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Jane Bunnett: Embracing Voices

By Published: November 12, 2008
AAJ: What was Larry doing while all of this was going on?

JB: We were both sitting their in tears, drinking a lot of tequila [laughs], and thinking to ourselves, "What are we going to do?" I usually look to Larry to make the decisions but this time we were both in the same boat. Meanwhile, the airline tickets were on hold at Air Cubana and the record company had not given us an advance, or for that matter, any reassurance that they are going to release the recording. Larry and I just kept staring at each other and saying, "Didn't we all sit around in a boardroom with these *&%$# and didn't they say this, or that?"

I knew we weren't crazy because we both witnessed it. No one had the decency to call us and suggest that we put the project on hold, so we had no idea of what was going on. So the artistic director at Banff, Barry Schiffman called and asked me what was happening and I told him. Lo and behold he offered me free room and board and said, "Just get yourself out here," That was the sign that we should go through with the project despite the fact that the situation was still gloomy, so we booked everything and got ourselves out to Banff.

We got out there and started rehearsing and it was great. It was wonderful for the Cubans because it allowed them to feel like they were artists in the truest sense of the word. They were in an environment where they sitting in the same room as concert pianists from Spain, classical guitarists from Colombia and they were meeting people that were on the world stage. It really made them feel special.

AAJ: How did vocalists Kelly Lee Evans and Telmary Diaz become involved with the project?

Jane BunnettJB: For the last five years I have been the artistic director for a show called "Global Divas," which is a fundraiser for St. Stevens Community House. It's like a United Appeal, it outreaches to about 45,000 people in the downtown metropolitan core here in Toronto. It services new refugees, day care, seniors and provides English classes for new immigrants. I have been involved with the project for five years and, working with artists from the World Music scene, that's what has kept me connected to working with some of the great vocalists out there.

Kelly Lee worked with "Global Divas," she is a fascinating lady; she has three kids and a ton of energy. Telmary Diaz lives in Toronto and I have been working with her for some time. There were other artists that I wanted to feature on the recording but I ran out of money and some of the managers were pains in the asses so I just said the heck with it.

AAJ: Did the record company ever come through?

JB: They came through with a little bit of money and 700 free CDs.

AAJ: So basically you and Larry financed the recording out-of-pocket.

JB: At the end of the day I didn't want to be in one of those situations where I end up saying to myself, "I wish I had done it." I am very proud of this recording. We are planning a tour for April 2009 and I hope to perform close to the U.S. border to pick up anyone from the States who might want to hear Desandann.

AAJ: The project is different from anything that you and Larry have done before. Give me a brief overview of the repertoire.

JB: "Sway" was inspired by the great tenor player, Billy Harper, and one of the records that he did Capra Black (Strata East, 1973). He's a fascinating artist in the Coltrane vein. He did this beautiful record with voices and I just loved it so much that I wrote a tune with Billy in mind. It has the vibe of a spiritual, hymn. I wrote "Kaleidoscope" a few years ago, when I was living in Paris. I don't know if you can hear it or not, but it's a reflection on some of the foreign films of the '60s.

"Wongolo" was written in the '80s. Essentially, it's a conversation between two Haitians. A Haitian in Haiti is writing to a Haitian in another country and asking, "When are you going to come back to your country? Your country needs you." It's kind of like a farewell song that says, "Come back, we need you." "Serafina" was written for a little girl. I wrote the tune over a year ago at our cabin in the woods. We have a gazebo by the lake and I just sat down and wrote "I Hear Voices." "Chenen Ren" is a protest song that talks about slavery and how it still exists even today. I am not exactly sure about the history of the tune "Pancho Quinto," I heard Pancho do it and we redid it, so I don't know if it's a traditional song or not. I asked Telmary Diaz to write about Pancho and she came up with the spoken word on that. I thought she did a beautiful job.

"Egberto" was written by Don Thompson and is dedicated to Egberto Gismonti, who is quite a character. "A Nu Danse" is a piece that was written as part of a workshop. We struggled with that piece in the studio because the feel wasn't quite right. Larry came up with the idea of setting up the piece by ad-libing, hand clapping, etc. "The Only One" was written for Sheila Jordan. I thought a lot about Sheila because she is a real (s)hero of mine in jazz. I thought a lot about her too because, as I mentioned, about a year-and-a-half ago I was thinking about quitting music and I had a conversation with her, she was always positive and she is a real jazz survivor. I had hoped that she would write the lyrics so I sent the music to her and called her a couple of times and she told me that she had not gotten around to writing anything. In the end she just said, "If you wrote the piece for me, why don't you write the lyrics?" [Laughs] Then I spoke to Kelly Lee Evans and she wrote those great lyrics.

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