Swingin' the axe
Metal queen Lee Aaron goes from jezebel to jazzy belle with her new album
By John Kendle
April 13, 2001
Lee Aaron has been singing jazz and blues since 1997 in and around Vancouver. But this is her first national tour since she switched genres from commercial pop/rock to torchy, swingin' tunes. So we hope you'll forgive us if the first thing we want to know is -- whatever happened to Canada's metal queen?
"Well," she begins what must be a familiar tale for her. "By the mid-1990s I was in a big slump, both personally and professionally. I had done everything there was to do in rock and when the motivation to make a new record is paying back the debt from your last record then there's something definitely wrong.
"So I was looking for new challenges, wanted to do something else," says Aaron, 38, who made nine rock albums from mid-'80s to mid-'90s. To that end, Aaron began selecting jazz material and torchy standards to perform, rehearsing with several musicians -- including her new husband, drummer Don Short (ex-Sons of Freedom and also part of Aaron's backing band on her Emotional Rain album). She made her jazz-singing debut at The Purple Onion, a small club in Vancouver and such was the curiosity that the Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Province and the Georgia Straight weekly all reviewed the gig. "That was a real surprise. That people were so curious. What was also a surprise was that people seemed taken aback by the shift. They were like 'Oh, she can really do this.' "Not a lot of people are aware of the fact that I grew up in musical theatre and so was quite familiar with some of the tunes and with the phrasing of the classic lyricists. I was singing in musical theatre productions semi-professionally for years through school, before I got into rock." Buoyed by the acceptance garnered her first jazz forays, Aaron has progressed to the point that she's released an album of jazz and blues-oriented material, titled Slick Chick. "It's not an obvious jazz record, in that I'm not doing universally recognized standards," Aaron says. "Nobody needs to hear me do I've Got You Under My Skin, for example, and a lot of material that was written for female singers seem to be songs of longing and lament. "I was looking for something a lot more mischievous, more fun." Slick Chick is not a classic torch album, to be sure. But it doesn't sound like a foundering rock singer taking a stab at something new, either. Aaron's sound here is full, exciting and, as she says, downright playful. "I like that about performing in a jazz situation as well," Aaron says. "Rock fans really want to hear your recorded material pretty much as it sounds on the record. Whereas with jazz you can improvise on the harmonies, let someone take a solo -- basically just goof with the form. It's not all about the hit song, it's all about the character of the performer -- what makes an artist unique. I enjoy it." Aaron also enjoys her new musical partnership with keyboardist Jane Milliken. "I met her when I first started singing jazz. We were introduced by a club owner, she invited me over to her place and we instantly connected. We have different perspectives on music but I think we create a unique jazz/pop feel." Milliken has also joined Aaron on a couple of rock retrospective tours but the singer says hearing any new rock material from her is highly unlikely. "I'm not going to rule out the possibility," she says.
"But that's not really what I'm doing for the moment."
© Winnipeg Sun 2001