Metal Queen slips into something jazzy
Singer Lee Aaron has transformed herself into a worthy interpreter of jazz standards

By Alan Niester

At the Top O' The Senator in Toronto, on Wednesday With the release of her appropriately titled comeback album Slick Chick, former heavy-metal queen and Oui magazine centrefold Lee Aaron has pulled off one of the biggest musical transformations since synthesizer king Walter Carlos became synthesizer queen Wendy Carlos back in the seventies. Recall that throughout most of the eighties and even into the nineties, Aaron was known as the queen of heavy-metal rock, the loudest, brashest and sexiest female rock belter this side of Janis Joplin. But as the market for Aaron's particular brand of heavy-metal bombast began to shrink, she began to disappear from the rock charts. Simultaneously, a relocation to Vancouver in the middle of the last decade found Aaron beginning to dabble in the kind of forties and fifties-styled jazz vocalizing she had grown up listening to and singing in high school. She began to appear in Vancouver jazz clubs, singing songs made famous by the likes of Peggy Lee and Nina Simone. Buoyed by the positive responses she received, she began to move ever more in this new direction. And although she hasn't given up on rock singing entirely (a new, as yet untitled rock album is scheduled for release next year), for now she is concentrating on establishing a broader base for this new side of her musical personality. Wednesday night saw her performing a short set with a jazz quartet at the Top O' The Senator in Toronto before a crowd of about 100 friends, well-wishers and industry insiders. Aaron, 38 and still incredibly sexy, appeared in a form-fitting, red-leather number that fondly recalled her rocker days, when she used to change costumes on stage behind a backlit screen. But there was always more to Aaron than simple bodaciousness. She was an impressive rock singer, and Wednesday night she proved to be a worthy interpreter of jazz standards as well. Performing mostly numbers from Slick Chick, she moved easily from the thirties-style swing, to the forties-style boogie-woogie,to fifties-style torch singing. Her short performance managed to include her versions of some of the century's premier jazz vocalists -- Peggy Lee's Why Don't You Do Right, In the Dark (popularized by Nina Simone), Sarah Vaughan's Doodlin' and Annie Ross's (from Lambert, Hendricks and Ross) scat-enhanced Twisted. While it may be difficult for some to believe that the seemingly one-dimensional Aaron could tread so confidently in so many different jazzy subgenres, the fact is, she did. It was, in short, a credible performance that Aaron and her mates, the Swingin' Barflies (including pianist and album co-producer Jane Milliken), put on here. Certainly she'll have a difficult job selling this new side of herself to skeptical audiences and hard-core jazzbos, but give enough exposure, she will undoubtedly succeed.

© The Globe and Mail, Friday, September 22, 2000.