For years Vancouver jazz vocalist Jaclyn Guillou has been performing her renditions of songs by Dinah Washington, the American singer and pianist known as the most popular black female recording artist of the 1950s.

Now This Bitter Earth, her tribute to the 'Queen of the Jukebox', has been nominated for a Juno award in the vocal jazz album of the year category.


Jaclyn Guillou joined CBC Radio's Hot Air host Margaret Gallagher on the Radio One show that's been on the air since 1947. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

The journey to Guillou's fourth album, which was officially released at a concert at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver Saturday, began when CBC Vancouver commissioned her to perform Washington's songs as part of a concert and TV special.

Since then, her fans have always wanted to keep hearing more.

"I get messages all the time with people asking me, 'Will you please come to our city and perform this music?' And, 'Will you please record this? We want to hear more of this music.'" Guillou told Hot Air host Margaret Gallagher.

So that's what Guillou did.

Classic songs revisioned

She teamed up with renowned Vancouver jazz bassist Jodi Proznick to pick out songs from Washington's vast catalogue, and to figure out how they — along with pianist Tilden Webb and other local musicians — were going to put their own unique spin on the songs.

"[Jodi Proznick] helped me pick through the songs and she had some really great suggestions on music we could look at as inspirations to give it the modern approach that I wanted," she said.

"I can't do anything too traditional. I'm a modern person. I don't want to recreate the song as it was done, so it was very cool working together in that way."

She said the band helped her figure out how they wanted to arrange All of Me, a popular jazz standard that Washington used to perform.

"I'm obsessed with this video of Dinah singing at Newport Jazz Festival. I think it's 1960 … and everybody's hanging out, there's all these great shots of the audience looking super cool and just having the greatest time," she said.

"So when Jodi and I were arranging this with Tilden … I said, 'I just want people to feel good. I want people to be feeling the music in their bodies with this song.

"This was one of the scariest things to do — to sing one of the most popular standards of all time and feel like I could've written it, that I'm not just the interpreter but the song is living inside of me."

This Bitter Earth marks the first time that Guillou has recorded an album of her singing covers of jazz standards, which she said was also "really scary,"

"I feel like it's more vulnerable to interpret [other people's songs], and everybody tells me that that's backwards," she said.

"I'd rather hide behind my own story because I'm more comfortable just being myself and being vulnerable, but to actually truly get into somebody else's writing is one of the hardest things, I find."

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