Today, two-time Juno winner Diana Panton celebrates the release of her new album, “solstice/equinox,” a celebration of the four seasons in song. Together with several longtime collaborators, including Don Thompson and Reg Schwager, Diana has crafted an absolutely gorgeous collection of songs here – one that I must confess I’ve had on repeat on my player for weeks now.
Beginning with the cheerful “They Say It’s Spring” (made famous by, among others, Blossom Dearie), Diana begins her journey with spring. While one might expect the spring songs to be uptempo, for the second song she’s made an intriguing choice: “The Heather on the Hill,” a meditative ballad from the musical “Brigadoon.”
Summer for Diana begins with “That Sunday, That Summer” (which may be familiar to some as Nat King Cole’s last hit). Having grown up listening to George Shearing (a particular favorite of my mother), the vibraphone that starts this song out made me immediately at home with its very Shearing-like style. (This is no surprise as Thompson and Schwager – as noted below – played with Shearing.) She follows it up with “Estate,” a Brazilian-style tune with shades of the brilliant partnership of Getz and Gilberto (think “The Girl From Ipanema”).
“La fin des vacances,” the first of two songs in French, starts off the autumn section of the album with its melancholy, wistful musings on love left behind (along with summer, warmth, and the carefree feeling of a holiday). The vibraphone returns on “September in the Rain,” another homage to Shearing. (My mother would have adored this album nearly as much as me, I suspect.)
Winter finishes the album off with a trio of beautiful songs: the moody “Cloudy Weather,” a dancing rendition of “I Like Snow,” and “By the Fireside,” a lovely song that reflects the joy of love even in winter.
As I hinted above, I have so enjoyed this album – Diana Panton’s voice is a fabulous instrument, by turns joyful, somber, and passionate, but always so expressive of the lyrics and mood of the song. Her choices of songs for each season truly evoke their unique qualities (both the songs and the seasons), resulting in a brilliant and delightful listening experience. Even if you aren’t that familiar with jazz, this is a terrific place to start (and then you’ll want to hear Diana’s other albums, which are also fantastic). Highly recommended for music fans of all kinds.
I’m thrilled that Diana was able to spare some time to answer some questions about the new album.
Your album focuses on the theme of seasons – seasons of weather, seasons of relationships. How did you land on this particular theme for this project?
The theme for this album originated from a live performance we were asked to do in an innovative space with audio/visual capacities. For example, audience members came into the theatre with the sound of birds and saw various images of spring on the screen as I sang the opening “They Say it’s Spring.” That concert focused primarily on our existing repertoire, however, we did learn some new songs to round things out. Since we invested the time and energy into the creation of these new arrangements, I decided to add a few more songs and make an album out of the new material.
As I was listening to “Heather on the Hill,” a couple of things occurred to me: first, while the lyrics place the song in the spring, the tone is not the typical, cheerful spring song; and second, “Brigadoon” (from which this song comes) almost seems like a forgotten musical. How did you choose this particular song for the album?
This song is a favourite of the pianist in my group, Don Thompson. He suggested this song to me years ago, but it never quite fit into any of the previous themes. Also, this album is dedicated to my Scottish grandmother, so the song seemed a fitting tribute to her. Though there are a lot of upbeat songs about spring, there exists a surprisingly long list of sad spring songs as well (for example, “Spring is Here,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”).
Two of your collaborators on this album (and others you’ve made), Don Thompson and Reg Schweger, worked with George Shearing – an influence that shines through in songs like “September in the Rain.” How does this sort of ‘six degrees of separation’ – playing with musicians who themselves have played with legends – influence your own musicianship?
Don and Reg are both very gifted players and two of the top names in Canadian jazz. It is an honour for me to work with them and I am grateful for the opportunity to call them my trio. The fact that they have worked together previously with Shearing is a further testament to the quality of their musicianship, but also informs how they play, for instance, their harmonic approach and rhythmic intricacies. This in turn inspires me in my interpretation since jazz is a musical conversation.
I’ve long admired musicians who can take well-known standards of the repertoire and make them their own – such as you’ve done on this album. For those aspiring singers out there who find the whole prospect rather daunting, what are some tips you could share?
Firstly, only pick songs you love. Something in the song should resonate with you personally. If you focus on telling the story from your own point of view then you cannot fail to make the song unique as we are each as individual as our fingerprints.
Which is your favorite season?
Autumn, because I love the colour and the smell of the falling leaves.
How do you balance what seem like very distinct halves of your life – one part teacher, one part jazz singer?
It’s a challenge that requires consistent effort, however, as a general rule, I try to schedule my musical endeavours outside the school year (holidays, Christmas Break, summer vacation).
Are you planning any tour or appearances after the album comes out?
I just completed a tour of Asia in support of the new album’s recent release in that territory. The album will be released in early November in North America, and I have some concerts scheduled for spring to help get the word out.
March 3rd – National Arts Centre – Ottawa, ON
May 5th – LIVELab – Hamilton, ON
May 25th – Wolf Performance Hall – London, ON
June 8th and 9th – Jazz Bistro – Toronto, ON
Photo credit: Jo Dickins