Vocalist Elaine Dame will be headlining the opening night, November 11th, of Winter's Jazz Club (411 E. Illinois St, Chicago). We caught up with Dame to learn more about how she got started in music, her concepts for performing and what people can expect to here Friday night at Winter's Jazz Club.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Where are you originally from and how did you get interested in jazz music?
Dame: I'm originally from Stevensville, Michigan. I didn't start listening to jazz until I was in my mid-thirties. The GM at a restaurant where I was working (Erwin) loved jazz and vocal jazz in particular. That was all he played. I fell in love with it and started to listen obsessively. A friend of mine turned me on to a book called "The Artist's Way" and I decided to become a jazz singer (I had been doing a lot of theater). I had always performed in musicals throughout high school and college, sang in a band when I lived in LA, and I studied classical voice and flute in college.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: In addition to being an accomplished vocalist you also play flute. What inspired you to choose flute and voice and how difficult is it conceptually to do both?
Dame: I started playing the flute in the fourth grade because my Mom had played and we had a flute in the house. As I mentioned, I studied classical flute and voice in college. The band director at my high school knew the music director at Pepperdine University, and he offered our school two music scholarships. Throughout high school and college, I took private voice, flute and piano lessons, and had to perform in choir and a woodwind ensemble as a stipulation of my scholarship. When I started singing jazz, I had wanted to play the flute as well and took some private lessons. I played on gigs sometimes and I don't practice much, so I'm not a good jazz flutist. I'm still a fairly decent classical player, so sometimes I play for the wedding ceremonies that I book with violin, guitar or cello. I'd like to eventually take the time to commit to practicing again so I can play the flute on jazz gigs.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: What are some of the milestones in your career that you feel helped you become the musician you are today?
Dame: I think the thing that has helped me solidify my style is just doing it. Luckily, when I first began singing jazz in 1997, I booked one of the house gigs at The Fairmont Hotel (back when all the hotels had live music), so I had the opportunity to sing 3-5 times a week. Then, I foraged and hustled for every gig I could find and took the gig no matter what, just so I could immerse myself. And I listened and continue to listen to the great jazz singers (and instrumentalists) that I love, imitating them, trying to recreate their tone and phrasing (Ella, Sarah and Carmen). I did not have a teacher so I was pretty green when I started. I had to sing the song in my head to get through the solos and know when to come back in! I didn't really know what swinging was or how to do it, or how to sing a bossa or a walking ballad or a blues. I learned on my own from doing and I learned a lot from the musicians I work with. There is no substitution for DOING, over and over and over and over again. That's the only way to learn a craft and of course, I'm still learning. Also, I began teaching about 8-9 years ago and I have become a better singer because of it. When you have to explain the fundamentals of jazz singing and all that that entails, you continue to focus on your own skills as a singer and you become stronger.
Elaine Dame Performing at the Chicago Jazz Fest 2015
Chicago Jazz Magazine: You will be headlining this Friday night Nov 11th at the new jazz club, Winter’s Jazz Club, in Streeterville. In addition to performing you are also the talent coordinator for the club. Can you tell us about the club and how you became involved in it?
Dame: I met Scott Stegman, the owner, when he came to my CD release party at The Jazz Showcase in December of 2013. We became fast friends and he asked me to help with the booking out of necessity (opening a jazz club is obviously a huge endeavor!) and because he knew that I knew a lot of musicians that he didn't know. I also put together the wine list and helped with the spirits list a little, and I'm going to be filling in as a manager every once in a while. I have over 40 years experience in the restaurant biz, both as a manager and server, and both Scott and I wanted the beverage program at Winter's to reflect the upscale atmosphere of the club and neighborhood. He took great care to hire the right professional (Kiran James) and she, in turn, has hired an amazing staff at the club.
Scott has been a lifelong jazz lover and he, most importantly, wants Winter's to be a true listening room, presenting straight-ahead, classic jazz (with an emphasis on singers), seven nights a week, two sets a night (with Friday and Saturday headliners of the same artist) and a Sunday-night Pro Jazz Jam with rotating hosts. His heart is really in the right place as he has a great respect for the art, the musicians and the audience. He even took the time to send a Welcome Letter with his philosophy of the club, to all the musicians we booked. He wants Winter's to be a special place for musicians to showcase their talent and has taken great effort to design the club so that the focus remains where it should be: on the music and those who create it. Right now, we are mostly booking local Chicago musicians, but we hope to eventually book national acts as well. And although straight-ahead jazz is the primary focus, we are also booking Trad Jazz, New Orleans-Style Jazz, Gypsy Jazz, and Big Band jazz, other "cousins of the genre" as Scott says.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: For your performance coming up on Friday what type of repertoire will you be performing?
Dame: I'll be performing selections from my two recordings as well as my favorite tunes from the vocal jazz canon. I'll be with pianist Dennis Luxion, bassist John Sims and drummer Jon Deitemyer, so I'll be in very, very good hands.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: After this performance can you tell us what else you have coming up
Dame: Beginning on Thursday, November 17th, I'll be performing at Winter's every other Thursday for six months. It'll be a great opportunity to really dig in with my quartet and work on some tunes/arrangements, as I'm hoping to record a live CD at Winter's. I'm also working on getting my show "The Lady Lyricists - Queens of Tin Pan Alley" to New York, at 54 Below, where I performed by Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn show.
Visit ElaineDame.com For updated performances and to purchase her recordings.