When I started singing jazz in ’97, I was invited to take a house gig at a place in Vancouver called the Mojo Room. Local jazz icon Brad Turner was doing Wednesdays there, which gave the room instant credibility, and – for me – access to an audience that I assumed, were not former Lee Aaron fans.
It was a great thing for a while; every Tuesday night, navigating my way around these cool jazz tunes, acquiring some chops and making new fans. It was casual and fun, and soon, a regular crowd started coming out every week to see us.
One night, I went into the Ladies Room after the show to pee, and there, graffitied in huge letters across the side of the stall was: ‘Lee Aaron’s Jazz Rocks.’ I was speechless. I mean, should I be flattered, or horrified that a fan of mine would do such a thing? I sat there for the longest time just staring at this glaring oxymoron. I guess it was actually a pretty nice compliment, even if was penned by a drunk girl with a Sharpie.
The gig was always fun until one night, in an undercover set-up, the doorman got busted for selling drugs. For payback to the proprietor of the establishment, he and his thug friends decided to take out the huge picture window behind the stage with a grenade the following week. Crappy luck, it just happened to be a Tuesday night.
First, there was a loud bang. The next instant, hundreds of shards of glass came spewing from behind the band, glimmering in the stage lights like some cool video effect, and flying – in what seemed like slow-motion – across the front of the piano and the stage.
The band stopped playing. A few people dove over the bar for cover, while others sat there in shock. Like a giant turkey with it’s head cut off, I continued to sing. Then, in an amazing Good Samaritan move, some loaded guy from the front row leapt onto the stage – kinda like Mickey Rourke in Barfly aiming for an Indiana Jones-style rescue – throwing my pianist (also a woman) and I, with tremendous force, out the side stage door. This all happened in about five seconds. I scraped up both knees, and my pianist, who had a little anxiety issue to begin with, had a full-on panic attack.
For the first time, with just cause.
Welcome to the world of jazz.
The cops arrived to greet a bunch of instantaneously sober folks, and the place subsequently shut down for a year. Life is often stranger than fiction, but hey, that’s a whole other blog…
So… lately, I’ve been inundated with emails asking what kind of show I’ll be playing this time out. Jazz or Rock?
I toyed with the idea of walking out on stage in full early ’80s regalia; black-fringed leather rocker, flaming red spandex, studded belts and bracelets, and killer, cockroach stomping, Brit boots. To complete the picture, a coif teased to the rafters; crafted into an immovable sculpture of Ice Mist and human hair designed to withstand sweat, heat from 1000 watt pars, and overly demonstrative head banging. One must exaggerate every move to be seen by the back row, we were once told.
Then I’d surprise everyone with an entire night of Sarah Vaughn.
Okay; some of my ideas aren’t so great.
Over the years I’ve learned that no matter what genre of music I play, I invariably come under some sort of assault from fans and/or media.
When I was seven months pregnant with our daughter – and had established some credibility in the jazz scene – a Toronto writer with Now Magazine viciously attacked me after my show there, saying that she liked it better when I was a ‘rock slut.’ Yes, dear readers, she was a woman. Talking about a pregnant woman. A grown up, married, pregnant woman, singing jazz and carrying around an extra 40lbs. Maybe I’m just over sensitive, but…ouch.
In the meantime, I received hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails from old and new fans who loved the new direction. But, there was also the scathing few; the disgruntled rock fans – angry fans – demanding I play my rock hits again.
Some people tend to get fixated on one image or era of your career – one that’s more about their own personal nostalgia – and hold fast to that. Like, forever.
For instance, one time a few fans actually wrote into my website complaining that I was more blonde. I can’t imagine any other job where you’re not permitted to change your clothes or hair. Okay; maybe if you worked at Disneyland and had to dress up like Peter Pan everyday. But unless you dig wearing green tights and flying around in a jock harness, I’m guessing they have a fairly high turnover rate with those kinds of positions.
But not, apparently, in rock ‘n’ roll. No way, man. Curse Ozzy if he ever lost the leather pants and skull rings or revealed he was a big k.d. lang fan. That would be, well, so gay. I wonder if he secretly gripes every night about having to wear those god-awful leather pants? They’re sweaty and uncomfortable. Give the guy a break.
A couple of summers ago – pregnant again, this time with our second child – I played a festival in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I was promoting Beautiful Things, my 11th disc, so it was a jazz style show, and the promoter of the big summer rock festival happened to be in the audience. He loved the performance, and wanted to book us for the next summer’s rock festival there, sharing the stage with Heart. He felt that if I added a few of my rock hits into my current show, it would work for the festival.
The more I mulled over the idea, the more it began to look like an opportunity. An opportunity to expose a broader audience to what I was doing now without completely renouncing the old Lee Aaron they love. Plus, I was a huge Heart fan in high school and was pretty excited about getting the chance to meet the Wilson sisters. Who wouldn’t be?
So, I accepted the festival offer, along with a few others, and set about putting together a whole new show. And people really dug it. That’s it, nothing more, nothing less.
Nevertheless, the power of the media is still crushing.
A friend just forwarded me a news item (from today), stating that ‘The Metal Queen will Rock Again!’ And yet, there are no quotes to be found in the actual article from me promising a full on ‘metal’ extravaganza or anything close to that. I’m afraid those fans will be sorely disappointed. No fire and brimstone. No fog machine or flash pots. One angry letter writer complained that my jazz cred was out the window. Funny thing is, my entire band are all very credible jazz players (my pianist’s latest recordings are up for a Juno and three National Jazz Awards), who just happen to love rock ‘n’ roll too, and are having a blast rehearsing the show right now.
I’m sick and tired of defending my credibility to either camp. Get over yourselves, folks. I certainly have. Life’s too short and it’s not that precious. Music is supposed to be fun. And it’s not my job to keep you all happy. Get in line behind my two and three year old. Take a pill or something. Move out of your mother’s house. Trust me; it messes with your perspective.
The current show is an overview of my illustrious career thus far. I can promise – unless you’re the Jazz Police, who never liked me anyway – that the show is entertaining and very musical. With a twist or two one might not expect. I like to think that people enjoy being pleasantly surprised.
Last week, on Valentine’s Night I was performing at the Bearfoot Bistro, an exclusive spot in Whistler, B.C. that I play occasionally. It’s one of the most expensive dining establishments in the world; bottles of wine range between $200 and $20,000. Little dishes of sorbet are served between courses, and stinky, expensive and rare cheese samplings are available for about $10 per ounce. Quite an experience to be there and see the type of clientele it caters to. Accordingly, they have an amazing entertainment budget and hire me to sing from my jazz book for special events. Wrapping up the romance with Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Someone to Watch Over Me,’ this well-dressed, evidently wealthy gentleman – dining with what I assumed to be his wife, I might add – walks up to the piano, discreetly puts a little piece of paper on the lid and whispers; “This is for you, Lee.” I open it.
He’s drawn a little love heart and inside written ‘Metal Queen…’
Yes, you’re only young once. But you can be immature forever.