In the Media
  • Jazz singer Panton explores new interpretations of classics
    by ROGER LEVESQUE, Special to

    EDMONTON - Over her decade-plus career as a jazz singer, Diana Panton has seldom strayed from the standards repertoire, but that hasn't stopped her from exploring new interpretations of classic songs.

    "When you don't second-guess yourself creatively, magical things happen," explains the Hamilton-based vocalist. "It sounds like a small thing, but it's a huge thing too. When there are none of those hesitant steps, that's when you make discoveries and nice things come out of it. It's a luxury of working with great musicians."

    Panton has enjoyed that "luxury" over four album releases now (a fifth is in the can) with two of the top names in Canadian jazz: multi-instrumentalist/co-producer Don Thompson and guitarist Reg Schwager. On her first tour of Western Canada this month, they will be joined by another notable guest, Toronto trumpeter Guido Basso.

    While Panton finds their backing "fabulous," it says something about her own gifts that she has attracted such willing accomplices. Her alluring balance of sweetness and clarity and her confident presence should only continue to win more fans.

    Panton first met Thompson when she was opening for the late Trudy Desmond (who was then supported by Thompson) at a gig in the mid-1990s. After hearing the young singer, he suggested she try to attend the Banff Centre Jazz Workshop. She applied and wound up being one of the youngest participants that summer, drawing tips from faculty mentors like singer Sheila Jordan and Thompson himself.

    He also told her to call him when she got around to making a recording. When that eventually happened a decade later, he hadn't forgotten. Starting with Yesterday Perhaps (2005), through her fourth samba-based disc To Brazil With Love (2011), Thompson has contributed piano, bass and occasional vibes along with Schwager's guitar. Basso was a guest on a few tracks for her 2009 album Pink.

    Along the way, Panton has begun to get her feet wet as a songwriter. To Brazil With Love features a number with her lyrics and Thompson's music, Is It Really You?, and the next album will include other original tunes.

    "Don has been encouraging me to write lyrics, but it's a whole different art form. So that's a little scary, but I feel really blessed to do something that has given me a lot of pleasure ever since I was little."

    Panton recalls singing and making up little songs when she was a kid walking home from school. She was raised principally on a diet of classical recordings at home and even started classical voice training, but something grabbed her at age 17 when her father pulled out an Ella Fitzgerald album. Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan beckoned, Sinatra too, and before long she was taking out stacks of albums from the local library, picking out her favourite songs and searching out sheet music for them.

    The singer enjoyed the backing of pianist David Braid as her accompanist over a decade or so, first in shows with the Hamilton All Star Jazz Big Band and then in a duo collaboration. Along the way she also managed to get a master's degree in French literature, to study in Paris, and to add a teaching degree. She still teaches French and drama at high school to help pay for her independently produced jazz projects.

    Panton sings in both English and French, and when she performs here, Thompson will alternate on bass or piano with Schwager and Basso on board. They hit the Yardbird Suite (102nd Street and 86th Avenue) Friday, 9 p.m. Tickets are $18 for members, $22 for guests, from Ticketmaster (1-855-985-5000 or or at the door.

    March 14, 2012