Categories: Entertainment

Jazz great brings sultry honesty to Arden stage

Juno award-winning vocalist Molly Johnson will launch the new Arden season on Saturday

Even if you’ve just fallen off a turnip truck, you have a pretty good inkling of Molly Johnson’s reputation.

The Toronto resident is one of Canada’s finest jazz singer/songwriters, a Juno winner, a CBC Radio host and she was recognized as an Officer of the Order of Canada for her philanthropic work.

From coast-to-coast and beyond Johnson has showcased her interpretations of jazz/blues standards in small clubs to major concert halls.

The sultry mixed-race chanteuse even had the honour of entertaining the Prince and late Princess of Wales during a private command performance aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. As well, she’s performed for such luminaries as Nelson Mandela and Quincy Jones.

With four records under her belt and another on the way, with a tentative November release, Johnson is making an appearance at the Arden Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 1. It’s her first visit to the area in about a decade.

“I haven’t been through nearly enough,” admits Johnson, adding she last came through the Edmonton area in 2002 for the Jazz Festival.

The sultry crooner built a career as a rocker, pop singer and nightclub songstress before devoting her energy to her main passion – jazz.

As a 15-year-old she fronted a disco band called Chocolate Affair before moving to Alta Moda, a funky art rock group. Alta Moda’s core group eventually morphed into the Infidels, a hard rock group.

And it was right at this time that Johnson started seriously experimenting with the jazz greats.

“I had always dabbled in Duke Ellington, Cole Porter and Gershwin. They wrote the pop music of their time and I wanted to study songwriting structure and melody and learn from the best,” she said.

Throughout the last decade Johnson grew into songwriting and her last album, Lucky, won the 2009 Juno for best vocal jazz album.

While Canada is proud of Johnson, France has an ongoing love affair with her as well. Her first solo CDs sold more than 100,000 copies there and she receives numerous invitations to perform in French clubs.

“In France, it’s tricky,” she says. “They like it if you are completely over-the-top like Celine or if you are in a black dress and stand there like Piaff. They enjoy an authentic sound and that’s what I bring to the microphone.”

Johnson has a searing honesty that comes through in her music. Many have compared her to Billie Holiday.

“You can’t really tackle deep dark jazz unless you’ve felt it or learned it from your mother or father. Many people have compared me to, say, Billie Holiday. But I’m not like Billie Holiday. I am because of Billie Holiday.”

The enduring singer attributes her success to a solid core of support musicians. At the Arden show she’ll be joined by pianist Robi Botsh, drummer Davide Direnzo and bassist Mike Downes for a lush evening of tunes.


Molly Johnson
Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
Arden Theatre
Tickets: $38 Call 780-459-1542 or online at www.ticketmaster.ca

Anna Borowiecki: Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.