Tag Archives: Janet Seidel

Janet Seidel Obituary

Janet Seidel, who has died in Sydney at the age of 62, was a much-loved singer and pianist christened “First Lady of Jazz” by critics in her native Australia where she was regarded as something of an institution and a figurehead of the jazz scene there. A regular visitor to Scotland in recent years, she made many friends and won many admirers with her gently swinging musical style, her soft, breathy vocals and her warm and charismatic personality.
 
Indeed, one of the most memorable aspects of Seidel’s 2011 trio concert at Glasgow’s Recital Room was the way she established an instant rapport with the audience – a skill undoubtedly honed through years working in piano-bars early on in her career.
 
Todd Gordon, the Scottish jazz singer, radio presenter and concert promoter who twice brought Seidel to Glasgow, points out that she actually had a knack for charming the audience before she was fully installed at the piano. “She would win them over in about five seconds by just quietly and unassumingly sliding onto the piano stool while beaming that warm smile.” 
 
The same thing had happened at the Lyth Arts Centre, in Caithness, where Seidel became a regular visitor after being booked by the venue’s director William Wilson for her Scottish debut in 2005. He adds: “As she slid onto the piano stool, she hit the first chord and sang the first note right on pitch – no looking at the keyboard or adjusting the mike – it demonstrated consummate musical professionalism and stagecraft.”
 
Born in 1955 and raised on a dairy farm near Adelaide, Seidel only discovered her singing voice thanks to the LP of the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady, starring Julie Andrews, which she listened to every time she carried out her weekly chore – of doing her family’s ironing. With four brothers, there were a lot of shirts to iron and Seidel soon knew that famous  Lerner and Loewe score inside out – so when her school announced plans to stage My Fair Lady, she knew she had to overcome her natural shyness and audition for the part of Eliza Doolittle.
 
Having studied piano from an early age, Seidel read classical music at university in Adelaide. While she was a student there, she formed a band with two of her brothers and they played at country dances and local gigs. “We did everything from Skippy the Bush Kangaroo to Suzi Quatro songs,” she said in 2011. She was still working with one of her brothers, bass playing David Seidel, in recent years – he, along with her partner Chuck Morgan, who plays guitar – was part of the trio which came to Scotland several times, most recently last October.
 
During Seidel’s university years, piano bars became popular – and proved to be a lucrative way of subsidising student life, though it took a bit of getting used to, especially for someone accustomed to having her brothers accompanying her and being surrounded by friends. For the solo gig, Seidel had to learn how to interact with strangers. She later said: “The idea of the piano bar is that people come in and sit around the piano bar and want to talk to you. It really was a baptism of fire but it served me well. Back then, you could get work anywhere in the world just playing piano and singing.”
 
To begin with, she played poppier material – Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell and Carole King were her favourite songwriters – but she soon graduated on to the Great American Songbook and thereafter stuck with it.
 
It was while she was still at school that Seidel first heard jazz – on the radio. She was particularly taken with the singer-pianists Nat “King” Cole and Blossom Dearie. Both proved highly influential – but the girlish-sounding Dearie especially so. The jazz writer Whitney Balliett once said of Dearie’s “tiny” voice that, without a microphone, “it wouldn’t reach the second floor of a doll’s house”.
 
During her student days, Seidel had the chance to see Dearie perform – and it proved to be a defining moment. “She came to Adelaide as the support artist for Stephane Grappelli who was on an Australian tour. She did a solo thing in the first half and it was just magical, you know – one of those spine-tingling moments.. I’d always been a bit ashamed of my voice – it wasn’t a huge operatic voice, and it wasn’t a big mama kind of belter. Then I heard Blossom’s fairy-like voice and I thought: ‘She’s so delicate and intimate, and still communicating that way without doing anything silly with her voice.’ And I loved the way she played piano.”
 
Listening to recordings by Julie London – Seidel loved her “caressing voice” – and Peggy Lee also helped shape Seidel’s soft and gentle style. “I read in a book that, before she became a star, Peggy was singing in a bar and there was a lot of loud noise. She decided that she would sing a bit more softly to see if it would quieten the crowd down, and it worked.”
 
Moving to Sydney in the 1980s, Seidel made a name for herself on the cabaret and jazz scenes and worked in education before launching her international career. She toured extensively and was especially popular in Japan. From 1994, she was a regular in the recording studio, and she leaves a legacy of 18 albums ranging from Comme Ci, Comme Ca – a celebration of French chansons – to her south seas-flavoured album Moon of Manakoora, which spent three months at the top of the jazz vocal charts in Japan (and subsequently won Best Jazz Vocal Album gong at the National Jazz Awards in Australia). 
 
Seidel also recorded some classy tributes to those singers who had inspired her, and although she was strongly associated with those stars, as Todd Gordon points out, “she had her own distinctive style and timbre.”
 
He adds:  “She will be sorely missed, especially by the army of fans she built up over her many years of touring the globe.” William Wilson says: “As Lyth was one of the first UK venues to discover Janet Seidel, we were always pleased to invite her back again, and were delighted to note that her recent UK tours stretched to over twenty venues, after starting out with just Lyth plus a couple of other places back in 2005. We are devastated to think we will never see her again.”
 
* Janet Seidel, jazz singer and pianist, born May 28 1955; died August 8 2017
* First published in The Herald, Wednesday August 30th

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Review: Janet Seidel Trio, Glasgow

Janet Seidel Trio, Recital Room, Glasgow, Friday September 30                ****

The Australian-style weather may have already been a thing of the past by Friday evening but there was still a sultry, balmy quality to the music played in the Recital Room – courtesy of Janet Seidel‘s Sydney-based group. The charismatic singer-pianist set the tone with the very first tune, a gentle bossa nova version of Day In, Day Out on which her soft, unfussy vocals were offset by just guitar and bass, creating a sound very reminiscent of the gorgeous Julie London albums, Julie and Julie Is Her Name.

The theme of the concert was the Johnny Mercer songbook, and – as one of the greatest wordsmiths of his time – Mercer could not have asked for a better champion of his songs than Seidel whose attention to the lyrics and their meaning was obvious from the start. It was a rare treat to hear Lazy Bones, Mercer’s early hit with Hoagy Carmichael, but Seidel went one better and included the even more rarely-exhumed verse – accompanied by just Chuck Morgan on ukelele – and the effect was extremely evocative.

Other highlights – and there were many – included Blues in the Night, Come Rain or Come Shine and Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home, all of which revealed the bluesier side of the otherwise cool, quiet and spellbinding Seidel vocals. What was particularly striking was how Seidel, who honed her craft in piano bars, established an instant rapport with her audience – and was rewarded with a wildly enthusiastic and warm response to every number.

(First published in The Scotsman, Monday October 2)

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Australia’s First Lady of Jazz

Had it not been for Julie Andrews and a weekly pile of ironing, Janet Seidel, who is currently touring the UK, might not have become the renowned singer and pianist that she is. The glamorous fiftysomething given the title of  First Lady of Jazz  by critics in her native Australia only discovered her singing voice thanks to the LP of the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady, which she listened to every time she carried out her weekly chore – of doing her family’s ironing.

“I’ve got four brothers – I was the only girl – and I used to listen to that record over and over again while I was ironing their shirts. So when my school said
they were going to stage My Fair Lady, I thought: ‘Gosh, I can sound exactly like Julie Andrews.’ So I auditioned and got the role, and I’m so grateful because that experience gave me the chance to conquer my shyness: I put the pancake make-up on and I became Eliza Doolittle, not Janet Seidel.”

Brought up on a dairy farm near Adelaide, Seidel had been playing piano from an early age and was regularly “shuffled out to play pieces for my granny”. Her natural shyness didn’t prevent her from playing piano but it took a while for her to sing as she played – after all, she had to be herself, not Eliza, in that context. “It was a leap of faith, really,” she says.

In her late teens and early twenties, while she was studying classical music at university in Adelaide, Seidel formed a band with two of her brothers. “We did everything from Skippy the Bush Kangaroo to Suzi Quatro songs. I had a keyboard and we’d play country dances and all sorts of gigs.” Even now, she still works with one of her brothers: David Seidel is the bass player in her current trio.

During Seidel’s university years, piano bars became all the rage – and proved to be a lucrative way of subsidising student life, though it took a bit of getting used to. Seidel explains: “I was so used to having my brothers there on guitar and bass, and to being surrounded by friends. For this solo gig, I had to expand my repertoire and learn how to interact with strangers – the idea of the piano bar is that people come in and sit around the piano bar and want to talk to you. It really was a baptism of fire but it served me well. Back then, you could get work anywhere in the world just playing piano and singing.”

To begin with, she played poppier material – Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell and Carole King were her favourite songwriters – but she soon graduated on to the Great American Songbook and since then, it has interested her “almost exclusively”.

Seidel first heard jazz on the radio when she was still at school. “The ABC had a programme, Music to Midnight, which I used to listen to – and that’s how I first heard Nat ‘King’ Cole and Blossom Dearie.” Both of these great singer-pianists proved highly influential – but the girlish-sounding Dearie especially so. The jazz writer Whitney Balliett once said of her “tiny” voice that, without a microphone, “it wouldn’t reach the second floor of a doll’s house”.

During her student days, Seidel had the chance to see Dearie perform – and it proved to be a defining moment. “She came to Adelaide as the support artist for Stephane Grappelli who was on an Australian tour. She did a solo thing in the first half and it was just magical, you know – one of those spine-tingling moments.. I’d always been a bit ashamed of my voice – it wasn’t a huge operatic voice, and it wasn’t a big mama kind of belter. Then I heard Blossom’s fairy-like voice and I thought: ‘She’s so delicate and intimate, and still communicating that way without doing anything silly with her voice.’ And I loved the way she played piano.”

Peggy Lee’s recordings also helped shape Seidel’s soft and gentle style. “I read in a book that, before she became a star, Peggy was singing in a bar and there was a lot of loud noise. She decided that she would sing a bit more softly to see if it would quieten the crowd down, and it worked.”

Seidel toured Scotland a couple of years ago with a show of Blossom Dearie songs, but she’s not the only heroine to whom she has paid tribute: Doris Day is another favourite and she takes comparisons to Day as a great compliment. “She was a very tuneful and very swinging jazz singer – she really knew how to phrase and she had a lovely light lilting kind of approach to singing.”

Recently, Seidel was hired to sing a jingle for an Audi advert, to be broadcast on British television. For that, she was called upon to sing like Julie London – with whom she bears a strong vocal resemblance. “She was a big influence on me. I love that cool, unfussed style and the timbre of her voice – it’s a very caressing sound without being forced or deliberately sexy.”

A Julie London tribute may be the next obvious step, but for this tour, Seidel is celebrating Johnny Mercer’s songbook, including the ballad Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home – a song which would be apt for any jazz musician, let alone one who’s on an eight-month house-swap ….

* Janet Seidel Trio plays Recital Room, Glasgow on Thursday,  March 15, at 7.30pm. Call 0141 353 8000 or visit http://www.glasgowconcerthalls.com for tickets.

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