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Fresh Air's Terry Gross has been listening to jazz singer Susie Arioli since she first heard Arioli's 2002 album Pennies From Heaven. Arioli is Canadian and has a big following there, but she's not well known in the U.S., and hasn't toured in many American cities. So when Arioli and her longtime guitarist and arranger, Jordan Officer, stopped in for an in-studio concert and conversation, Gross was thrilled.
Before Arioli and her band had made a record, they were asked to open for Ray Charles. She thinks they got the gig because they played "Lonely Avenue" at one of their first outdoor shows. In 2001, Arioli recorded her first album and has since been nominated for three Juno Awards — the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy.
Arioli's new album, All the Way, is a collection of jazz standards from the canonical Great American Songbook. It was a chance for her to pay homage to the artists who've influenced and inspired her — among them Frank Sinatra, Irving Berlin and Chet Baker, the American jazz trumpeter and singer. She first tried to do an imitation of Baker, but realized she had to find a different approach. "One thing [Chet Baker] does is he holds his notes super long ... but when I was trying to completely imitate him, I sounded cold, detached from the song; I just didn't sound like me." In the process of putting the album together, she says she found elements of each song that brought out aspects of her own voice.
All the Way was just released this summer in the U.S.
On Selecting 'All the Way' [a song previously sung by Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick Jr.] for her new album
One thing I like to do is if I notice that not very many women are singing the song, I like to give it a different perspective. It's a different vibe, and I enjoy that little bit of theater that you can put into a song. Those are basically known male singers ... it's such a classic and I really did want to put some classic jazz songs that everybody knew on this record just to kind of not be so obscure all the time. We also like to find the obscure songs, but it's also nice, because a lot of the well known songs are stunning.
On moving away from swing music
There's all these people that I admire, like Chet Baker, and I could never really do a Chet Baker song in a swing form; it didn't sound at all rational. And I also wanted to play with different musicians, because swing music is a bit more hothouse flower; it's a very contained small vocabulary, whereas bebop, a lot more people know that language and can play it. And I feel as a musician, I wanted to play with other human beings, not just my band.