From the Ritz ballroom in Brisbane to the Copacabana in New York (via Singapore) and from the London Palladium to the legendary Johnny Carson show to touring with Duke Ellington, the highlights of Wilma Reading’s career in song are a nostalgic reminiscence of a golden era of showbiz. Of course, she is much more than an ambassador of that period. A singer and an actress, a storyteller and a teacher, a postergirl for Australia as a cultural melting pot, she is coming out of her semi-retirement in Cairns, to perform at the Brisbane International Jazz Festival with the Andrew Butt Trio +, proving that she hasn’t lost her strength nor her inspiration.
I had the chance to talk with her over the phone and listen to her warm, tender voice speak about things like her concern with the demise of the music industry, her love of jazz, to which she was first exposed through the Australian Jazz Quintet, when they opened for Oscar Peterson in New Zealand, her advice for young artists not to give up. But I’d only like to post one segment of the interview, one question.
AustralianJazz.Net: What song best describes your current state of mind?
Wilma Reading: ‘Lush Life’ – I had to use it as an audition for Duke Ellington. After I met with him, he sent me to Billy Strayhorn. So I’m at his place, he sits at the piano and I could have chosen one of the easier songs, ‘Satin Doll’, or ‘Don’t get around much anymore’. But I didn’t think of that. I auditioned with ‘Lush Life’. Three minutes passed and then he turned to me and said: “Thank you for singing the song the way I wrote it.”