Emilie Conway Jazz Singer

Finding her Voice

Emilie Conway's initiation into the world of jazz was a remarkable one:

“I was visiting Chicago the summer of 1999 and friends took me to the Green Mill jazz club for my birthday. I had never been to a jazz club before but what I heard that night blew me away and essentially changed the course of my life. It was blue note recording artist, Kurt Elling with guest Jon Hendricks and they were recording his “Live from Chicago” album. I had never heard anything like it yet I had the strangest feeling of having come home! And “home” was right here in this music - so I knew, this is the music I have to learn about and have to sing. There was an after-hours jam session that night and it’s great what a mixture of innocence, ignorance and enthusiasm will do! I went right up to Kurt and his band with “Secret Love” and he had his wonderful musicians Laurence Hobgood and Rob Amster, work out my key: Bb, I will never forget that. Barry Winograd was there also that night and he encouraged me completely. So that was my “debut” singing jazz - on one of the most legendary jazz stages with some of the world’s finest jazz musicians… not too shabby, eh!!”

Emilie’s baptism by fire with Kurt Elling in Chicago lit a passion for jazz. Following graduation with a BA (Hons) degree in English and German Literature from Trinity College Dublin in 1999, Emilie spent time in Munich, Germany where her singing in pubs and at jam sessions soon saw her welcomed into the local community of artists and musicians. Jazz vocalist Melanie Bong, whom Emilie met at the Unterfahrt Jazz Club, introduced the fledgling singer to jazz great and instructor Sheila Jordan. After hearing Emilie sing, Jordan said, “You should spend some time in America.”

Chicago Jazz

Within a year, the stars aligned to allow Emilie come to Chicago to serve an old style apprenticeship to the music, listening to all the jazz she could wrap her ears around and seeking to learn from some its masters like Kurt Elling, Patricia Barber, Von Freeman, Bill Westrup, Ray Brown.

“Chicago gave me a great start and I think my time there will always be a source of inspiration. I’ll never forget going down to Von Freeman’s jam session in South Chicago. All on my own ..I can’t see where i’m going and off I went! I sang “Don’t Explain” and Von came up to me afterwards and said, “You’re welcome to sing on my jam session anytime.” It was an unforgettable moment in which I understood, though understated, whoever played there was approved by Von. I was magnetised by his dignity and kind authority.

After a while, I got to sing in a lot of fun places with great musicians: The Gateway Bar and Grill, Pelaggio’s, Cyrano’s Cabaret Café Simone, Maxim’s, The Lion’s Den, The Charleston, Glunz, Celtic Crossing, Fado, Big Joe’s, Café Mudd and more, as well as River North Art Galleries, and private events, with musicians Bradley Williams, Tom Tallman, Dan DeLorenzo, Bob Lovecchio, Darren Scorza, John Kregor, Neal Alger, Adam Haus, Mark Klumper, Ed Sullivan. Chicago was very, very good to me!”

Emilie was also the “on-call” vocalist for several bands including The Cook County Jazz Commission, Birdwatch, Loose Standards, The John Kregor Trio and Quartet, The Ten Cats. As featured vocalist for The College of DuPage Big Band, she had a number of arrangements written especially for her by Chicago’s famous big band arranger, Bill Westhrup.

Her fresh approach to singing and repertoire, influenced by Irish and folk traditions, attracted attention from WGN’s Barry Winnograd. In October 2005, she was interviewed live on “Live from the Heartland” with Michael James—a US national broadcast. That same year, Emilie completed a European tour with Chicago guitarist, John Kregor, performing with local musicians in Dublin, Paris and Munich including Hajo Von Hadeln and Sava Medan.

Singing and Study

Emilie was awarded scholarships to Berklee College of Music in Boston in April 2006 and to a series of summer jazz workshops at the Vermont Jazz Centre with Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton in August of 2006. With respect to the studies and her influences Emilie says:

“I wanted to get some music training and I consider myself to be very lucky in that I have got to work with some great teachers who have guided and challenged me - Sheila, Jay, Melanie, Dorothy Murphy, .. well I still have lots to learn. I continue to be most influenced by artists Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, Edith Piaf, Abbey Lincoln, Elis Regina, Kurt Elling, Sheila Jordan, Jay Clayton and Fionna Duncan. I believe all these vocalists have something in common - a minimalism - Joyce called it “scrupulous meanness”: say what you need to say, as truly, directly and simply as possible, then stop! Silence is beautiful. Why decorate the silence? I don’t need frills on the edges of music or silence - and I know I don’t do it. For me it obscures the meaning.”

Emilie Conway Sings Billie Holiday

Now, nearly a decade after her American initiation into the jazz world, her distinctive voice and inimitable style have earned her much acclaim in Ireland. Since its inception, “Emilie Conway sings Billie Holiday,” has received increasing attention and is loved by audiences. First performed December 2005 at The Boom Boom Room, with an encore performance at that venue in June 2006, the show regularly enjoys a sell-out audience.

Emilie was awarded an Arts Council grant to continue, “Emilie Conway sings Billie Holiday,” with musicians Francesco Turrisi, piano, Claus Kaarsgaard, bass, and Conor Murray, drums at the Linenhall in Mayo as well as to the Galway Jazz Club in Autumn 2007. “Emilie Conway sings Billie Holiday,” was performed to a packed house at Bewleys Café Theatre April 2007.

In Dublin Emilie has performed at the Bleu Note, Cassidy’s, Aurora Café Bar, the Red Bank Restaurant, The Clarence Hotel, Trinity College, The Westin Hotel, JJ Smyths, Stag’s Head, The Sugar Club, The Blue Goose, le Cirq, Leon, The James Joyce Ctr. Cobalt Cafe as well as for private functions with musicians Johnny Taylor, Francesco Turrisi, Michael Behan, Peter Erdei, Dave Mooney, Dave Flemming, Claus Kaarsgaard, (DK) Tom Prior, Conor Murray, Dominic Mullan and Dennis Cassidy.

Via Vermont, Edinburgh, Denmark, Enter Fionna Duncan

Apart from performing in Ireland, Emilie also performs in Germany, the United States: Boston, Chicago, Vermont, and since 2006 in Copenhagen, Denmark with musicians Heine Hansen / Mads Sondergaard, Claus Kaarsgaard, and Guffi Pallesen at Café Intime, Restaurant Wilumsen and at the Plaza Hotel with vocalist Cathrine Legardh.

“I met vocalists Cathrine Legardh from Copenhagen and Cathie Rae from Edinburgh on the course at Vermont in August 2006 and they not only introduced me to the jazz scene in Edinburgh and Copenhagen but also saw to it that the wonderful Scottish Jazz vocalist Fionna Duncan came into my life and music. She is mentor, teacher and role model to me - but no longer guru of malboro lights - since she quit - and I can’t commit to anything approaching the requisite regularity of a “habit”!!”

2009