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Susie Arioli: Brushing with Strings

By Published: November 22, 2007

AAJ: When did you start performing?

SA: I started singing at the blues jams, that I went to with my sister, that the Steven Barry Band would host. Michael Brown was a blues player at the blues jam who would let me sing Billy Holiday tunes. It was an expansive magic jam, not like the jazz jams where guys would take endless solos and there was not the same friendly vibe at all. So I thought I would become a pop singer, but then I met Jordan at a jam and we played together and he makes everyone sound good. He compliments the other artists he plays with.

AAJ: Do you play piano?

SA: I don't play piano really but I'm going to get a piano [in the new house] and get my playing down. I can play boogie-woogie; that takes coordination. I love getting your body to do different things at the same time. That's totally why I play the snare while singing and to feel like I'm really part of the band. I don't play the whole drum kit. Karen Carpenter played the kit: she was hip.

AAJ: Has the band toured a lot?

SA: Yes we have. In Spain, we went to Madrid and we've done tours to England, Japan, Germany, and France. In Japan we played in a few places. One was a really interesting club the size of a closet that barely fit the band and five patrons.

AAJ: Do you perform at all the jazz festivals—the summer circuit?

SA: No, not really, that can really burn you out. We are doing a jazz festival in France in September. We haven't done the big one in Switzerland, yet we did a Django festival on the outskirts of Paris—that was really cool. There were lots of good players at that one. The thing about the festivals is there are lots of good players attending, but you don't have the luxury of sticking around to hear anyone—unless you are really well organized—but most of the bands are in and out. They really know how to treat you well in France and they are really proud. It's a pleasure to work there.

AAJ: How did your band's name come about?

SA: Originally we were called The Susie Arioli Swing Band Featuring Jordan Officer. The swing in our name was to clarify what kind of jazz we were doing. Then we got pigeonholed into the swing thing, which is more of a jive rock and roll thing, and our music doesn't really work with dancers because the dance beats that we would have are slower and more of a foxtrot. The swing dancers have a tendency to want to go crazy and dance to really fast songs. So then we took the swing out of our name so we wouldn't get stuck in the swing section of the record store.

AAJ: Have you ever gone to Nashville?

SusieSA: Yeah, it was for a showcase and we were well-received but it's not really what you'd expect, it's kind of a funny place, a business centre. It's not Rodeo Drive, more like Chabanel [Montreal industrial park]. It was cool they liked us.

AAJ: Are you self-managing the band?

SA: Oh no, we have a manager, Bruno Robitaie. We heard about him from Jordan's musician friend, Tomas Helman. He does a great job.

AAJ: How was your experience with Ray Charles?

SA: I didn't get to chat with him, but I did meet him and shake his hand. He looked great, he was 67, great body and really fit. It was a wonderful thing that the Jazz Fest gave us that break [the band opened for Ray Charles at the 1998 Montreal Jazz Festival].

AAJ: And your collaboration with Jordan?

SA: We really like what we're doing and what we do together. I'm noticing more and more about music and collaboration. I work with the people I like to work with. I listened to an interview with Jack White of the White Stripes and he was saying that he felt, right away, a connection with his drummer, and then they created an original sound together and they had been working on that themselves a long time. I like that.

AAJ: Other collaborations?

SA: I had played with piano players before but I have not had much satisfaction from that. I would like to have some satisfaction from that in the future and explore that, so I have been talking to some people. There are many of them that I admire but it doesn't mean they're good accompanists for what I want.

AAJ: What instrumentalists or singers do you like?

SusieSA: Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Chet Baker, Elvis Presley, T-Bone Walker, Memphis Slim, Lester Young, Charlie Christian, George Barnes, Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Mildred Bailey, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Rushing, George Jones, Annie Lenox, and Sinéad O'Connor. I like Jody Benjamin, an Ottawa woman with a band called The Toasted Westerns. She sings and writes songs: she's a really talented singer- songwriter. I like Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

AAJ: Where did you find those male backup singers that performed with you last year?

SA: My singing teacher recommended them and we held auditions. The idea came because, after the Roger Miller CD Make Me Smile we met this band while touring and they sang backup with us in our set. We wanted to lush up the album. So that inspired us to have backup singers.

AAJ: Who's idea was it to work with I Musici?

SA: Laurent Saulnier [programmer] from the Jazz festival. We had our first rehearsal with them yesterday. It was really great, beautiful, they really sound great. I hung out after to hear them practice. It is a sixteen-piece string orchestra. Chris Smith did the arrangements. They are just so pro: they know how to read music and swing.

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