Kelsey James and Georgie Darvidis: ‘When we share the stage together, we carry the magic of Judy and Barbra with us’

As members of the gypsy jazz six-piece The Furbelows, Kelsey James and Georgie Darvidis (i.e. 2/3 of the band’s vocal trio), are used to working together in harmony. Now they’re about to present the newest of their various side-projects, a duet show, paying tribute to two larger-than-life ladies of melodrama: Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. Which promises for a night of fun, high emotions – and a little bit of camp.

AustralianJazz.Net: How did you decide to do a tribute to Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand?
Kelsey James: It was Georgie’s idea, so I’ll let her answer that one.

Georgie Darvidis: Kelsey and I have talked about putting on a songbook style show together for years. Finally, after countless (wine fuelled) late nights spent fantasising about our ultimate dream show, I contacted our friends at the Paris Cat club and they gave us a deadline. Choosing Barbara and Judy was a no brainer; their magic is something we both feel so deeply, and when we share the stage together, we carry that magic with us.

We have been singing side by side for about three years in the Furbelows. Stepping away from slightly conservative role of the traditional jazz vocalist, this show will give us the freedom to really play with the drama of performance.

AJN: In what way has each of them influenced you?

GD: When I was three years old I knew how to work a VCR. I would watch The Wizard of Oz every morning, cry hysterically because it was over, rewind the tape and watch it again…. for years… It’s the first thing I can remember being totally bewitched by… I wanted to be Dorothy Gale.

One mother’s day, we got our first DVD player and the first DVD in our collection was Barbra Streisand’s Timeless concert. I used my dictaphone to record the audio off the TV so that whenever I had a moment alone I could sing along with Barbara.

Judy and Barbara taught me not to be afraid of the sounds I wanted to make. They taught me that vulnerability is powerful and that power can sound a million different ways.

KJ: At the moment Barbra is teaching me a lot about technique and humour. Judy reminds me that it’s important to look after my health, and to connect deeply to whatever I’m singing.

AJN: Are you each playing the part of either one of them, or you’re mixing it up?

GD: We aren’t playing the two women. We both sing songs made famous by both Judy and Barbra as well as some of their infamous live duets that really encapsulate the close connection they had, a connection that Kelsey and I also feel when we sing together.

AJN: What kind of audience do you hope to see in this gig?
KJ: A kind audience who want to laugh and cry a little.

GD: As well as being a tribute to two timeless vocalists, it is also a program of some of the greatest songs ever composed. If the fabulousness of the concept is sitting you on the fence then let Stephen Sondheim, Burt Bacharach and Leonard Bernstein push you over!

AJN: What level of pain, does anyone has to have experienced, in order to really appreciate these songs?
KJ: I don’t think pain is necessary to appreciate a song.
GD: Pain is pain. I only know the pain I feel, however, there is nothing more shattering than feeling like someone is making music of that same pain you feel. When you see that pain sung it makes you stop trying to organise it and allows it to wash over you because for that short time someone else is organising it for you. This public intimacy, often with a stranger is incredibly special. Kelsey and I have felt this gravity when we witness each other perform, I hope our audience will too.

georgieAJN: What is a torch song?

GD: I think a torch song is sung at a crystallised moment when you find yourself unable to communicate how you really feel because you are caught between a new maturity and at the same time feeling like a child.

They are moments we hide and deny because of this lack of language, so it’s not surprising people, throughout the years have turned to music.

KJ: A torch song is usually about unrequited love, so that’s timeless it seems. Sometimes it’s nice to put aside practical thoughts for a bit and just feel. It can be a good way to move on.

AJN:  How does it fit in the jazz context?

GD: The intensity of the torch song is a human one so the genre, be it jazz or musical theatre shouldn’t matter.

KJ: There are so many different opinions to what jazz is, but to me, it means freedom and listening. That’s a pretty good context for most things I think!

AJN: How do you recover from heartbreak?

GD: I don’t know if you are supposed to. Films end. People leave. When it happens, your responsibility is to feel connected to what is still around; a love more ancient and unconditional, not a love that is close to your ear every day. I believe that music, with or without words exists to share stories of feelings and experiences you may not have had yet, feelings and experiences you might be afraid of.

KJ: I haven’t been heartbroken in ages…I’d better “start suffering and write that symphony”!

kelseyAJN: How do you relate to your artistic persona?

GD: When I am on stage, I am a heightened version of myself… in my experience, people can smell a rehearsed stage persona a mile away and will refuse to follow you where you want to guide them.

If you feel uncomfortable “performing” and feel the need to put on a persona my advice would be to stop “playing to the back row” and imagine you are trying to communicate with someone standing right in front of you…really try to make them hear and understand the things you are telling them as you sing.

KJ: I can’t really think like that – splitting myself in two. Most of the time I’m just trying not to fall over and hoping people are getting what they need.

AJN: Which song best describes your current state of mind?
KJ: If I Only Had a Brain…

GD: From the show? Probably Get Happy.

My plate is full to the brim with music to learn, write and perform and I need to remember that it is my favourite thing when it all starts to pile up!

Georgie Darvidis and Kelsey James will present ‘Get Happy’ at the Paris Cat Jazz Club, on Saturday 28 May.