Take Five with Lynn Veronneau
As a child in suburban Montreal (Sherbrooke), Veronneau was influenced by the world of Francophone music as well as the Beatles, and the big band jazz beloved by her father, a lifelong employee of the O'Keefe brewing company, and her mother, a social worker. The politically charged, musically accomplished work of proud Quebecois artists such as Les Seguin, Harmonium, and Beau Dommage left a strong artistic and intellectual impression on the young girl.
Veronneau completed an arts degree in 1986 at the University du Quebec at Montreal, then moved to France. By day she commuted to Switzerland to work for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and in her free time she deepened her commitment to music with classical voice studies and her first professional job, singing the role of Zerlina in a Swiss-French production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. After donning a bouffant hairdo and a puffy dress to sing lead in a doo-wop group. She fronted a progressive rock and a blues band; and performed extensively in an acoustic folk duo performing in many venues throughout Europe and North America.
Lynn turned toward jazz and began performing in a duo with British guitarist/vocalist Ken Avis, now her husband and one of the two guitarists of the band Veronneau.
Teachers and/or influences? My early influences remain empowering, as good music lives on. In the 60s I was deeply affected by the Beatles and French crooners Joe Dassin, Serge Lama, Charles Aznavour and Gilbert Becaud. Chansioniers like Jacques Brel and Charles Trenet and French divas like Dalida also had my ear, along with the big band jazz albums my dad popped onto the turntable. I loved it all.
In the 70's, Quebec experienced a cultural Renaissance. Musicians took the stage with socially and politically charged messages. A new generation brought in fresh and sophisticated sounds deeply rooted in tradition. Quebec was never so proud to be and separatist aspirations were growing. Musicians like Les Seguin, Harmonium, Serge Fiori and Beau Dommage were at the forefront. They had beautiful sophisticated voices and were accomplished instrumentalists and songwriters. It was such a contrast to the disco music that filled the airwaves at the time.
I secretly loved Donna Summer and became aware of Aretha Franklin and Motown at the same time. The voices and rhythm fascinated me. I also loved the progressive sound of Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes and Supertramp. The '70s gave me a sense that there were no musical boundaries. This notion defines what I do to this day.
In the 80s, I listened to everything around me, embracing the fun and playfulness. I loved the punk sound of The Clash, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Philip Glass, the Eurhythmics and Laurie Anderson. Celine Dion was a dominant figure in Quebec. I was intrigued by her powerful voice. Still, I was a true 80s girl with Mohawk and ripped clothesQuebec style.
After graduation from the University du Quebec at Montreal, I moved to France where I lived for eight years. I had a wonderful voice teacher. Claudia Barreau had a profound impact on me. She was an eccentric old lady who loved singers more than anything. Despite being twice retired from her teaching job at Switzerland's Geneva Conservatory and the Conservatoire de FerneyVoltaire, in France (which she had founded). I studied Bel Canto with her for five years. With her I found a powerful melodic voice I had only suspected was there.
After that I just couldn't get enough of the big moving voices. I listened to Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Annie Lennox, Bobby McFerrin, Bjork, Etta James, Eva Cassidy. All these singers shaped my sound and how the songs should be deliveredand showed me that genre doesn't matter as much as the songs do. For me it's all about the song.
I spent some years wrapped up in familial obligations and music took a back seat. We were putting two children through college and caring for our youngest as well. Then, a few years ago I met Alison Crockett, a beautiful jazz singer/pianist and educator, while attending the jazz camp at the Maryland Summer Jazz Festival. The workshops and Ms Crockett's private tutoring gave me the tools and confidence I needed to further my understanding of jazz and were a springboard into my current project and our new album, Joie de Vivre.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I'e been singing for as far as I can recall. And as a little kid at family gatherings, I would get plunked on the kitchen table and be ordered to sing pop tunes heard on the radio or a traditional song. I could sing with perfect pronunciation although I didn't speak a word of English until my teens. It was fun for me to entertain everyone. I just loved it and knew then I was a singer. My dad was constantly whistling and once my big brother taught me how to do it I couldn't stop. I whistle on our new album!
My mother liked the traditional Quebecois songs that are part of our heritage and I sang them at parties. (The double meaning of songs like "Les Filles de Sorel" escaped me then!) There were lots of traditional songs about finding love in springI still sing some of those to my mom occasionally. This bilingual musical environment was normal for me. With five kids in the house, it was hard to get a turn at anything, so I would sometime pretend to be sick to stay at home and play the records I wanted to hear.
My first actual job as a vocalist was singing Zerlina in a Swiss-French production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. After my classical period, I ventured over to the wild side. I sang lead in a doo-wop group, fronted a prog- rock band and a blues band and I performed extensively in an acoustic duo doing contemporary folk. I slowly turned toward jazz as I matured. I've performed in many countries in Europe, and quite a few cities at home in Canada and the U.S where I am right now.
Your sound and approach to music: My approach to music is totally song-based. I look for the power in the songs and the opportunity for the voice to delivery it. The current band formed in 2010 and we've been gigging like crazy ever since. In early 2011 we received nominations for three Wammie awards from the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA). That tells me that fans are perfectly willing to follow us across world jazz and related genres when the songs are strong. I couldn't be happier with the response.
Your dream band: My dream band would have Bobby McFerrin, Bjork, Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox and Eva Cassidy. We would all sing "Nature Boy" a capella.
Road story: Your best or worst experience: In the mid 90s I was performing in a theater in Geneva, Switzerland and the stage lights and scaffolding came crashing down on us in the middle of a song. We jumped out of the way just in time and no one was injured. After the floor was cleared of sparking cables, we resumed the showwith the house lights on.
Favorite venue: The delightful Bistrot Lepic in Georgetown in Washington, DC welcomes us every month. The staff, the room, the people are warm, and we play to a full house every time. We always have a great evening. I also love the Homegrown Series at the National Colonial Farm in Accokeek, Maryland. While we're performing, you can hear a pin drop. The audience is very appreciative!
Your favorite recording in your discography and why? "Something Cool' from my debut CD. I think we created such a strong song there. "Wonderful World" because I turned it into a delicate lullaby and that has come in very handy at times. "For No One" is very special. I think we made it very poignant on our new CD.
The first Jazz album I bought was: Something Cool by June ChristyI fell in love with the title song.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? It would be a sense of immense joy. It's in the pleasure of making music for all its beauty and the pleasure of discovery and invention. It's an intense creative process that engages all your senses. Secondly, it's the ability to find a timeless song and make it my own.
Did you know... I used to work at CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research) this is where the world's largest particle accelerator is located and where Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. I joined this fun group, Les Horribles Cernettes, an all female Doo-Wop band, singing songs about physics and romanceoften incompatible. We wore bouffant hairdos and puffy dresses, and parodied the physicists we loved. You can still see our hit song "Collider" on YouTube. It was super nerdy and fun, but the most amazing thing about it is, that after one of our concerts in 1992, Tim asked if he could have some of our pictures. He wanted to scan them and publish them on some sort of information system he had just invented. We had no idea we were passing an historical milestone. A photo of the band became the first picture ever to be clicked on from a web browser! Les Horribles Cernettes was also the first band in the world to have a website. How cool is that?
CDs you are listening to now: Mineevery day of course! I love African music and I got Henry Dikonge playing several times a day. The lush vocals and beautiful mix of genres and languages just captures me. Pink Martini is never too far from the CD player either. They are a source of inspiration. I also love anything Richard Bona does as well.
Desert Island picks: Bobby McFerrinhis music is beautiful and smart. It fills the senses.
How would you describe the state of jazz today? I think jazz today is playful and intricate. I think it's more fun than ever to be involved in jazz. Non-traditional players are welcomed into the playing field and contribute a great deal to a renewal of energy. I think there's lost of space and appetite for vocalist too and so much to explore, discover, and transform.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Keep it alive and growing, informal, and present. Outreach programs, festivals, and teaching are a must. For us musicians to be educated, stay relevant, involved, and in touch with other genres.
What is in the near future? Our gorgeous album Joie de Vivre has just been released in May 2011. We're promoting the CD with a series of concerts in the US, UK and Canada. I'e also just recorded a children's album in French to be released by the end of the year.
By Day: I'm a musician and a mother.
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: I would be doing children's music.