VOCALIST WITH A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

Jennifer Szelag on piano and vocals, Uptown Jazz Cafe, Fitzroy on June 15, 2011

Jennifer Szelag

Debut album on the way: Jennifer Szelag performs with Franky Rousseau

The intimate venue and soft lighting at Uptown always suit a solo performance. Visiting Canadian vocalist Jennifer Szelag did not disappoint the audience, which was heavy with professional musicians as she opened the set with Dear Harvey, an original she wrote as a letter that was never sent.

Szelag is one of those artists who wears her heart on her sleeve. Her emotion flows with ease from her lyrics, delivered with affecting simplicity and accompanied only by the notes of the upright piano — a recent and welcome addition at Uptown.

At 26, Szelag is a seasoned performer who travelled with a children’s choir while growing up in Canada and providing backing vocals for Celine Dion. She has come a long way from those days of singing in French in church choirs, having completed seven years of music study including a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the New York School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. In recent years the vocalist, who cites Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Icelandic music as strong influences, has concentrated on developing her songwriting skills and plans to launch her debut album in the new year at Joe’s Pub in downtown Manhattan.

Used to playing gigs with Canadian guitarist Franky Rousseau, who is from Montreal, Szelag seemed at home on piano and sang with passion and an obvious delight in the songs she delivered at Uptown, which included Marooned (about abandonment), a cover of Neil Young’s Helpless (which Szelag described as a tongue-in-cheek tilt at Canadian politics), Let Me Go and Q&A, which was written about a bike ride across Canada.

I am always up front about not being a big fan of singers, but Szelag’s vocal style — displaying a mix of pop, rock, folk and electronica — is easy to like and has a refreshingly honest feel.

Szelag told the audience that while in Melbourne she would be playing with with guitarist Tim Jago, drummer Ben Vanderwal and bassist Sam Anning, so keep your ear to the ground to catch this visiting Canadian before she makes it big in New York City.

ROGER MITCHELL

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