Vocalist Amber Epp has made a name for herself singing with Papa Mambo and Trio Bembe.

Her effortless singing in Spanish, grooving to a Latin beat is memorable.

Now she's about to release her first solo jazz cd. It's called Inside Outside and it features 12 wide-ranging songs, including five that she wrote herself. 

SCENE asked Epp to explain how a Mennonite girl from Steinbach landed up singing jazz and Latin music.

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I grew up with a very strong choral tradition (Mennonites are hearty singers!), and I seized every singing opportunity that came my way. I discovered jazz as I finished high school, when my choir teacher, Kristel Peters, played It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing for us in class. I went home and looked up the song, and was introduced to jazz giants like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. I was hooked!

Amber Epp

Amber Epp releases her first solo jazz cd, Inside Outside. (Scott Senior)

For my 18th birthday, my parents took me to the Hang, a weekly jazz jam session put on by the University of Manitoba jazz faculty, and that was it - I knew what I wanted to do. It took a few months to build up the courage to sit in and sing a tune. I finally did it - and fell flat on my face! But I got up the next week and tried again.

Six months later, I was in the Jazz Program at the University of Manitoba, having the time of my life. I loved all the cool chords, new rhythms, and the excitement of improvisation - things that I hadn't experienced while growing up performing mostly classical music.

Once I moved to Winnipeg, I met more of the city's musicians, particularly those who play Latin music. I loved it right away. I would follow Rodrigo Muñoz (Papa Mambo) around, asking him to show me how to play the claves and ask what they were singing. I even faked my way through Spanish for quite a while, and I tried to keep up with the dance moves too. Mennonite rebellion!.

Eventually, I became part of Papa Mambo, formed my own Latin group (Trio Bembe), and even went to Cuba for three months to study music there.

Though I perform a lot of Latin music these days, I felt that this was the year to do a jazz album - almost like returning to my first love. I enjoy performing both musics equally, and mixing the two works out really well. Inside Outside has some bossa novas and Cuban grooves, but you'll also hear some traditional swing, and even a Joni Mitchell tune.

Amber Epp releases her cd on Monday December 2 at 8 p.m. at the Park Theatre. Before then, catch her on SCENE on Air with host Bruce Ladan on Saturday November 30. The show airs every Saturday from 5 - 6 p.m. on CBC Radio One, 89.3 FM/990 AM/97.9 FM in Brandon.