RBC Ottawa Bluesfest: Renée Landry is playing by her own rules

Renee Landry

Renée Landry comes by jazz honestly.

Her grandfather was a tenor saxophone and clarinet player in Renée’s hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

“I would go and see him perform in his big band. He was an electrician and worked in a paper mill during the day and played in a band the other half of his time. He jumped from gig to gig” but he was always busy.

That kind of exposure mattered because Landry was a musical kid.

“I was always singing. I started writing music when I was nine years old,” she said.

“My parents say I was always saying that this was what O was going to do. My brother is a doctor and I went the arts route.”

She was always more interested in pop music when she was younger.

“I was a huge Britney Spears and Spice Girls fan and I’m still am a Spice Girls fan. And I listened to Motown and Aretha Franklin through high school.

After high school she was briefly in a punk/pop band and would open for groups coming through the Sault.

Her musical dreams then took her to Algoma University seeking a Bachelor of Music.

She had to choose an ensemble class and she made an important choice.

“The music program required the student to take an ensemble class. I thought, ‘I’ll do jazz’.

That is when she “had a light bulb moment” and realized this is what her grandfather had prepared her for and what she should be learning.

“I had the influence but I didn’t appreciate it until then.”

After three years she transferred to Carleton to finish her degree. In Ottawa she studied with Elise Letourneau, Roxanne Goodman, Jesse Stewart, James McGowan and Mark Ferguson.

Ironically Ferguson is playing on Landry’s sets at this summer’s TD Ottawa Jazz Festival and RBC Ottawa Bluesfest.

Landry calls herself a jazz-soul-pop singer but she admits that she is attracted to jazz vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald because “I find jazz singers are offering the purest form of vocal delivery.

“I find a lot of the time pop singers will over-decorate their singing. It’s so over the top now. What is special about jazz singers (from the 1950s and ’60s) is they have such a raw, natural delivery and I find that to be the most impressive.

“When you take out the bells and whistles and have a simple delivery but it still affects you emotionally that kind of defines a true vocalist to me.

“They sang from the heart. There is something special about it that you don’t find on the radio today. For example even when you hear the national anthem you’d rather someone just sing it straight rather than add all these crazy riffs.

“It seems so artificial.”

Her shows at the festivals will be based on her latest album Like A Boss (released in January) and that means a mix of jazz, pop and soul.

“I like to keep it tasteful. As a songwriter I don’t feel the need to over-decorate.”

This thinking might flow from her other job as a vocal coach. Landry has about 30 students.

“As a vocal coach, when I work with students it is a lot easier when someone has natural ability to follow the music.

“I have a good ear. I’m able to do harmonies. I can feel the beat. It’s something I was born with. It helped to study it.”

She also is a composer and arranger and “can speak the language when I’m working with a band.”

Another thing that may help her is fact that she studied dance for about a dozen years.

She has stayed in Ottawa basically because she loves the city and she has built professional relationships with musicians here.

It’s also close to Toronto and Montreal. That will help as she starts to tour.

“I haven’t really done that yet.” But now she has an album that she feels she can take on the road.

Out of that have come some gigs locally including the two festivals. And in October, she intends to do a small tour of the Toronto area.

It’s a hard road she is travelling, but she gets through it with enthusiasm, energy and stubbornness. “I just don’t give up.”

When she peers into the future she hopes to have two more albums recording and she wants to be touring and performing more with a bigger management team behind her.

“Right now I teach more than I perform.”

Teaching takes a lot of time. Landry works with 30 students a week. That’s a blessing because it provides steady income while she plans her performing career.

“Teaching means I’m not scrambling for gigs and I don’t have to play in a dive bar.”

Right now her attention is on the jazz festival show on June 28 and the Bluefest gig on July 6.

Renée Landry 
TD Ottawa Jazz festival
Where: OLG Stage, Confederation Park
When: June 28 at noon.
This is a free concert. For information: ottawajazzfestival.com

RBC Ottawa Bluesfest
Where: City Stage
When: July 6 at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets and information: ottawabluesfest.ca

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.