NJA Finalist Q&A – Chantal Mitvalsky

Chantal’s drum teacher advised her to take up singing!

Each year since 2005, in the month leading up to the jazz festival in Wangaratta, Miriam Zolin interviews the finalists in the National Jazz Awards. The awards are decided at Wangaratta in a series of heats culminating in a finals performance on the Sunday of the festival. Wangaratta Jazz Festival in 2012 runs from Friday 2 to Monday 5 November.

This year’s ten finalists are: Cyrille Aimée, France (currently based in New York) | Kristin Berardi, Sydney |  Briana Cowlishaw, Sydney |  Luara Karlson-Carp, Brisbane | Kate Kelsey-Sugg, Melbourne | Joshua Kyle, Melbourne | Chantal Mitvalsky, Melbourne | Judith Perl, Melbourne | Liz Tobias, Adelaide (currently based in Boston) | Katie Wighton, Sydney

ChantalMiriam: When did you start playing jazz and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?
Chantal: I started playing jazz in high school as a drummer for the stage band until my drum teacher Sonja Horbelt quietly suggested perhaps I try out as vocalist for the stage band instead. She obviously knew way ahead of me that my musical talents lay in singing and not drumming. Being involved with Sonja and her musical mentor Bob Sedergreen as a youngster in high school certainly put me in good musical company and eventually I decided to audition for the Victorian College of Arts Secondary School in order to fully immerse myself in the musical world.

Miriam: Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
My musical tastes are quite eclectic but I have always had a strong interest and background in jazz. My greatest jazz influences have certainly been Sarah Vaughan for her incredible versatility and artistry, Billie Holiday for lyricism and phrasing, Ella Fitzgerald for singing every song in the American songbook and making each uniquely her own and Carmen McCrae & Nina Simone for both just being absolutely unique and divine! I also love soul and R&B singers from the ’70s like Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye. Too many more to name.

Miriam: When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
The idea of ‘story’ is very important for me when finding inspiration for a new composition. Often I’ll find inspiration once I’ve found the song’s title or the key melody phrase or hook. Usually once I have a good idea of a story concept the rest seemingly falls into place. I also think that the best inspiration comes from experimentation and the element of surprise, which is why I like arranging songs on the spot with a band. For example, experimenting with a well-known song that we do but messing with the form or style or time feel. I’m definitely a collaborative creator.

Miriam: What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
Chantal: Well I can’t speak for everyone but I think that the best place to practise if you don’t have a large hall or cathedral handy nearby is the bathroom. The acoustics are amazing! Best places to play… I certainly like playing at Bennett’s Lane and the Paris Cat in Melbourne, the patrons are very quiet and attentive which is nice.

Miriam: What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?
Chantal: I’m looking forward to the excitement and energetic atmosphere that is created from so many amazing musicians and fans alike coming together to listen, watch, play, hang and discuss music together. I’m also obviously looking forward to performing and seeing the other nine finalists perform as well. There are some amazing singers involved from around the country and internationally, so it should be quite a show.

Miriam: What are you listening to now?
Chantal: I’m quite obsessed by a band I saw earlier this year in the states and in Melbourne a few weeks ago called the Punch Brothers. Their album Who’s feeling young now? is quite extraordinary.

Listen to Chantal on this cool track from Aaron Choulai‘s SoundCloud stream


Visit the Wangaratta Jazz Festival website >

The National Jazz Awards have been presented at the festival since it began in 1990 and were designed to contribute to the development and recognition of young jazz and blues musicians up to the age 35. The Awards have become a much anticipated highlight of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.