Nichaud Fitzgibbon has been very busy these days – and that might be an understatement. The vocalist has been a staple of the Melbourne Jazz community for more than three decades and when it was announced that Wangaratta Jazz Festival is not happening this year, she decided to do something for the community, stepping in – in true ‘jazz royalty’ way – to create a “mini jazz fest” of her own.
“I have been working with John Mcall, Leticia Maher and Simon Myers,” she says. “We tried to secure quite a few big acts but it was very difficult.” Still, the team pulled it off and the MEMO Music Hall St Kilda Jazz Summit is happening on the weekend leading up to Melbourne Cup, featuring some of the best of the city’s jazz community. Nichaud will perform there, of course, as part of a few shows, but if you want to see her showcase her honey-rich voice and sultry stage persona, mark your calendar, as she has two gigs coming up in November, at Bird’s Basement and Paris Cat.
So yes, Nichaud Fitzgibbon is busy – but she still found time to share some of the tunes that shaped her world.
What was the first album or single that you ever acquired?
The Best of Motown Compilation – Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Supremes and The Four Tops.
It was my very first LP which I bought with my own money. I was 10 years old. I remember I loved the cover, it had a fabulous photo of Diana Ross and The Supremes all wearing gorgeous aqua blue sequin dresses. I loved all the songs and soul hits – especially ‘Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder.
However, I must mention that I previously had a jazz education by listening to Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong from my Dad’s record collection; the song on high rotation was ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’.
What was the most recent album or track that you purchased?
I loved her onThe Voice performing as Miss Murphy and went to see her Oceanic Blues Show at Bird’s Basement recently.
Which album should be on everyone’s collection?
Stolen Moments by Mark Murphy. I still regard this LP to be the quintessential male Jazz vocal masterpiece and Mark was one of the greatest ballad singers of all time; his rendition of ‘Again’ is superb.
I was so fortunate to have him produce my second album, Deep in The Night.
Which song is always on your set list?
‘Moon River’ by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini.
Doug DeVries composed a lovely arrangement for a me and it has been one of my favourites for many years. It is truly a romantic song and the audience always love it, so it is a constant in my set.
Which new song are you going to introduce on your next gig?
‘I didn’t know about You’ by Duke Ellington and Gilbert Russell.
Which song reminds you of the best concert you’ve ever attended?
‘Let’s Stay Together’ – The Reverend Al Green.
His concert at The St Kilda Palais Theatre was just incredible.
Which song reminds you of your favourite journey?
Barney Mc All’s album Mother of Dreams and Secretsis a favourite of mine to listen to whilst driving down the coast along the Great Ocean Road.
It is an amazing cd full of evocative imagery and influenced by the Goddess Of The Ocean. Barney was inspired to compose this masterpiece after seeing a ceremony to the Yoruba goddess Yemaya in Cuba.
Which song reminds you of your most important rite of passage?
‘You Gotta Have Freedom’ – Pharoah Sanders
I started singing this song with my first jazz band and when I went to London in 1986 I was actually invited by Pharoah Sanders to sing it with him at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club. It was an incredible experience and an exciting improvisational one, too. I was so inspired by my first sojourn away from home that I started my own original jazz-funk band, YOYO, after returning to Melbourne in 1989.
I might also say singing Cole Porter’s ‘Love for Sale’ as a young ingenue special guest for Vince Jones on The Don Burrows Collectionshow for the ABC was a milestone.
It was my first TV appearance and was a great way to kick start my career.
I also realised I could do anything with the power of positive thought and pure intention.
Which song best describes your relationship to your loved ones?
‘With A Song in My Heart’ by Rogers & Hart.
I recorded it on my first CD,After Hours, and it is my gift to my family, friends and fans.
The lyrics are beautiful and they say it all.
Which song best encapsulates your idea of jazz?
‘My Favourite Things’ by John Coltrane – plus Betty Carter’s version.
Very difficult question… I think it has alot to do with what mood you are in. I love ‘Inner Glimpse’ by McCoy Tyner, ‘Caravan‘ by Art Blakey, ‘Round Midnight’ by Ella Fitzgerald, ‘Shulie-A-Bop‘ by Sarah Vaughan, ‘So What‘ by Miles Davis, The Necks…
l should also mention that my father Smacka’s music was the epitome of jazz to me – his version of ‘Dr Jazz’ is fantastic!
l absolutely adored him like so many of his fans… He encompassed the exuberance and joy that jazz can give us and he was one of the most energetic entertainers I had ever seen – he had loads of charisma and always gave so much in his performances!
‘Cake Walking Babies’ is one of the only songs there are of him live on TV with Paul Williamson‘s father, Ron ‘Zeke’ Williamson, on sousaphone.
I have also been influenced by my brother Mark, who has been an amazing collaborator; here is one of my favourites compositions of his, ‘So Yesterday’, featuring David Rex on the saxophone.
If your life was to become a movie, which song would be heard…
…on the opening credits?
‘Mas Que Nada’ by Sergio Mendez.
…on the end credits?
‘Jeep’s Blues’ by Duke Ellington.
…on the action scenes?
‘The Peter Gunn theme’ by Henry Mancini.
…on the love scene?
Debussy’s ‘Claire De Lune’.
Which song do you wish you had written yourself?
‘All The Way’ by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen.
There are several songs I wish I had written myself but this is one of the greatest ballads ever and I adore singing it. Sinatra loved Jimmy ‘s songs and admired him so much.
I love being a keeper of the flame.
Which song do you wish had been written about you?
Leon Russell’s ‘A Song For You’.
One of my favourite versions of this beautiful song is by Vince Jones.
Which song marked the moment that you discovered your voice as an artist?
‘Along Came Betty’ by Benny Golson.
I composed lyrics to this tune early in my career and it gave me a great feeling of satisfaction as an artist.
Which song best describes your current state of mind?
‘How Glad I Am’ – A grammy award winning song recorded by Nancy Wilson.
It describes my current state of mind as I am ever grateful for my loving partner and how glad I am that we are sharing our lives together and that I have four gorgeous grandchildren in my life.
[This post comes with a coda – the Australian Jazz Net’s selection of a Nichaud Fitzgibbon recording with a dream team of musos]