Two-time JUNO Award winner Diana Panton has established herself as one of the brightest lights on the international jazz scene, a songstress praised by listeners, musicians, and critics alike for her thoughtful song selection and emotional intensity. Diana will release her tenth album, “blue” on October 28.
“blue” represents the culminating gesture in a musical narrative of romance that began with “pink” (2009 JUNO nominee in Canada and Silver Disc Award winner in Japan), followed by RED (2015 JUNO winner). With release dates spanning more than a decade, this trilogy charts the emotional arc of an ill-fated romantic relationship. The eponymous colours symbolically suggest content: pink is the infatuation of first-time love, RED, the passion of true love, and blue, the heartbreak and mystery of love lost.
We were thrilled to get to interview Diana and discuss the end of this trilogy and her future plans. This is the end of a trilogy about a relationship, and the color blue speaks of sadness. Did you have a feeling when you recorded Pink at the start that things would end up this way, with the sadness of blue?
Diana – Actually, I’ve always wanted to record the “blue” album. From a very young age, I was drawn to sadder songs (or would make up my own) and this affinity followed me into my love affair with jazz music and the many ballads encompassed by the genre. I even considered “blue” as my debut solo album, but then thought better of it. I figured the material would benefit from greater life experience and a more mature voice, so I opted to wait. In the meantime, I also really liked winsome love songs about first-time love and thought these would be better-suited to recording when I was younger … that was how the idea for the pink album was born. So yes, when I set out on the colour trilogy, I knew it would start with pink, be followed by RED and end with “blue.”
At Rock the Joint Magazine we spoke recently to BB King’s daughter, Shirley King, a remarkable lady and a blues artist in her own right. She said that you can only truly sing the blues when you have lived and suffered, as you have to connect the emotion. Do you feel the same way? (Maybe you don’t see this as a blues album, it’s described as jazz, but we see it as blues here.)
Diana- Unfortunately, all the members of my trio experienced the recent loss of those dear to us during the creation of this work. This undoubtedly added weight to the interpretations, as one does not take the lyrics for granted. I agree with Shirley King’s comment that you must connect with the emotion in order to sing the bluesand for others to feel where you are coming from. Otherwise, it’s just an exercise.
This album has a very different feel to the last album, “Cheerful Little Earful”. This album is a penetrating delve into feelings that accompany the fragments of a broken relationship, it’s clearly pitched to a different audience, or perhaps it is just the other side of the same coin.
Diana- “Cheerful Little Earful” was a sequel to “ I Believe in Little Things.” Both of the aforementioned albums were intended to introduce young listeners to jazz, although they could be equally appreciated by adults. Blue is completely different (and unrelated to Cheerful). It is intended for an adult audience, and I hope it can help those dealing with the loss of a relationship.
And linking this trilogy, do you see a development in your style from Pink?
Diana- I’d like to think so, as I deliberately spaced out the releases in the trilogy (a decade in fact) to allow for this development. My hope was that my interpretative skills would be up to the task of retelling these more complex stories later in my career. I don’t think I could have sung the blue material with as much depth ten years ago. The colour of my voice has also matured, and this, I think, adds another distinction between the pink and blue albums.
Diana brings in some wonderful musicians with her this time including longtime musical colleagues who made significant contributions to the beauty and passion of the RED album of 2015. The four include three Order of Canada honourees: tenor saxophonist Phil Dwyer C.M., guitarist Reg Schwager C.M., and pianist/arranger Don Thompson O.C., plus first-call bassist Jim Vivian. The sonic landscape of blue also features the extraordinary talents of the Penderecki String Quartet, who acquired their name in 1986 upon the invitation of the great Polish composer himself. We asked Diana to tell us a little about the concept of the album as a whole, and how it came together musically?
Diana- I have been very fortunate to work with Don Thompson O.C. and Reg Schwager C.M. on all ten of my releases. Don and Reg are gifted accompanists, arrangers, and soloists in their own right. We love to work together as a trio, but it is also a thrill for us to invite guests in to join us as well, such as Phi Dwyer C.M. on sax (who also appeared on RED, along with Jim Vivian on bass) and the Penderecki Quartet. As for the concept, I select the initial songs (of which many were considered). Once the track list has been determined, Don weaves his magic creating bespoke arrangements which allow each of the musicians to shine. The “blue” album begins with a question, “Where Do You Start?” at the end of a love affair. The songs explore the mixed emotions that accompany loss – including nostalgia, regret, anger, craziness, sadness and, as the album draws to a close, a glimmer of hope that brighter days are ahead, but also a reminder that the healing process can’t be rushed and that one must cope as best one can in the meantime.
Sometimes we like to ask about a favourite song on an album that goes down well in the office. We are interested this time in “I’ll only Miss Him When I think of Him.” Can you tell us about the choice of that track, your feelings for it and how it fits into this album?
Diana- At this point in the narrative unravelling of the album, the protagonist knows that the relationship is over and there is no chance her partner will come back. She is trying to move forward with her life, but she is still consumed with thoughts of him, “I’ll only miss him when I think of him, and I think of him all the time.” She is trying to escape these thoughts, but that is usually easier said than done. This is not often recorded, but I like the bittersweet message of the lyrics that songwriters Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn were able to authentically capture—this psychological tug of war of wanting to let go, but at the same time being obsessed by the very thing one is trying to escape. I also love the punch line, “I bet I’ll forget him completely, in about a hundred years.”
There is also on the album a version of “Yesterday” is such an iconic song. At the magazine we are all massive Beatles fans, are you? And we noticed you decided to sing Yesterday, rather than “Yesterdayayay (aka Paul McCartney). When faced with such an iconic song is it a bit scary?
Diana- The Beatles wrote so many great songs and I’m always impressed with how well these songs adapt to different genres. The distinction in interpretation you noted was largely decided by Don’s arrangement as he opted to write a moving part under the voice that would have clashed with me singing “yesterdayayayay” as Paul McCartney did. When tackling an iconic song, it’s always a bit of a tightrope act – at once respecting the original interpretation, but also bringing something of yourself into the reinterpretation. Of course, in jazz, artists are challenged to do this all this time with jazz standards. Most importantly, I need to be able to connect emotionally with the song. If I can’t do that, it’s better to skip the tune.
Feel free to plug! What is happening this year for you? Some concerts to supportthe album, perhaps?
Diana- We are looking forward to a live concert with our jazz trio teamed up with the Penderecki String Quartet on May 5th, 2023 at The Registry Theatre in Kitchener, Ontario. It will be a treat to play this music together for the first time, since we had to record in layers due to space and COVID constraints.
We look forward to it!
Album Details: blue
Label: Independent Distributor: SRG-ILS
Release Date: October 28, 2022
SRP: CD – $12.99 US; $15.00 CDN. Download: $9.99 US & CDN.
Run time: 65 minutes
By: Benny (the Ball) Benson
& Mark C Chambers