The jazz singer
At age 40, Lee Aaron believes many of her original rock fans have followed her shift into a jazz-pop singer

By Adrian Chamberlain
Times Colonist

What: Lee Aaron
Daniel Lapp Quartet
When: Friday, 8 p.m.
Where: McPherson Playhouse
Tickets: $29.50 (386-6121)
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It's Valentine's Day. So you take your honey-bun to the Lee Aaron concert at the McPherson Playhouse. The curtains part, and -- amid a maelstrom of electric guitars and drums -- Lee screams: "Metal Queen rock us all, Metal Queen takes control!" Rock and roll! Put that Zippo lighter away, my friend -- it ain't gonna happen. You see, Aaron is no longer the leather-clad queen of Canadian hard rock. It is true that, back in the 1980s, she sold hundreds of thousands of albums thanks to gut-pounding numbers such as Metal Queen and Watcha Do To My Body. But six years ago, Aaron decided her heavy-metal crown had turned into a leaden albatross. She successfully reinvented herself as a jazz/blues singer, earning comparisons to Anita O'Day, Peggy Lee and Nina Simone. That's the Lee Aaron you'll see in Victoria, backed by her combo, The Swingin' Barflies.
Opening the show is the Daniel Lapp Quartet, performing Chet Baker favourites such as My Funny Valentine as well original tunes. (Hint: Sources say Aaron and Lapp may collaborate on a night-capping encore.)
Aaron, 40, insists most of her original rock fans faithfully followed her transition into jazz-pop singer. After all, they're getting older too -- they have mortgages, families and pets. "This music much more appeals to their current tastes, because they're not really pulling out their old Cinderella records every night," she said, interviewed from her Vancouver home. On the other hand, sometimes a devotee will still yell out for Watcha Do To My Body, or ask when she's going to cut another hard rock album. It's not going to happen. "I just sort of let that roll off my back. I'll often poke fun at it. Some of us have evolved." In the days of yore, Aaron did scads of stadium rock tours, opening for acts like Bon Jovi and Krokus. Her most commercially successful album, Bodyrock (1989), sold close to 250,000 copies. Yet despite multiple Juno nominations and multi-platinum album sales, by the early '90s her career had started to wane. Times were changing, and Aaron's recipe for success (leather + loudness) seemed increasingly dated.
Her first jazz-blues disc, the upbeat Slick Chick, was released three years ago. Aaron is now recording a follow-up, with the working title Faith, Hope, Truth, Love. Unlike Slick Chick, which was virtually all cover tunes, Faith, Hope, Truth, Love will be mostly original material, some of it co-written by Aaron. As well, while still rooted in jazz, the upcoming disc ventures closer to pop. At the time, the decision to embrace jazz caused the singer considerable anxiety. She wasn't sure whether jazz purists would allow a refugee metal queen into their hallowed pantheon. But Aaron points out she was never a stranger to jazz. Her family's home in Ontario was always filled with the sounds of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. And she grew up singing jazz and Broadway show tunes in local choirs and with community theatre productions. While she enjoyed her success as a rocker, Aaron resented being typecast. "That's the way of the world, especially the music industry world. People tend to develop a very narrow perception about music, very myopic ideas. I know absolutely I was marketed as a rock chick poster girl. That's just the way it was. But that's just such a small, little sliver of the whole person. "To be honest with you, that was rather unfulfilling for my soul." When she shifted gears in the mid-'90s, Aaron tried different things. She once performed (albeit briefly) with the Vancouver female sketch comedy troupe, Girl Parts. Last year, she even tried opera, singing a clutch of roles in 120 Songs for the Marquis de Sade. Aaron, who successfully auditioned for the production, was initially taken aback when a five-inch-thick score arrived in her mail. "It had all these bizarre tri-tone harmonies. I had to brush up on my music theory in a big way. But you know what? I did it, and it was a great challenge."

© Times Colonist (Victoria) Thursday, February 13, 2003.