The Willows revive big band with debut album
Edmonton natives Lauren Pedersen, Andrea Gregorio and Krista Deady are The Willows, performing holiday dusted classic jazz at 11:20 a.m. daily at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge until Nov. 12. They stopped by the Fitzhugh’s international headquarters before their set on Wednesday. They return to JPL Dec. 23-25.
Craig Gilbert: You’re in Jasper for a series of concerts at the Fairmont.
Andrea: We released our debut album of original jazz tunes in September. We did a tour of Western Canada starting in Winnipeg and all the way across to Vancouver and we’re working our way back to Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal so this is our stopover before we head back east.
Craig: All major centres?
Krista: We did Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, that was our Prairie tour. Then we did Edmonton, Kelowna, Vancouver, Enderby, Calgary and now Jasper.
Lauren: The only one that wasn’t a major centre was Enderby. But it was a really great gig there!
Craig: What can people expect when they come to see you?
Andrea: It’s kind of like a residency at the JPL, some mix of holiday stuff for their Christmas in November, and then we also have tunes from our new album, Tea for Three, we have a pianist with us. We sometimes sing a capella but our album has full instrumentation, strings, and horns and a big band with us. It’s all jazz close three part harmonies with a retro feel and we add some dance moves in there too.
Craig: So if you say retro jazz I think of the Supremes and a do-wop sort of look.
Lauren: Maybe retro isn’t the right word; even farther back than that, like the Andrews Sisters.
Andrea: More vintage, like that 30s, 40s, jazz, swing, big band thing.
Craig: Where are you from originally?
Lauren: Edmonton, originally, we’re now living in Toronto.
Krista: We all grew up together in Edmonton, so we’ve known each other from a young age. Studied dance together. Then we went to Ryerson in 2008 for dance.
Craig: So you went for school and then you went pro.
Andrea: We’re trying!
Lauren: We danced together and got a bachelor of fine arts and then through that the music came, and now we’re dancing and singing.
Craig: Is the whole show Christmas-y?
Andrea: Mostly Christmas right now because up at the Lodge they’re full-on Christmas, but like Krista said we’re going to mix some of our original stuff with the Christmas stuff with some of the jazz standards we sing as well. It’s a big jumble of everything we do.
Krista: Throughout the stay, there’s a mix of demographics that come through and different crowds. So this week, we have some fans of the older sound, and they’re really digging it. On the weekend, that’s more party-time, so this is a refreshing musical experience.
Craig: The album isn’t all Christmas?
Lauren: We have a Christmas album, but this album is full of original big band jazz.
Krista: We’ve released a video, too, for our first song called Breakfast in Bed. We filmed it near Cambridge (Ontario) with a vintage car and a little surprise dance sequence in there.
Craig: What is it about jazz?
Andrea: We just got pulled into it by chance, really, through some of the people we were introduced to. So we had always started singing Andrews Sisters sound, that close three-part harmony, which is obviously music of the past, which definitely has that jazzy feel to it. I wouldn’t say all the music that we sang initially was jazz, but we were opening for another singer in Toronto a couple of summers ago. We met this radio host from JazzFM in Toronto and he was like ‘OMG, I can’t believe I haven’t met you guys!’ And we were like ‘well, we’re pretty new.’ So he took us under his wing and invited us to be a part of different jazz shows, so from there we got to meet all of these jazz musicians who we built relationships with. Certain musicians in particular, like our bassist George Koller, he’s really helped us along the way and mentored us and encouraged us to keep going with the jazz. It just kind of goes from one thing to the next and jazz is where we ended up.
Lauren: It’s also really nice because people tend to really listen with jazz. With a lot of the venues, it’s sit down, dinner, and a little floor for the people who want to dance.
Andrea: You’re not just background.
Lauren: Yeah, and we have done the background thing before at bars and open mics, and it’s just a different scene. We’re really fortunate; we played the Basement in Saskatoon. You’re basically guaranteed to have a full audience because of the listening population.
Krista: One more thing about jazz music that we like is that it’s all done live and there are a lot of moments where it’s off the cuff and the musicians are essentially jamming on stage. It’s new every time you hear it. We’re big fans of live performance so there’s that element of excitement and an experience that you will never forget if you’re watching this unique show.