Jazz Vocalist Susie Arioli Goes 'All The Way' Listen to an in-studio concert and conversation with the Canadian singer and her longtime guitarist, Jordan Officer.

Jazz Vocalist Susie Arioli Goes 'All The Way'

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. I've been waiting to hear singer Susie Arioli perform in concert for years, ever since I heard her 2002 album of swing songs and standards, "Pennies from Heaven." She's Canadian and has a big following there, but she's not well-known in the States and doesn't perform much here.

Yes, she recently did a U.S. tour, but it bypassed my city. Tired of waiting, I decided to set up a concert for her on our show, and that's what we have for you today. Susie Arioli recorded her first album in 2001. One of her albums went gold in Canada and so did a CD/DVD of one of her concerts.

Before we hear her perform, let's hear a track from her new album "All the Way." It features the guitarist she always performs with, Jordan Officer, who will also join us for the concert. This is "Time On My Hands."


SUSIE ARIOLI: (Singing) Time on my hands, you in my arms, nothing but love in view. Then if you fall, once and for all, I'll have my dream come true. Moments to spare with someone you care for, one love affair for two. And with time on my hands and you in my arms and love in my heart only for you.

GROSS: That's Susie Arioli from her new album "All the Way." Now, joining us from the CBC in Montreal are singer Susie Arioli, guitarist Jordan Officer and bass player Frederic Grenier. Welcome to FRESH AIR.

I want to start with one of the songs that's on your new album, and this is a song called "It's Always You," and it's actually one of several songs that I associated with Chet Baker because among the songs that you do on this album that he's done, "It's Always You," "Forgetful," "My Funny Valentine," did you mean this record to be a partial homage to Chet Baker, Susie?

ARIOLI: I really, really did. I've always loved Chet Baker and his incredible technique. I mean, he could be lying under a table, and his voice is just so incredible.


ARIOLI: You know what I mean? Like there's certain singers like that. I actually kind of had to go through a whole cycle of listening to him and imitating him, you know, before realizing that I obviously couldn't do an imitation, like not only couldn't I do it, but it wasn't smart, you know, it was stupid.

So I really loved part of that intention, though, that Julie London, Chet Baker. Intimacy with a microphone has really - is very appealing to me. So I was definitely thinking of him and yet trying not to act like him, you know.

GROSS: OK, so why don't you perform "It's Always You," which is a song by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. And this is Susie Arioli singing, with Jordan Officer on guitar and Frederic Grenier bass.


GROSS: Lovely.


ARIOLI: Thanks.

GROSS: That's Susie Arioli singing for us. I neglected to mention that she's also playing snare, with Jordan Officer on guitar and Fred Grenier bass; a song many of us associate with Chet Baker.

Susie, I'm tempted to ask you to actually do a Chet Baker imitation.


ARIOLI: Oh, my God.

GROSS: Just see, like, what was it that you were imitating when you were trying to get what is the essence of Chet Baker.

ARIOLI: Well, one thing he does is he holds his notes super long, like...

(Singing) My funny valentine.

I - sorry, Chet. But that thing, like that's how I was singing it at the beginning, and I was like oh my God, you can't hold a note so long, Susie, you're not Chet Baker. He's got his own brain happening, his own heart, his own way, context. But I guess I had to go through those steps of completely trying to imitate him.

I mean, to me when I was trying to completely imitate him, I sounded cold. I sounded detached from the song. I just didn't sound like me, and it's important to not do that, I think. You might as well sound like yourself, you know?

But I think that's one of the main things is incredible tone, just like his trumpet playing, I found, was almost like an extension, just that tone, and I don't know how he breathed. Maybe he breathed through his ears or something, but, you know, that dude could sing.

GROSS: And the music that you play is, you know, largely standards from maybe the '30s on up with some country, as well. How did you gravitate to that repertoire?

ARIOLI: I found that, like, singing in my life, I remember one time I guess when I was kind of just about to get out of high school, I figured that jazz was available to singers. Do you know what I mean? Like the jazz tome is open to interpretation. So as a singer, as a musician, we've all got the capacity to look at those jazz songs, whereas if you're doing pop, pop is a bit more associated with every artist who has that song. Do you know what I mean?

GROSS: Mm-huh.

ARIOLI: And I didn't want to - I wasn't writing, and I didn't want to have to imitate completely the pop song, or else it would sound crappy. You know, like at the time, anyway, I just thought, well, as a singer, not only are the songs incredible in jazz, but that's what I'm supposed to do. I don't know, I just thought it was logical, like incredible music, and it's all about how it's OK for different people to do it.

And so that's what I just thought I - and plus, I don't know, I think that's the main reason, is I just that what I was supposed to do if I loved singing, you know.

GROSS: It makes sense to me. Well, Jordan, I want to hear more about your guitar playing, but first I'd love for you to do another song. So let me recommend one that you also do on your new album, and this is "When Your Lover Has Gone," and you do the verse on this. It's a terrific verse. Susie, do you want to say why you chose this, or Jordan, if you're the one who chose it, explain why?

ARIOLI: I don't know why I chose this song.

JORDAN OFFICER: I think because you liked it.

ARIOLI: Probably because I liked it. That's kind of why people sing songs, Jordan.

GROSS: Oh, that's too simple.


ARIOLI: I hated it, so I figured...


ARIOLI: There were many songs that were the first ones that made sense, that kind of defined what this new record was going to be, and that's sort of one of the later ones that we just came upon when we were just going through standards and kind of remembered that song, and, yeah, that's a really beautiful song.

GROSS: So when you say what defined what the record was going to be, what was the definition?

ARIOLI: Well, we kind of were moving away from a more of a swing idiom, which we love, and we were just - I actually wanted to sound a little more modern. I wanted to try and do more of a modern jazz, not contemporary, of course, but modern. There's all these people that I admire, and I wasn't - like Chet Baker, I could never really do a Chet Baker in a swing form, you know. It didn't sound at all rational.

And I also wanted to play with different musicians because swing music is a bit more hothouse flower, you know, it's very contained, small vocabulary, where as bebop, a lot more people know that language and can play it, and I feel like as a musician, I would like to be able to play with other human beings, you know, not just my band. Do you know what I mean?

So it kind of opened us, I'm hoping to, and even now, like, we're playing with different musicians like Fred. He's - he ain't no swing guy, and we can communicate on this level, which kind of makes me a happier musician that I can play with different people.

GROSS: OK, so maybe you can do "When Your Lover Has Gone" for us.

ARIOLI: Cool, a real modern song.



GROSS: Nice. That's Susie Arioli on vocals and drum; Jordan Officer, guitar; Fred Grenier, bass. And they're at the CBC in Montreal performing for us, and the first two songs that they did are from their new album, "All The Way."

And Susie, you were talking about how the repertoire of the band is changing, moving more from swing songs to more modern songs. Jordan, what has that meant for you in terms of what you're playing on guitar?

OFFICER: Well, the more swing, like, side approach that we had before fit very easily with my playing because I have a lot of blues and country influence in my playing. And so it was more similar to that kind of swing language than more modern jazz.

But over the years playing with Susie, I've just discovered more and more jazz, becoming more and more a fan of it. I actually, I also studied a couple of years at McGill in the jazz program, and I just got to like all of it more and more. So it was just a great challenge to try to go and get some of that more modern language, like Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery and other guitar players that I really loved but who have less of an obvious influence in my playing.

GROSS: Now early on, your playing was, like, especially influenced by Django Reinhardt. Can you play a little bit of what you learned from listening to him?

OFFICER: Well, there's some obvious things like certain little figures that I like to do, like...


OFFICER: Stuff like that. I really like his tremolo playing. He has a great tremolo, and - but mostly it's kind of - it's his attitude that I really loved. I've never been one of those kind of Django players that plays really that style, but he just has a great attitude, like a crazy monster with a huge heart. And Coleman Hawkins makes me think of that, too. Like, he's got this huge technique and monstrous approach but so much soul and heart and beauty in what he does. So I really like that personality of his.

GROSS: So joining us from the CBC in Montreal are singer and snare drum player Susie Arioli, guitarist Jordan Officer and bass player Fred Grenier. And they have a new album called "All The Way." We're going to take a short break here. Then they'll perform some more, and we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, we're featuring a performance and conversation with singer Susie Arioli, who's also playing snare; guitarist Jordan Officer; and bass player Fred Grenier. They have a new album called "All The Way."

The song that I want you to play next is a country song, "You Don't Know Me," that I think most people probably know through Ray Charles, which is one of the country songs that he did. And I know you guys opened for Ray Charles toward the beginning of your career, maybe at the very beginning of your career playing together. How did you end up opening for Ray Charles before you'd even made a record?

ARIOLI: Yeah, we played on a Friday, and it was an outdoor show, and it was spectacular weather after some really crappy weather. And it was wonderful. We had never played such a big show ever, and it was really fun, and we got a really beautiful response, and we did - what's the song we did, Jordan, the Ray Charles song?

OFFICER: I think "Lonely Avenue."

ARIOLI: "Lonely Avenue," that's right because we were doing a lot, and we were getting rockier. And then Charles Brown, after we went and celebrated, Charles Brown wasn't able to make the gig. And Jordan was actually wondering, gee, I wonder who's going to replace his show and who's going to open for Ray Charles.


ARIOLI: So we got a phone call the next day that said, so, you want to open for Ray Charles on Sunday night at Place de Zara, like the biggest venue in Montreal? And, you know, we all just adore Ray Charles. I mean, he's a big part of my life growing up and still now. So that was a gigantic thrill for us to play for him. It was really great.

And he was happy. I think we got the gig because we did "Lonely Avenue," and that was kind of a reason to...

It may be one of the reasons it occurred to them, but yeah, he had heard - I don't know if I heard our show, but his guy told him that they did "Lonely Avenue." He said - we talked to him a bit, which is really cool also, and he said, oh, that's cool that you did that song, you should do it again, maybe. It was nice to meet him.

GROSS: Let's do your Ray Charles shout-out here.


GROSS: And this is "You Don't Know Me," and do you want to do it for us?

ARIOLI: With joy.

GROSS: OK, so this is Susie Arioli on vocal and snare; Jordan Officer, guitar; and Frederic Grenier, bass.


GROSS: Oh, that was beautiful.

ARIOLI: Thanks.

GROSS: Susie, sometimes you sing just like you're sighing, it's just so, so lovely.


ARIOLI: Thanks.

GROSS: We'll hear more music and conversation in the second half of the show with singer Susie Arioli, guitarist Jordan Officer and bass player Fred Grenier, who are joining us from the CBC in Montreal. Susie Arioli's new album is called "All The Way." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to our concert and conversation with singer Susie Arioli, guitarist Jordan Officer, and bass player Frederic Grenier. They're joining us from the CBC in Montreal, where they live. Arioli and Officer made their first album together in 2001. They perform swing songs and jazz standards, as well as some country songs. Their new album is called "All the Way."

So I have another request and this is something from your next to the last album. And the song is called "Can't We Be Friends."

ARIOLI: Oh, goodie.

GROSS: And before you sing it, tell us how you first learned the song, how you first heard it.

ARIOLI: Hmm. Good question. It's probably a Frankie.

OFFICER: I think so.

ARIOLI: I think it's a Frank, Frank Sinatra. You know, I'm always, there's a lot of songs out there, Terry, and I'm always trying to find the ones that, you know, you try to find the songs that you resonate with at the time or that has words that come out of your mouth well. I mean I like the sentiment. I like the mood. I like this slyness of "Can't We Be Friends" and the mock, you know, mock sadness and stuff. And it's fun to perform because I get to do googly eyes at people in the audience and it's dramatic. And I mean it's hard to tell, you know, if I like the story, I mean a lot of songs, like they have interesting stories, they're not just, they're not boring. What can I say? I like the story.


GROSS: So Bing Crosby recorded this I think in the 1930s. So the song goes pretty far back. How contemporary do you do it?

ARIOLI: Well, I find that a lot of the jazz songs, like even the modern songs, they were written a long time ago. Like we were almost going to put a song that was sung by Nina Simone - not Nina Simone - Sarah Vaughn, pardon me. And which one was it? It was...

OFFICER: "Say It Isn't So."

ARIOLI: "Say It Isn't So." And the original version of "Say It Isn't So" is so chipper. And then she, I have two versions of her, one of them I guess is earlier and it's a bit chipper, and another one is her just stretching it so dramatically. And you say to yourself, how could it have been done any different. It's incredible, you know? You just have to...

GROSS: That's an old Irving Berlin song.

ARIOLI: Indeed. And it's like (Singing) Say it isn't so. Say it isn't so. (Speaking) And she's like, (Singing) Say it isn't so. (Speaking) She finds an aspect to it and I think that's what's so wonderful about music; you can just, just find something, it doesn't have to be like fabulously unique, but something meaningful and resonating and then as soon as you do it, it's contemporary. You know what I mean? I think we have to be allowed - I guess - we have to be allowed to sing these beautiful songs and be contemporary with them, you know? Because they're just too good to say, oh well, they're old, they must die now. It's like, really?


ARIOLI: It brings so much happiness to me to sing them, you know, and I would hope that children when they're older would sing them. I mean if somebody stopped singing these songs, it would be pretty sad, I think. Yeah.

GROSS: OK. So do "Can't We Be Friends" for us.

ARIOLI: All right.


GROSS: That's great. I'm so glad you do the verse on that because the verse is so like high drama and...

ARIOLI: I know.

GROSS: And the song itself is so, you know, kind of like swinging and jaunty.

ARIOLI: We love those paradoxes.

GROSS: So Susie, you know, your father was actually, who passed away a few years ago, I'm sad to say, but he was pretty, he was apparently pretty well-known in Canada because he worked on the Canadian version of "Sesame Street?"

ARIOLI: Yeah. He was born in the States and lived in the States until he was - I guess after he went to the Marines and had his, you know, his eyes opened to the artistic side of life. He went to Toronto and got a job after not working for many years, with the National Film Board. And yeah, that was - I mean, at the time animation was really big in the world and there was lots of going over to Yugoslavia and people, international - and Montreal or Canada was kind of a hub of that because of the National Film Board and the tons of people that were animating and making these exquisite movies. And yeah, the Health and Welfare Canada hired him a lot. He's such a friendly cute guy, Terry. He was adorable. He's a little smaller than me and I would walk with him, my whole life people thought he was Santa Claus. Little kids would just say Santa Claus.

You didn't (ph) look like Santa Claus. (Unintelligible) a beard, but whatever. And he (unintelligible) sparkling eyes. So he had a really wonderful career and a lot of people enjoyed working with him, and I know he had lots of hard work, but he met some really wonderful people and there was lots of love there.

GROSS: So did you grow up with a lot of the "Sesame Street" songs?

ARIOLI: I loved "Sesame Street." And actually, Terry, I had the chance to skip school and go do voices for "Sesame Street."

GROSS: No, really? I didn't know that.

ARIOLI: It was so great. Hi, this is Jack. I forget. Like I did about 25 of them and I guess they just keep renewing them. I mean there's a huge amount of films that go on that show. And, yeah, so I had - my first vocal work was doing voice work for my dad and his friends down at the studio...

GROSS: Spoken words or singing in character?

ARIOLI: Totally spoken. I was a little kid and I could take direction well, so I wasn't becoming a character, I was just the kid. I was a kid or, you know what I mean? I was always the kid some kind of animal that talks goofy or something. You know, I was the straight guy.

GROSS: Oh that's great. Did that help you sing, learning to use your voice in different characters?

ARIOLI: I think so. I think what it actually helped me to do is to just be cool in front of a microphone and to learn how to take direction. You know, like, could you just do it in the hamina hamina way? And I would say yes, I can, you know? So that kind of confidence, and I guess it kind of started - you know how everyone gets kind of grossed out when they hear themselves on tape? I mean I'm sure you've heard it before; when you first hear yourself on tape, it's not wonderful. So I kind of...

GROSS: Oh, I was horrified.

ARIOLI: Yeah, exactly. It's horrifying. It's so odd, you know? But I guess I got, I was able to get over that when I was a kid because I heard my voice so often. I'm still not quite over it, but it did help.

GROSS: How did you end up, how did you start off playing drums in addition to singing?

ARIOLI: Well, I started playing the snare with my sister when she was writing songs and, you know, totally amateur night, we played for our friends. And, you know, I was always harmonizing with her because she's a soprano and, you know, I just fall into my role and I like to do that a lot, and I would be playing my thigh, you know, and she said, you know, my boyfriend's son has a - I think he has a snare in the closet there and a couple of, you know, very gnarly looking brushes. And when I finally met Jordan and started to play, indeed, we had another drummer, but then we knew - like, we wanted to keep it intimate, you know, and we found that if I played the snare it could really control the dynamics a lot and we can get really quiet and really loud and we wouldn't have to be like - it was just easier at the time. Plus for me to just play it, it made the sound a lot more direct and clear. It was nice for me. I love playing the snare. I love having something to do on stage with the other - while the music is happening when I'm not singing, it's very exciting for me. Plus the role that I'm playing tempo-wise and trying to find communion with the bass player is, while the guitar has his own thing going on, is very important to me and it makes me feel really good. I really enjoy it.

GROSS: It's probably hard for a singer on stage when they break and everybody takes a solo - as is so often the case - in jazz concerts. And I think the singer has to stand by the mic looking at solo after solo, like wow, that's the best solo I've ever heard.

ARIOLI: I know.


ARIOLI: Indeed, that's true, right? You're not going to stand there looking bored, right? Of course. Even if you're not bored, there would have to be some animation. Indeed, that does take away, I mean, yeah, it's kind of a disconnect also. Anyway, for me personally, I love the fact that I can do that and I recommend it to all singers who can't find a drummer, who are irritated with their drummer...


ARIOLI: ...you just get a snare and do it, you know?

GROSS: I'll tell you what, let's take a short break and then we'll come back and talk some more. You can sing and play some more.

If you're just joining us, my guests are singer Susie Arioli, who is also playing snare, guitarist Jordan Officer, and bass player Fred Grenier. The Susie Arioli Band has a new album called "All the Way."

We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: We're featuring a performance and conversation with jazz singer Susie Arioli, who is also playing snare, guitarist Jordan Officer, and bass player Fred Grenier. There is a new Susie Arioli album called "All the Way." And they're all joining us from the CBC studio in Montreal, where they live.

So Susie and Jordan, for several years you were a couple in addition to being musical partners, and now you're just musical partners?


ARIOLI: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So has that changed the dynamic of playing together? Like was there a period where you thought, well, if you're not going to be a couple, then you can't play together either? I mean I'm sure glad your music relationship didn't break up.

ARIOLI: Yeah, well, I don't know if we considered not playing together. We kind of have a vocabulary for playing together, which is strong, which may have been the main thing and the couple thing was kind of like, well, you know how sometimes you feel like you should be a couple? Like maybe we weren't even destined to be a couple, we were just in a band, but as is the wont of a singer and guitarist you start hanging out together, but you know, it's an intimate relationship. It's changed some of the things, but I - I think we have a - we've made a bunch of records together and that's pretty solid. What do you think there?

OFFICER: I think the question came up, and when we recorded "Night Lights" it just worked and it worked really well and we didn't want to stop, so that confirmed it for us, I think. And the tour went great and we just continued and it's been - it's worked out.

GROSS: So you guys are pretty well-known in Canada and you've had, you know, you've been nominated for Junos, which is the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy. One of your albums went gold in Canada, whereas in the United States you are not very well-known, and I hope to do my part to change that just a little bit.


GROSS: But is it hard for you when you're performing in the States? Like you're used to like sold-out crowds in Canada and you come here and like not that many people know who you are. Is that discouraging?

ARIOLI: Well, what we did to remedy that was to find a lovely record label named Jazz Heads and put a record out there. So they were happy to distribute us and actually be our record company in the United States, which I think is what we should - maybe we should have done a long time ago. But obviously we're going to be less known in the States if we're, you know what I mean, if we don't even have a record out there. So I think that was kind of a reason that it was hard and I think hopefully this will make a difference because I mean a big part of my life is stateside. I have family there. I've got a history there.

And I love going there. It's a big country. We have to go there. So we're, I think this is something that we tried to do to make it. I mean we have tons of fans on the Internet. I get these beautiful letters from people in Florida and Pennsylvania and, you know, any old place where people like music. And there's these - there's still jazz shows. So I guess the DJs like us and they play us. And so I'm hoping that we'll get - because of putting the record out there - that we'll have more opportunity just to visit and just have a presence there.

GROSS: Well, let's end with another song. And maybe you could do the title track from your new album "All the Way." And tell us - I mean, Frank Sinatra owns the song. I'm not saying that you don't.


GROSS: I'm just saying, like - I was going to ask you why - how you know the song. Obviously, you must know it through Frank Sinatra. But why did you decide to do it?

ARIOLI: Well, I did love the version of Frank Sinatra, and then I think what made it, clinched it is Harry Connick, Jr. - you know, dreamboat, lovely. And he does a lovely version of it, too. One thing I like to do is if I notice that not very many women are singing a song, I like to do that. I like to give it a different perspective, you know?

It's a different vibe, and I enjoy that little bit of theater that you can put into a song. You know, like, those are basically known male singers, but I don't know. It's such a classic, and I really did want to put some classic jazz songs that everybody knew on this record just to kind of not be so obscure all the time.

And I like to - we also like to find the obscure songs, you know. But it's also nice because, I mean, a lot of the well-known songs are just stunning, you know? And I figured I might be able to do it this time, and I hope that people like it. I guess you like it. So that's good.


GROSS: Yes. All right. So here we go. This is - performing for us in Montreal at the CBC studio there, is Susie Arioli, voice and snare, Jordan Officer, guitar, and Fred Grenier, bass.


GROSS: Well, I want to thank all of you for performing for us: Susie Arioli, voice and snare, Jordan Officer, guitar, Fred Grenier, bass. Thank you all. I wish you the best, and very generous of you to sing and play for us today.

ARIOLI: Thank you, Terry. It's so wonderful talking to you again, and I really - we really appreciate this. This is wonderful.

GROSS: Well, I love your music. So thank you.

FRED GRENIER: Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: Thank you.

Susie Arioli's new album, featuring guitarist Jordan Officer, is called "All the Way." They and bass player Frederick Grenier joined us from the CBC in Montreal, where they live. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new movie comedy "Hope Springs." This is FRESH AIR.

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