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Susie Arioli: Brushing with Strings


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Susie Arioli / Jordan OfficerThis summer, AAJ contributor Mary Ann Lacey interviewed Susie Arioli before and after her closing concert for the 2007 Montreal International Jazz Festival. Arioli and her partner, Jordan Officer, make up the core of the Susie Arioli Band, whose gentle jazz and swing ballads have enraptured audiences across the country and abroad since their start in 1997. Arioli sings in a soft but clear voice while playing brushes on the snare drum. Her repertoire includes jazz tunes like "Pennies from Heaven and "By Myself, and more country/popular songs like "Husbands & Wives and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix. All these songs are available on her CD/DVD release, Susie Arioli Band featuring Jordan Officer Live at the Montreal International Jazz Festival (Justin Time, 2007).

Officer is Arioli's partner in life as well as in music. He plays lead guitar and writes most of the band's arrangements. In this special musical evening Arioli and Officer were joined by the sixteen-piece I Musici String Orchestra, as well as Michael Jerome Browne on guitar, Bill Gossage on bass and Remi Leclerc on drums, with string arrangements written by Christopher Smith.

All About Jazz::Tell me a bit about your background.

Susie Arioli: My family was based in Ontario [Toronto] and we moved to Montreal when I was three. My mother comes from Hamilton and my father from Rochester, New York, and they met in Toronto. I don't have dual citizenship because I didn't get that organized when I should have. I regret that, and not getting a drivers licence. I just never thought I'd have a car. I'm a Montrealer, what do I need a car for? I wasn't thinking in the future and it is also a very handy piece of identification, all I have is a health card and a passport.

AAJ: Were your parents musicians?

SA: No, but my parents were music aficionados. Definitely they both liked to sing and were not shy to sing and express themselves, Laaaaa!

AAJ: What kind of music did you have as a kid?

SusieSA: We had lots of Beatles, and I was just thinking it would be great to just get those songs and put them all on my The White Album (Capitol, 1968), Revolver (Capitol, 1966), Sgt. Pepper (Capitol, 1967); also Frank Zappa, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Elton John's Yellow Brick Road (Rocket/Island, 1973). I remember when my sister got that album. I liked that album; it was really good to sing to. I remember salivating at the top of the stairs when my sister was having one of her teen parties because the music sounded so good—what a soundtrack [Elton John's music].

AAJ: Why did your family choose Montreal?

SA: We moved here because my dad got a job at the National Film Board; he's a film maker, visual artist and actor...he was a definite performer, so it must be in the genes, my stage presence comes naturally. My mother was an intellectual, great taste, liked to sing lots with good pitch, both my parents had good pitch. My mother spoke some French but my Dad none.

AAJ: Did you go to French school?

SA: When we moved east to St. Urban and Rachael it was really east end and people speak French here, before we lived on the west side. I asked my mom to find me a French school and she found me a secondaire one and two, and there were five hundred girls in the school. I had to be put back a year because they thought I wouldn't be able to handle going into grade eight in French. I disagreed; I had a feeling that I would be fine because there is not such a big difference between seven and eight, and they kinda screwed me that way because I was already older than everyone because I was born in December. It kind of annoyed me because I was seventeen when I graduated. I'm forty-three now.

AAJ: You are able to tell jokes to your audience in French and English at your concerts. How did you get so comfortable with French?

SA: I guess I knew a little French, but you really learn quickly when you have to. I think that you can't do it half way. You should go and do something you really love to do in your second language and then you'll get really good fast. I was always called "La petite tete carée, but it was a great experience being with those French girls [at school]. It was in 1976, when things were quite heated here between the English and the French in Quebec. But they [French classmates] didn't treat me badly, we loved each other. They like it when people want to learn. My first expression was, "J'suis anglephone parlez lentemant svp, and that worked for me because then they would speak slowly.

SusieAAJ: Was there a strong music program at your school?

SA: When I was a kid at St. Georges we had recorder class, then at Face [High School] I played flute traversal, because we had one at home. Never sang in the choir either. At the French school, we had another recorder class and my teacher was an angel. Eline Nadeau, the art teacher, was really great too.

AAJ: Did you study music at university?

SA: No. I went to Dawson College where I fancied myself a fine artist, but that was too hard. Then I fancied myself a potential translator, but at the time the only program was in French. I wanted to translate into my mother tongue, so that was a big waste of time. I had to be able to translate first English to French and that was too hard. That's my rant against Concordia. I would have been a great translator...I did translate stuff for friends. I was always dabbling in music but I never thought I would be a professional.


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