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The Witchcraft of Rosanne Agasee

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My very first record was Frank Sinatra's "Witchcraft". I was around 7.
She came to our attention out of the blue. An unknown singer with a debut album named Home At Last, after the illustrious Steely Dan classic. Rosanne Agasee resides in Toronto, Canada and is a familiar face in many households. After completing an English degree at university, Rosanne pursued an on-air career as host of various shows for Rogers Broadcasting Ltd. Taking a break from it all, Rosanne co-ran a successful advertising company and studied Japanese and Psychology. But the camera lured her back to television where she appears in commercials and as a full-time on-air host for The Shopping Channel. Her true passion however, is singing Jazz. After performing in small venues, she decides to pursue her musical ambition and records a demo CD with Toronto jazz artists, The Botos Brothers (Robert Botos on piano, Atilla Darvas on bass and Frank Botos on drums), in order to help her land more gigs in the live jazz circuit. All of this is done in her spare time next to her dayjob as a television host. Then things begin to work on their own and soon Rosanne finds herself in the midst of a thrilling series of events that resulted in a luscious debut album with some of the finest Jazzmusicians in the country: Acclaimed producer and musician Doug Riley, guitarist Jake Langley (Guitarist of the Year 2004/2005 in the National Jazz Awards), drummer Ben Riley and Chris Mitchell on saxophones and flute.

All About Jazz: Can you tell us something about yourself, the role of music in your life? We know you're a television host by profession, but how important is music to you, did you grow up in a musical family, did you have dreams of becoming a singer/vocalist when a child or teen?

Rosanne Agasee: I was born in Toronto, Canada. My Mom was born in Paris, France, my Dad, in London, England. As children, they both spent several years in orphanages and loved to sing in the choir. They moved to Canada and met here in Toronto, fell in love, started a family... From very early on I remember music in my home constantly. My parents played Paul Robeson, Nat King Cole, Edith Piaf, Harry Belafonte, Janet Macdonald and Nelson Eddy, Vera Lynn and so many more. My Mother had and still has a gorgeous voice - she would sing if the record player wasn't on. My very first record was Frank Sinatra's "Witchcraft". It was on 45" and I played it on my blue and white record player a thousand times a day. I was around 7 at the time. A while before that (age 3) I got up on stage in front of a couple thousand people and sang for them at a bandshell in Florida. Yes, this is what I've always wanted to do. I was part of a duo in junior high school called "Bitursweet". My friend Rhonda and I performed on many stages and recorded some original material. It was a thrill I never forgot.

AAJ: Initially you didn't intend to record a full album, you only wanted to record a demo to present yourself in order to get yourself known in the live circuit, since you wanted to perform in clubs and such. How come you 'ended up' doing a full album, how did you meet the producer and musicians?

RA: That's right, this was initially meant as a little disc that would hopefully get me some gigs. The president of a major record company heard the demo while in Phase One (recording studio) checking in on one of his artists. He asked Barry Lubotta (owner of Phase One) about the disc, wanted to know what I was about. I got an email from Barry later with the subject "You're really going to like this...". He told me that they wanted to meet. From that point on I looked at things in a very different way. I hooked up with producer Doug Riley—as suggested by Frasier Hill (A&R) because of Doug's incredible musical mind—he liked my disc and suggested we put together an album. It's just been going great from there, compiling a list for a full length CD, gathering musicians and such. It was a very, very exciting time and I've been lucky enough to get to know some really wonderful people.

AAJ: The choice of songs... Some seem obvious because they're classics, but others are less obvious, such as the Steely Dan song... Are you a Steely Dan fan and is there a special bond to Home At Last for you? If so, are there any other SD songs you'd like to sing?

RA: I love Steely Dan. Steely Dan's music, to me, is flawless. Aja is my favourite album of all time—(I know I'm not the only one). Home At Last has always been able to take me away to the California Coast—I love the feeling of it, so I wanted to cover it. Many SD songs have a strong Jazz vibe and although it's a natural marriage of the two sounds, I don't think Jazz versions of the songs have been done to any great degree. That's another reason I'm so attracted to doing more. "Babylon Sisters", "Ricki Don't Lose That Number", "Gaucho"—so many would be great to sing.

AAJ: "He Thinks He's In Love" by Eleni Mandell... How did you pick this particular song? I really like it because it's catchy from the first second on and the music is just stunning!

RA: Thank you and yes, it's an incredible song. I have to be able to identify with the lyrics of a song, it really has to strike me. I have to be able to really feel it and relate to the words as if it were created for me. Then I can create it for the audience. "He Thinks He's In Love" has great lyrics that I could relate to and a fun melody, that's what it takes. I'd love to do covers of a couple of her other songs as well.

AAJ: Can you tell us something about your favorites, whether artists or genres?

RA: I loved the stuff I grew up with, as mentioned earlier. I listen to so much music, different styles of music also—I have so many favourites! So, in no particular order and hardly a complete list I'd have to say: Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Shelby Lynn, Eleni Mandell. Eva Cassidy, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Bill Evans, George Coleman, Kurt Elling, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Al Jarreau, Karrin Allyson, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Feist...

AAJ: That's indeed all kinds of music, which also reflects on your debut album, mixing jazz standards and pop songs. It's always interesting to learn about a singer's taste and influences. So you come from a musical family and liked the thrill of performing as a young girl. What made you go out there and sing, as in perform in clubs, years later... How did this start?

RA: It's a simple urge, really. Being in front of a TV camera is great but there is nothing quite like being in front of a live crowd and getting that real feedback. It's awesome and totally addictive. I just had to go for it.

AAJ: Can you tell us something about Toronto, the music or jazz scene?

RA: The music scene is pretty rich. I'm surrounded by immense talent here and throughout the country. Toronto has a very lively music scene. You can get out any night of the week and hear some great live music. College Street Bar on Sunday nights is fabulous. Living in Toronto and singing jazz makes me wish there were more Jazz clubs. We've just lost one of the classics—Top Of The Senator was shut down. Big shame.

AAJ: What songs do you sing live, besides the tracks you recorded for your debut album?

RA: I'm singing a lot of Thelonious Monk. His songs have lives of their own. Challenging but absolutely superb. Dave Brubeck's "Weep No More" and "Summer Song"—a bit obscure, but they're just gorgeous songs. Having a lot of fun with interesting arrangements of "Love For Sale", "Why Don't You Do Right", "A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square", "It Had To Be You", "Since I Fell For You". Most fun are the original pieces I'm working on with an amazing musician, David Grey. He's a member of "Parachute Club" and he's enormously talented.

AAJ: Can you tell us something about the response so far, do you actively promote the CD for radio or...?

RA: The response to the CD has been wonderful. It's getting some great airplay (three songs in particular—"He Thinks He's In Love", "Tomorrow We'll See" and "I Fall In Love Too Easily"). I'm a huge fan of Jazz FM 91.1 and CBC jazz stations—they're playing the CD. We're doing lots of promoting of the CD—I have a great management and promotion team. Also busy with live performing right now... the CD launch party is at Hugh's Room October 25th, Montreal Bistro coming up...lots going on!

AAJ: You worked with a great ensemble of musicians, any chance you'll perform with the same musicians, live?

RA: Definitely. Just spoke to Doug about that. It was a moment of tears for me when we finished recording this album—I really wanted it to go on and on. So yes, we'll be playing together again and again!

AAJ: Is it something that takes time, to decide to record an album and experience everything that comes with the territory? Did it come your way, like by chance, or has this always been in the back of your mind as something you knew you would be wanting to do, some time in your life?

RA: It's always been something I knew I wanted to do. Timing is everything though and this was the right time.

AAJ: Can you tell us something about the plans for the future, being a vocalist?

RA: I know I'll keep recording and playing live, touring. It's just part of me. In a couple of weeks we'll have the official CD release party, so it's all very exciting.


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