Looking back at the last 20 years, it’s hard to argue that any Canadian jazz musician has enjoyed as much success and notoriety as Diana Panton. The two-time JUNO Award winner has also reaped a lot of recognition internationally, particularly in places such as France and Japan, for her relentless, diverse, and creative approach to her craft.
We had the opportunity to speak at length with Panton a couple of years ago when she was promoting her A Cheerful Little Earful family album. A positive force who always has some new project on the go, she recently released her tenth studio record, blue, on October 28th, via Sono Recording Group. In stark contrast to the family-focused approach of some of her other work, blue is less casual and delves into the emotional fallout of a relationship that is breaking down. It’s actually the third part of a trilogy of albums she has worked towards that form a musical narrative about romance that began with pink, which was followed by RED, and is now being concluded with blue. Panton deliberately spread the release dates of these albums out over a decade to reflect the different stages that a relationship goes through as it moves toward its eventual end.
As a female vocalist, musician, and performer, Panton has looked to many female musicians, both past and present, for inspiration. For our latest, and long overdue new edition of Women of Rock, Panton joins us today to outline five specific female artists who had a particularly significant effect on her as a musician and as an individual.
1. Sheila Jordan
“At 93, Sheila still tours the globe and manages her own career! She is an inspiration to all those who meet her and hear her sing. She has the energy of most people a quarter her age. She’s hip, funky, with it, insightful, humorous, all of those things and more. Sheila is a living legend, one of the few remaining artists who personally knew titans of jazz, such as Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, etc. When I’m lucky enough to hang with Sheila, I feel like I’m tapped into jazz’s main artery. When she told me to ‘keep singing, never stop,’ I took that to heart. To me, her career is a model of what a life dedicated to your passion can look like.”
2. Ranee Lee
“Was one of the first jazz vocalists I heard in the flesh. She was an instructor at a jazz camp I attended as a teenager. In four days, she encouraged me to perform my first standard in front of a live audience (I was nervous as heck!). The song was ‘Tis Autumn’, and for years, it was one of my signature tunes that I included in my early performances (I later revisited it on my album Solstice/Equinox in 2019). Ranee made the musical genre accessible to a newbie like me, who had no prior jazz training. She put her whole body and feeling into her interpretations and inspired me to do the same.”
3. Norma Winstone
“I had the opportunity to learn from Norma Winstone while attending a workshop at the Banff Centre of the Arts. Very much a musician’s singer, she has a technical facility which has earned her the respect and admiration of her musical colleagues. Beyond her talents as a vocalist, she is also a gifted wordsmith, and she has written some of the best lyrics I’ve encountered in the jazz idiom, including the poignant story told in ‘Just Sometimes’ (which I included on the latest blue release). Though I have only dabbled in lyric writing, Norma inspires me to write as if each word is a lived experience.”
4. Billie Holiday
“To me, Billie Holiday is an alchemist, able to transform notes into raw emotion. A quick online search of the word alchemist, provides the following definition, ‘the transmutation of ‘base metals’ into ‘noble metals’; the creation of an elixir of immortality; and the creation of panaceas able to cure any disease.
“Billie Holiday was all of these things; she could take a banal song and raise it to the level of pure art; her music has a timeless quality that defies trends; and when she sings the blues, she is able to chase the blues away. In her hands, a song is more than just music/entertainment; it is an expression of the soul and has the ability to connect with others in that space. While recording the sad material on my recent blue recording, Billie inspired me to always sing from the heart and soul.”
5. Blossom Dearie
“As an independently-produced artist myself, Blossom’s unique approach to her own career is an inspiration to me. She had a strong sense of self and was known to speak her own mind. She embraced her distinctive voice and selected off-the-beaten-path material that was perfectly suited to her gentle sound. She expertly accompanied herself on piano and was also an accomplished lyricist. Eventually, she founded her own label, Daffodil Records, and produced an impressive catalogue of albums that stayed true to her vision of herself as an artist. blue will be my tenth independently-produced album, and Blossom inspires me to listen to my artistic muse and trust my musical instincts.
“There are so many more influential women I could have added to this list to whom I am truly grateful for the impact they have made on my life. Thank you!”