Chelsea Wilson: “Once I heard jazz, there was no other career path for me other than music”

Chelsea Wilson1To the listeners of Melbourne’s PBS fm, Chelsea Wilson is the voice that guides them through some of the best jazz anyone can find on the radio, on any given Thursday morning – that is, when her show, “Jazz Got Soul”, is broadcast. But Chelsea Wilson is much more than that; she’s also a singer, albeit one who doesn’t sing jazz, but chooses to express herself through soul, funk and disco, showcasing a dynamic, playful, feminine and assertive personality. Recently, she performed at the Kew Court House, but also at the Glastonbury festival in the UK, an experience that she is happy to share, while she explains how she managest to juggle her two identities.

AustralianJazzNet: How would you describe the concept of your radio show?

Chelsea Wilson: ‘Jazz Got Soul’ broadcasts jazz from the 1950s to the present. I play a lot of Bebop and modal jazz, Ethio-jazz, Latin-jazz, spiritual jazz and cross over sixties soul jazz and seventies jazz funk. I play timeless Blue Note and Verve recordings, but also new releases, Australian jazz, British jazz, Japanese Jazz and rare recordings. Anything that moves me, really, that can come under the jazz umbrella can get a spin! I’m a big fan of jazz vibraphone and jazz flute, library music and blaxpolitation soundtracks too. The show playlist changes every week.

My favourite part is listening to some of my favourite jazz tunes cranked up on the speakers with no disruptions (no one interrupts me or talks over the music to me while I’m doing my show so it feels like a luxury). Also, the listener feedback – I love getting messages via the text, line or facebook page during my show; it’s a great feeling to share jazz with Melbourne every week and be a soundtrack to so many people’s Thursday morning. And, of course, hand picking each song and having editorial freedom on the PBS 106.7FM airwaves for two hours.

AJN: In what way is your radio persona different than your stage one?

CW: I am the same person on stage, in the studio doing my radio show or at the shops picking up groceries. I don’t have a ‘persona’ per se. Hence my stage name, DJ name, on-air name and real life name are all the same! (Or, perhaps, I’m just not very inventive!) Musically, the key difference between my radio program and my work on stage is that my radio show is a jazz program and my live show repertoire is soul and disco influenced. My original music is quite autobiographical and I sing lyrics about personal experiences. My radio show is not about me – it’s about jazz. I don’t mention my own music, my live shows or anything about my personal life on air. Some of my listeners know that I am also a vocalist and send me nice messages about my album and gigs, which is lovely but quite separate from my radio show. It’s not a secret that I’m a singer as well as an announcer but I don’t ever mention it on air.

AJN: When you sing, do you have an ideal listener in mind?

CW: I guess ideally musicians love to perform for people who love music and who appreciate original music. The ideal listener doesn’t ask for requests or tell me I should audition for ‘The Voice’, ha!

AJN: How was your experience touring Europe?

CW: Glastonburywas wild. It is an incredible festival and hard to imagine; you really have to see it to believe it. More than 180, 000 people attend the festival which is quite extraordinary (the word ‘manic’ also comes to mind, ha!) but the variety of music is fabulous. I was so thrilled to be invited to perform at this iconic event and I felt very grateful to be on that stage!

Also, performing for a full house at the Jazz Cafe in London was a huge thrill for me and a definite tour highlight. It is an amazing feeling to travel to the other side of the world and have people interested in my music. I also did a bunch of radio interviews and some guest radio programming in London, which was brilliant. I got to meet some incredible broadcasters and see some different radio stations. For someone who loves radio this was a real thrill!

AJN: What song best describes your current state of mind?

CW: I Hope You’ll Be Very Unhappy Without Me.My album title and a song for many life situations! Ha!

AJN: Who are your heroes?

CW: My Mum, Esther Phillips, Kylie Minogue, Etta James, Bianca Jagger, Cher and Priscilla Presley; women who overcame tremendous amounts of pain with style, grace and attitude to become stronger than ever.

AJN: Which song has been your biggest influence, defining your approach to music?

CW: Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘April in Paris’ is the first song I heard that made me fall in love with jazz, quit acting and dancing and decide to become a singer. Once I heard jazz, there was no other career path for me other than music.

AJN:Which instrumental you’d like to add lyrics to and get to sing?

CW: I am actually a huge fan of vocalese; I love Mark Murphy and Jon Hendriks and have always toyed with the idea of doing a vocalese album! It’s pretty hard to beat Al Jarreau’s ‘Spain’ I reckon (I know this word for word). Some tunes I absolutely love scatting along too include “Equinox” by John Coltrane, “Speak no Evil” by Wayne Shorter and “Chilli Peppers” by Duke Pearson. I sing along loudly in the studio when I play these tracks on air. Microphone switched off, of course.