Jennifer Salisbury: “If I am contemplating the experience of another and I feel deeply about it, I can have a tune pop up”


Jennifer Salisbury knows all the songs. Okay, this may be an exaggeration, but if you go to her Destination Moon website, you’ll see dozens of songs listed, which she performs with her trio, not to mention the amount of swing anthems she sings as part of one of Melbourne’s hottest swing bands, Dr. Crask and his Swingin’ Elixir. As if these two bands weren’t enough for her to showcase her warm, sweet voice, her playful delivery, her touching vibrato and her natural sense of swing, the singer has also recently got another project out there; Unspoken Rule is a song cycle weaved around the endless ramification of love: Intrigue – Romance – Desire – Love – Heartbreak – Despair – Hope – Everything, in fact, that makes life worth living. Performed with a large dose of theatrics, this project only lacks a couple of dialogue parts to turn into a stage musical. As far as debut albums go, this is as ambitious as it can get and it delivers; the two covers featured, ‘You’ve changed’ and ‘My funny valentine’ blend seamlessly with her own, vintage-sounding originals. Which means that indeed, she has learned a lot, singing all these dozens of wonderful standards.

How did you decide to do an album of originals?

The first song I wrote was ‘Unspoken Rule’. The spark comes from my personal emotions expressing themselves as songs. Also, If I am contemplating the experience of another and I feel deeply about it, I can have a tune pop up. I have a feeling and a tune pops up and then I sing around with it and it becomes something more solid or it gets thrown out. Some of the tunes are good and some of them are not so good. I write some lyrics and over time these get edited until I feel the poetry is right.

I had these tunes pop up over a period of two years and I decided to do an album because I wanted to express them and also I felt there would be many people who could relate to the concept. I love to sing; singing is such a great way to release emotion.

In what part do your songs reflect your own experience?

They all reflect my own experience, whether those experiences be personal or the experiences of my friends and the emotions I feel on their behalf when I see them struggling emotionally in a relationship. I see lovely people who just want to find a loving partner and unfortunately uncaring people can take advantage of that. The emotional recoil of love and loss is so strong, but so is the drive to find love and happiness.

‘I wish’ is one of the tunes that is personal. Sometimes even good relationships can become disengaged and emotionally distant. This song is about wishing for a bit more fun, connection and glamour to come back into a relationship. But in the context of the album story, it’s about falling in love and wanting to be loved.

How did you pick the musicians who form the band?

I play with Sam O’Halloran (guitar) and Hiroki Hoshino (bass) in Destination Moon and they are super nice and amazing players, so of course they had to be in the project. Aaron Rodriguez (baritone sax) and Trent Howard (tenor sax) come from Dr. Crask and His Swingin’ Elixir and they are close friends of mine. I didn’t know James Mustafa personally, but I knew him through Facebook and his other projects and I felt strongly intuitively that he should be the one to do the charts. As a result of connecting with James, I picked up some new musicians and friends, Selene Messinis on piano and Timothy Clifton on drums. They are incredible players and also lovely people.

What kind of sound did you have in mind?

I have always loved horns and a big band sound so I wanted to inject that into the project. I also had to have piano because of the colour it provides. I was looking for a slightly theatric bent as well.

How is Unspoken Rule different from Destination Moon?

Unspoken Rule is different from Destination Moon in that Destination Moon is a jazz trio incorporating jazz pleasers for parties and cocktail jazz. I would say that it is like my working band that enables me to make income from my love of singing and jazz.

‘Unspoken Rule’ is a story; it’s a show and it has a big band sound with musicians that will blow your mind!

What is the best part of playing with Dr. Crask’s Swingin’ Elixir?

The best part of playing with Dr Crask is FUN. It is fun music for dancing. I know all the musicians really well and they are like family to me. The songs are swingin’ and they will make you smile. We also have a lot of freedom in that band to improvise and be expressive. We have performed at a lot of pubs and I think we have really made a band that is relatable to live music audiences.

How did you get into jazz?

I got into jazz through my Mum who would let me watch all the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies as well as Doris Day, Gene Kelly and Bing Crosby. Also the musicals I learnt in high school, when I was going through emotional development and teen angst, would provide me solace with their lyrics and emotional expression. Other aspects of jazz I have learnt about over time since then.

I have always found jazz relaxing and freeing. Improvisation or melody creation is incredibly healing. Jazz to me means expression and freedom.

Who are your heroes?

My heroes are Ella Fitzgerald, Beverly Kenney, Julie London, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Olivia Chindamo.

What has been the highlight of your musical journey so far?

Creating the ‘Unspoken Rule’ album has been the highlight of my career so far. Performing at Paris Cat for the album launch was very special to me. Having the confidence to do that has been the result of lots of baby steps and growth provided to me by performing for a few years with Dr Crask and His Swingin’ Elixir.

What has been the greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge has always been my own head and my own emotions. Feeling fear, self doubt and discouragement can really stifle your progress and creativity. I usually wallow for a week or so and then snap out of it and move forward again.

What is your greatest aspiration?

My greatest aspiration is to sell all the cds I just got printed at Implant Media! I am also looking forward to performing for other prominent jazz festivals in my future, that would be amazing.

Which song best describes your current state of mind?

I currently have a cold and it’s making me feel tired and miserable so perhaps I need to write a song about that!

UPDATE: Jennifer Salisbury will perform Unspoken Rule on Thursday 31 August at the PAris Cat