Take Five With Diane Nalini

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Meet Diane Nalini: Singer/songwriter Diane Nalini started singing jazz at the age of three. She was born in Montreal, Canada, and is of Belgian and Goan descent. "She captures jazz at its most sophisticated and joyous level, writes Elle Magazine Canada. The Montreal Gazette writes: "Diane Nalini has the voice, the phrasing, confidence, clarity and control to make a tune her own and turn it into a nuanced thing of beauty. Her multi-lingual repertoire encompasses standards, French chanson and Brazilian popular songs, as well as original works.

Her latest project puts a unique and funky spin on the words of William Shakespeare. Diane's new CD Songs of Sweet Fire is a collection of fifteen songs from the Bard's plays set to her own original jazz, funk, gospel, and blues music. Through this project, many of the Bard's timeless themes are explored: love, youth, betrayal, and man's ultimate frailty. Diane has performed for President Bill Clinton (from whom she received a personal letter of thanks) and Sir Paul McCartney, among many other dignitaries.

Diane was nominated for the Grand Prix de Jazz General Motors at the 2002 Montreal International Jazz Festival, and was one of two finalists for the UK's Young Jazz Vocalist of the Year awards for 2001.

Diane can be heard regularly on CBC Radio and Espace Musique, and has also been featured on BBC Radio 3, and Danish and Brazilian radio stations.

Instrument(s): voice.

Teachers and/or influences? Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, Nat Cole, Duke Ellington, Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Gilberto Gil, Djavan, Caetano Veloso, Tom Jobim, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Etta James, James Taylor, Carole King, Leonard Cohen, Stevie Nicks, Sting, Patsy Cline, Alison Krauss, Juliette Greco, Charles Trenet, Georges Brassens, Edith Piaf, Bach, Prokofiev, Mahler... And about a thousand more. This is hard to narrow down!

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... My Mum and Dad caught me singing along to Ella Fitzgerald's "Lorelei when I was three...

Apparently, they were pretty shocked when I sang out, "I'm leacherous, yeah yeah! I wanna bite my initials on a sailor's neck. I think I was about three then, and had no idea what the words meant. I'm surprised (and grateful) that they let me continue listening to jazz after that! This is why I put "Lorelei as the last track to my second album, Tales... My Mama told me, which is an album of songs that I either listened to while growing up, or songs about growing up.

Anecdote from the road: The most memorable hiccup at a live performance for me was an in-store concert I did some years ago at a Borders in Oxford, UK. I was halfway through my first song when I spied a woman waving her arms about wildly in the audience, standing up, then sitting down, and generally alarming everyone around her. I had a hard time not laughing out loud and managed to keep it together till the end of the song. I thought she might stop eventually, but this continued for a few more songs. I was nearly buckling over with laughter at her odd behavior, and I finally had to ask if she wouldn't mind sitting down because she was distracting myself and the band. She then went on a tirade. "No! I won't stop! I'm an exhibitionist... I wanted to be a dancer, but Equity wouldn't let me in!

I negotiated a compromise with her, whereby she agreed to stand at the back so the people seated could still see something. Everyone broke into applause as the tension was diffused, but I was sort of distracted for the rest of the set. I could still see her flailing about wildly in the background. Well, good for her. At least she got to dance in public, Equity or no Equity!

Favorite venue: Favorite jazz fests to play: Montreal Jazz Fest for the awesome crowds, and their support of my music over so many years; the Malta Intl. Jazz Fest, because they treat the musicians so well, and the outdoor venue (between the old city walls of Valetta and the Mediterranean) is stunning.

Favorite clubs to play: the 606 Club in London, England and Upstairs Jazz Club in Montreal, Canada. Both run by jazz loving-owners, who run a silence policy, and serve great food.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? I'm proud of all my albums, and I feel each creates a different mood. But my latest one, Songs of Sweet Fire, feels very much like my "baby because I wrote all the music and arrangements for it, and this project was five years in the making. My "lyricist was William Shakespeare, so I felt I had to approach the subject with the utmost respect and reverence!

Also, when I write both words and music for an original song, usually the melody comes first for me. However, working with the Bard's words meant that the flow and phrasing of his words had to dictate melody. This was a really fun challenge because it imposes a different kind of constraint on your composing. I enjoyed the process very much, although this was not my first time setting poetry to music. I had done Tennyson's "Cradle Song on the previous album, Tales... My Mama told me and have also set a couple of Garcia Lorca poems (not recorded) to music.

Because I painted all the illustrations for each page of song lyrics, I felt very connected to the entire presentation side of the project too. And all the musicians on this album are long-time collaborators and dear friends of mine, many of whom I've known and made music with for fifteen or sixteen years, so it had a great "family feel to it too.

Did you know... I don't have a driver's license! I grew up in Montreal, a city with great public transport, and then lived in Oxford, England, for seven years, a small city which is very easy to get around in by bicycle. I'm quite proud of not owning a car, as it really reduces my carbon footprint. But I do want to get a license, just for emergencies... Some day, when I have a moment to spare...

CDs you are listening to now: Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley (Capitol); Joel Miller, Mandala (Effendi Records); Michael Jackson, Thriller (Epic)—just bought this on CD (25 years after buying the LP, still rocks!); Amy Winehouse - Back to Black (Island Records); Aaron Copland & His Contemporaries, The Choir of New College - Edward Higginbottom conducting (Avie).

Desert Island picks: Duke Ellington Orchestra, Far East Suite (Bluebird); Billie Holiday, Live at Carnegie Hall (Verve); J.S. Bach, St. John's Passion - Choir of New College (Naxos); Alison Krauss + Union Station, Live (Rounder Records); Gilberto Gil, Acoustic, (Atlantic Jazz).

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