Flying visit by a Canadian songbird

by Miriam Zolin

Photo added 29 May - Jennifer Szelag and Sam Anning at Fremantle

Canadian singer/songwriter Jennifer Szelag is planning a quick visit to Australia again in 2011. If you caught her on the last visit you’ll know what to expect, and in May and June you can catch her in Fremantle or the at Uptown in Melbourne. Clearly informed by the jazz idiom and comfortable in it, she thinks of herself more as a songstress and says voice is her first love. With a groundedness, an integrity about her performances, there’s a good chance you’ll come away from her gigs with a lighter heart, and a less furrowed brow.

We caught up with Jennifer by email a few days before her arrival and quizzed her on where she’s been, where she’s at and where she’s going to.

Miriam Zolin: How would you describe your music? Are you primarily a jazz performer?

Jennifer Szelag: I would say there has been a blend of influences; I listen to a lot of indie songstresses who have a mix of pop, rock, folk and electronica elements and I think that is where my own music is coming from. I have been performing jazz for years and I love it, but I am currently really enjoying writing and performing my own original music.

MZ: You play keyboards and you sing – any other instruments? What’s your first love?
Funny you ask, I am always a bit embarrassed ot admit it but I play electric bass, but more the cheesy rock band electric bass (which I played in a cover band back home). Voice was my first love; I came to the piano a little later and I think I am still in the courtship phase!

MZ: How did you come to be a musician?
I started singing in church choirs when I was little, my father and grandparents really encouraged me to. My family is full of artists (in their own way) – my brother is a great writer and film maker, my mother and father are both writers. I did most of my singing at school when I was young; it is where I first learned about music, but it was all in French at the time ( I went to a French Immersion school).

MZ: Who have been your main influences?
JS: I feel influenced by so much (especially lately). Just walking down the street in New York inspires me musically! I love the great songwriters–Neil Young, Joni Mitchell–but I listen to a lot of Icelandic music and feel very connected to music from that part of the world.

MZ: You write your own songs… what was the first one you wrote?
JS: When I was in highschool I first went into the studio to record a demo. It was my first experience at writing, I was collaborating and mostly writing lyrics. They were the silliest pop songs, but it was a great experience. Now I understand the discipline it takes to have a productive artistic process, So I try and oscillate between structured writing time and unexpected inspiration.

MZ: I hear you have a forthcoming CD release?
I’ll be recording later this year.

Jennifer Szelag and Franky Rousseau on guitar at Sycamore in Brooklyn, NY on May 7th 2011

MZ: Where have you been doing most of your recent work?
I’ve been based in New York City for 3 years now and performing mostly here. Lately, I have been focusing on writing, with a few gigs here and there.

MZ: When you’re writing, what’s the best place to work?
JS: I like a quite room with a piano outside of my apartment. I usually will go to my old University.

MZ: Do you have a band you perform regularly with? or even individual musicians you perform regularly with?
JS: I have been playing gigs with a guitar player name Franky Rousseau, who is from Montreal, Canada and we went to school together at The New School. He is such a sensitive and intuitive player that is my favorite thing about him as a musician. He has his own big band here in NYC who play these highly energetic very beautiful compositions of his, I am truly just inspired by him. We can also talk about hockey (Canada) which helps 🙂 !

MZ: What is bringing you to Australia?
JS: I came out to Australia in 2010 and spent time with people I made musical connections with here in NYC. I decided to come back this year and wanted to be playing this time. I feel a strong cultural connection to Australia being that Canada has the same warm hearted people, and I couldn’t wait to make music with and share me music with people like that.

MZ: What are you planning while you’re here?
JS: I will be spending time in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney during my time in Australia. In Melbourne Ill be playing with Tim Jago, Ben Vanderwal, and Sam Anning on bass. I met these players over in the US while they were visiting/living and have heard them play and just love them as players. I think they will bring their own creative approach to my music.

MZ:What can you tell people about what to expect when they come to a gig?
Expect to see a very authentic performance with passion and love for the music being played.

MZ: Can you briefly describe any projects in the works… concerts, projects, CDs, study etc.
Back to NYC for the summer and recording later this year. I will be having my CD release in the New year at this incredible venue in downtown manhattan Joe’s Pub. 2012 will definitely be filled with touring. So keep an eye out!


Watch out for Jennifer in Western Australia at Jazz Fremantle (Navy Club) May 29th 2011
For Melbournites like me, catch her at the Uptown Jazz Cafe – June 15th, 2011


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