She has toured extensively throughout North America, Europe, Japan, and Mexico and has sold out legendary clubs from Tokyo to Detroit. And now four-time Juno award nominee Elizabeth Shepherd is about make her first appearance at the Vernon Jazz Club Saturday.
A vocalist and pianist, Shepherd and her band will perform songs from her 2015 Juno-nominated album, The Signal, as well as material from her four previous widely acclaimed albums.
She will be joined by Jon Day on trumpet, Michael Occhipinti on guitar, Scott Kemp on bass, and Colin Kingsmore on drums.
Shepherd’s sound is extremely unique.
“I incorporate components of all the types of music that have shaped me, that I loved and still do: hip hop, funk, electronica, world music, brass band music,” said Shepherd, who grew up in The Salvation Army.
“I think we as musicians are influenced by everything we hear. I came to jazz late – I was in my 20s – after starting out on classical piano, so I feel that I had a pretty deep understanding of many other types of music (classical, religious and hip hop) that really helped explain jazz to me and bring some of its complexities into focus in ways that I could make sense of.”
For her fifth album, Shepherd teamed up with guitar genius and Herbie Hancock band member Lionel Loueke.
The Signal has received rave reviews since its release. Radio Cologne in Germany called it “a soul-groove masterpiece and one of the big releases of 2014,” while Something Else in the U.S. touted it as “the most important vocal jazz record to be released all year.”
Shepherd arrived on the international music scene in 2006 when her debut album, Start to Move, was voted as one of the top jazz albums of the year by the Gilles Peterson Show on BBC Radio Worldwide.
Since then, the Montreal-based soul-jazz innovator has established herself as one of the most alluring and imaginative artists on the scene today.
Shepherd has shared the stage with Victor Wooten, Branford Marsalis and Christian McBride, and has opened for Jamie Callum at The Hollywood Bowl. She is also the only jazz vocalist to have ever been long listed for the Polaris Prize.
Through her music, Shepherd breathes new life into the term jazz.
“I write my own music, and would classify it as jazz. Jazz was traditionally a hip term, something subversive, cutting edge, cool. It has since lost some of that glow, and I’m trying to re-infuse some of those qualities back into the kind of jazz I make,” said Shepherd. “My biggest musical influences are Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Beethoven, The Roots, and Sarah Vaughn.”
Shepherd knew from an early age the power that music can hold. Thinking back to when she grew up in the Salvation Army, where both her parents were ministers, she says music played a very important role.
“We were at the church three-to-four times a week, making music every time. Music was a form of spiritual expression, as well as being a tool for social aid and social justice,” she said.
While Shepherd doesn’t attend the Salvation Army any more, she has retained much of her musical upbringing from her time there.
“I still feel music is a vehicle for spiritual exploration and expression, and can be a powerful tool for social change and justice.”
In an age when we are all culprits of paying too much attention to our gadgets, Shepherd says that performing is one of the things in life that makes her feel fully present.
“In this day of constant connectivity, I feel that my mind is perpetually being pulled in many directions and my default mode is one of heavy multi-tasking. Those activities that require that I sink into the moment and allow myself to be completely open, present and engaged are so rare; performing is one of them, and for that reason, it has become even more precious,” said Shepherd. “It is a chance for me to reconnect with myself, to connect with the other musicians on stage, and to connect with the audience. And those connections feel infinitely more real, intense and intimate than the hyper-connectivity that defines how we relate to our world.”
Shepherd’s band has just as impressive credentials.
Day is a freelance performer, band leader, composer, and arranger and has worked with The Denny Christianson Big Band, The Calgary Jazz Orchestra, The Montreal Gospel Choir, The Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble, and The CBC All-Star Jazz Ensemble.
An accomplished composer, he has authored songs for several artists, including the song La Cubana recorded by Allistair Elliott, and is also a current faculty member of the music departments at Mount Royal University and Rocky Mountain College.
Occhipinti is a guitarist and composer, who is an eight-time Juno award nominee.
His Sicilian Jazz Project, which took field recordings of forgotten Sicilian folk music and reinvented the music as a mix of global genres, earned him a Juno nomination, the Ragusani nel Mondo Award for his contribution to Sicilian culture, and a Chalmers award.
Along with pianist Paul Neufeld, Occhipinti formed the 16-piece band NOJO, a group The Los Angeles Times described as “one of the most original sounding large ensembles on the current jazz scene.”
His Juno nominated recording Creation Dream featured the songs of Bruce Cockburn, who invited Occhipinti to play at Toronto’s Massey Hall as part of his Luminato Festival tribute.
Kemp has been actively involved in music for more than 20 years as a freelance musician. He has played music halls and festivals throughout Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia.
He has taught both ensembles and individuals and composes for his own groups.
Kingsmore has grown up with a variety of musical influences. In his late teens, he performed with his band Jinxed on the Farm Club TV show in LA. They played alongside rock acts Fuel, 3 Doors Down, Tommy Lee, and Green Day.
Since finishing his degree in drums at the University of Toronto, Kingsmore has played with Hilario Duran, Randy Brecker, David Braid, and Nelly Furtado to name a few.
Elizabeth Shepherd and her band take the stage at the Vernon Jazz Club (3000-31st St.) Saturday at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the Bean Scene, Bean to Cup, and at www.vernonjazz.ca.