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Interview With The Juliet Varnedoe Jazz Band

How would you describe your music to any person who may have never heard it before? Juliet: The Juliet Varnedoe Jazz Band fuses the lively rhythms of New Orleans jazz with the poetic charm of Chanson Française, and the soulful melodies of Cajun French folk music. Our unique yet familiar sound blends these rich musical traditions into a toe-tapping sonic tapestry.

Press shot for jazz singer Juliet Varnedoe.

Is there any significance to the band’s name? J: The band's name began simply as my name when I started as a solo singer. As we grew from a trio to a sextet and collaborated with various jazz musicians, I decided to name it the Juliet Varnedoe Jazz Band. This pays homage to King Oliver’s Jazz Band and highlights our dedication to the improvisational style of jazz music. What are your musical influences? Growing up, I was very devoted to classical piano. I studied and played Bach and Mozart and sang in Madrigal groups. When I started to live in cities, San Francisco and New York, I listened to jazz and started to perform in cabaret clubs to learn more about my own ability to perform live. New York City became a university for me. There is no specific genre that influences me. It’s like what Duke Ellinton said, “There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.” I am influenced by all sorts of good music. If given the chance, what musician(s) would you like to collaborate with? Rather this is to either write a song or be featured on a track. J: If given the chance, I would love to collaborate with the Lost Bayou Ramblers. Their authentic Cajun French sound perfectly complements the Acadian musical traditions I focus on.

What’s the new album about? J: Cajun Bleu is a study of a variety of blue chord changes and styles, but it also was a loving inquiry into my Cajun French roots. I have been singing jazz and blues standards for years, and I started to imagine how the blues and Acadian folk tunes were connected to New Orleans traditions. I needed a way to record my arrangement ideas down quickly, so I taught myself how to use a DAW (digital audio workstation). Once I discovered the ease and convenience of having a virtual band at my fingers, I added layers of harmonies, mainly focusing on traditional instruments found in jazz bands, particularly the accordion. It’s an eclectic mix that aspires to be a unique sound that is hauntingly familiar. Many of the songs are about memories inspired by the sounds and language I heard from my Cajun grandparents and the bayou settings I would visit as a child. The stories in Mon Cheri and Sing High Sing Low, convey a nostalgia about that special locality south of New Orleans. I also wanted to add Louisiana French phrases within the lyrics to honour that almost forgotten language that is currently reviving in South Louisiana. Traditionally the Acadian folk tunes are songs about lost love or heading to a dance party. Cajuns love dancing, so I explored that basic toe-tapping rhythm in many of the songs. The message is one of connection to one’s past culture and the joy of discovering ancestors’ traditions. Which songs on the album were the most fun to write and which were the most challenging to write? J: Each song has its own pathway, but they are all touching on the blues in some way. "Mon Cheri" is minor blues, and "Bon Rétablissement" is more Beale Street-based blues. Petite Fleur, a Sidney Bechtet cover, was a challenging arrangement, but I adore that melody.

Do you have any favourite songs off the new album? J: The song that's attracting the most attention right now is "Sing High Sing Low." It's a lively major blues piece featuring lots of accordion and trombone. I enjoy performing every track on the album, but this one is especially fun.

Do you have any favourite songs to perform live? Could be your own music or even a cover. Any reason why? J: I love singing jazz standards because you can interpret them in so many ways. I always return to them as a way to get better and for inspiration both lyrically and musically.

If you could perform a show this very second anywhere in the world, where would it be? Is there any particular venue(s) or city/cities that comes to mind? J: If I could perform a show this very second, it would be in a small cabaret-style theatre in Montreal, Paris, New Orleans, or any city with a rich French cultural heritage. Venues like Le Balcon in Montreal, Le Trianon in Paris, and Snug Harbor in New Orleans come to mind as perfect places to share our unique musical blend.

What do you currently have planned for the remainder of the year? J: I plan to continue promoting Cajun Bleu with performances in New York, as well as finishing two singles that I started while making this album. Thanks for taking the time today. Is there anything else you may want to add before you go? J: Yes, you can find more about my music here: If you are interested, you can also join my email list for more news.

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