“My greatest inspiration as a child came from my father's old record collection stored in a box in the fruit cellar. I listened to the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and popular singers like Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield. All of the greats".
While attending the University of Toronto, Irene Atman began her career as a jazz singer as the lead vocalist with the Stan Hiltz Orchestra. "One of the greatest things about singing with this big band was that some of the best musicians in the world would sub in - greats like Moe Koffman on flute and sax." "I learned a lot from just listening to these guys."
Soon after, as word traveled quickly through the jazz community, Irene was invited to perform with other jazz luminaries like the Boss Brass, Guido Basso and Oscar Peterson alumni, Dave Young and Terry Clarke. Early career highlights included an appearance on the same bill as Tony Bennett and Luciano Pavarotti.
To escape the cold Canadian winters, Atman ventured south to Miami to sing jazz onboard cruise ships sailing the Caribbean. ”Some very cool musicians from the Berkley School of Music were there. It was a great experience to discover world music from the islands” recalls Atman. Continuing to grow and define her personal style, she moved to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, to take up a two year stint singing on the historic Delta Queen Riverboat.
Longing to come home after being away for a few years, Irene returned to Toronto. She soon after discovered that the live jazz scene changed, many of the clubs had closed. Her music career was suddenly put on hold and she had to make choices to survive. Irene took a job in advertising, which sidelined her music career for the next few years. Then, one night at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in LA, Atman’s co-workers persuaded her to sing an impromptu performance at the piano bar. Her colleagues were astounded, ‘If I could sing like you, I’d quit my day job and sing jazz for a living too”. That moment was a turning point. Determined to not give up, she vowed to pursue her life-long dream with rekindled passion.
In 2007, Atman connected with her friend and pianist Danny McErlain and produced her self-titled independent debut CD. The ‘live-off-the-floor’ studio session consisted of her interpretation of eleven time-honored classics from the Great American Songbook. Even without the promotional support of a record label, she still managed to use her advertising savvy to generate some buzz, especially amongst the jazz media who lavished her with praise.