third CD, Pink, to her local fans. It promises even better things for Panton.

    Pink was released with little fanfare late last year and quickly sold its entire first printing of 1,000.

    “What’s really nice is that the first two CDs are still selling,” Panton says. That’s impressive for an independently released jazz album in this country. Even more so, considering Panton has done it all without a manager, publicist or record label.

    She even co-produced the album with her longtime friend, pianist and collaborator, Don Thompson.

    When orders come in to her by e-mail, Panton sticks the CDs in an envelope and brings them to the post office herself. She usually packages them with a little personalized note, as well. If a local record store is interested, she’ll drive there to deliver the CDs.

    Oh, and Panton does this all part time. By day, she’s a French immersion teacher at Westdale, the high school she attended while listening to all those CDs from the library.

    That huge catalogue of music she built up during her teens came in handy when she started putting together Pink. She chose the theme of the album before she really knew what songs she would sing.

    “Pink represents new love,” she explains about the title. “Red gets a little more intense.”
    Panton sat down and assembled a list of 120 songs that fit with her Pink theme. It didn’t take her long. She had all the music in those files she had amassed at home.

    She took the 120 titles to Thompson’s home in Toronto where they sat down at the piano and ran through each one. The process took two days.

    “For me it’s like trying on clothing in a way,” Panton explains. “It might look nice on a rack but it’s not necessarily going to be appropriate for me. So I have to try it on. I have to hear myself singing it and Don playing it with me.”

    They sorted the music into A and B piles, whittling the list down to 40 and then 20. Panton made the final cut at home, bringing just 15 songs into the studio.

    The songs started to work themselves into a narrative of new love, Panton noticed. Presented in the right way, they formed a storyline.

    “At the beginning the girl is dreaming about what she would like to have (Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, My Ideal) and then wondering if it’s ever going to happen (My Future Just Passed, Me Myself and I). Then it does happen (What Is There To Say, Tea For Two). Then there are the ups (Hold Me Hold Me Hold Me) and downs (I Wish I Knew, Five Minutes More).

    In Toronto’s Inception Studio, Panton and Thompson were joined by the other member of the Diana Panton Trio, guitarist Reg Schwager. Guido Basso added cornet, flugelhorn and trumpet. On the CD jacket, the group is called the Diana Panton Trio + 1. The +1 is Basso.

    They completed the recording in just three days, seldom needing more than two takes to get it right.

    Pink receives healthy airplay on CBC, Radio-Canada and Jazz FM in Canada, as well as on stations in Virginia, Louisiana and Michigan.

    “I don’t send out blanket mailings to radio stations,”she says.“I only send it out if they ask. A station in Rochester, N.Y., just asked so, hopefully, they’ll play it, too.”

    Panton’s day job prevents the trio from performing many live shows. Besides tonight’s Dundas concert, Panton is performing May 1 at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, May 15 at the Aeolian Performing Arts Centre in London, and Aug. 22 at the Fieldcote Museum in Ancaster.

    Panton still doesn’t have iTunes on her computer. She doesn’t need it. She has amassed a big enough library to keep her in new musical themes and for years.

    “If that resource (iTunes) had been around when I was in high school,” she says, only half jokingly. “I don’t know if I would have ever come up for air.

    Feb 6th, 2010