Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Article From Focus Magazine

Maureen Washington ~ Photo by Dean Kalyan

Focus Magazine
November 20 & December 11 2014
First Metropolitan Church

AS A TEENAGER SINGING with her high school choir like the kids on Glee, Maureen Washington knew that one day she would be a professional singer. She explains, “Music came alive in choir for me. It was like I ate,
dreamed, breathed, everything music.” And, while the dream didn't come to fruition for many years after high school, she admits that
“music was always a part of my soul.”

Ms Washington is now an award-winning jazz and blues artist, though she kind of fell into those genres. She had begun her professional career as a “folky” Tracey Chapman singer/songwriter type. But an opportunity arose to sing jazz, and Washington accepted, albeit with a bit of trepidation: “It was like, ‘ok...?’” She does admit, however, “I fell in love with the genre because it’s so unique, so
melodic. There’s cheekiness. There’s sorrow. There’s all sorts of things that you can tell in the story of the song. There’s so much expression that you can add into the music…I always tell people, ‘I’m not really a singer, I’m a story teller.’”

To tell that story, Washington adopts the persona of the jazz diva, decked out in the
uniform of old Hollywood glamour: a Breakfast at Tiffany’s bouffant, false eyelashes and dramatic makeup, stunning gowns and cocktail dresses, evening gloves, and lots of bling. She confesses, “I love old Hollywood. You look back at pictures, and just the classiness and the elegance and all of that kind of thing.
I absolutely love it!”

And, she has the musical chops to back it all up: abundant stage flair and a luxuriant, powerful, emotive voice that grabs listeners and rules their passions with ease. Washington’s exceptional expressive range actually inspired Minister Allan Saunders of the First Metropolitan Church to develop the Jazz Alive! Concert series. Each themed Wednesday event features a different local musician performing, with readings by Saunders tied in. Themes include: gratitude, journeys, life’s obstacles, and joy. Washington sees it as a chance for people “to stop life and take a moment to reflect.” She also revels in the ambiance. Of her October performance, she says, “There was a really neat atmosphere in the room. You could just feel this real great gentle energy.”

Washington performs with Daniel Cook who co-wrote her album Here We Go Again. Cook is known for his fresh brand of original West Coast roots music, and as a guitarist who blends melody and minimalism into a sweet mix of jazz and country guitar traditions.

Some other upcoming performers during the series include: Karel Roessingh with Aaron Scoones (Nov 6), Kelby MacNayr (Nov 13 & Dec 4 ), and Aidan Miller (Nov 27).

Each evening ends with coffee and fellowship.Wednesday evenings until December 11,
7-8 pm. Admission by donation. 932 Balmoral Rd, 250-388-5188, www.firstmetvictoria.com.

—Lisa Szeker-Madden Focus Magazine 


MUSIC Big Personality: Maureen Washington
by Natalie North - Monday Magazine posted Dec 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM
Photo by Tina Cyr
In a Victoria operating room, a nurse makes pre-surgery small talk. “You’re a singer?” she says prior to beginning a routine procedure. “You should sing something for us.”
Her patient then launches into La Vie en Rose, the smooth French lyrics rise up and fill the OR. The nurse breaks down in tears.
“She said: ‘That just made my day. That just made my day,’” recounts jazz singer Maureen Washington. “And then she cut me up.”
Washington calls herself a storyteller. Her tales, in song, are woven from pieces of her own experiences, of which this single mother of five has plenty. Washington somehow played 99 shows in 2013. Still, she seemed just a little disappointed when that nurse didn’t request an encore performance at a follow up appointment. The vocalist, songwriter and self-described procrastinator had a holiday song ready and though she can grow a little tired of giving her goods away for free – cut to last January when she was held hostage taking requests at a karaoke night on vacation in Mexico – she revels in her calling as a songstress.
“I love the magic of being captivated in a song. Sometimes I just sing, but I love the magic that takes you away. It sometimes takes me away in a different way than the listeners, but I love that you can say so much in a song and be taken away to someplace else for that little moment.”
That love was strong enough to take Washington away quite literally – from her home town of Prince George, despite plenty of notoriety and work as a vocal coach and lounge singer. The shift can be attributed to a friendship with a man known-well around the Victoria music scene, singer-songwriter Daniel Cook. Washington met Cook while he was living up north and after a successful run in a dance band together, Cook began encouraging Washington to move to Victoria.
For someone entrenched in a life with five kids and a mortgage, her answer was plainly: no.
“He’d still phone and say: ‘When are you coming?’”
In August 2006, a 39-year-old Washington arrived in Victoria with four of her five kids (the fifth has since moved to the island to join her). That night, asleep in Cook’s basement, where the family stayed for their first month in the city, Washington awoke startled.
“I actually sat up and said ‘Oh my gosh, what did I just do?’ I just sold my house and moved my family here and I didn’t even know Victoria.”
With no job and no plan, coming off a hectic work/life schedule back in Prince George, Washington took advantage of her first months here to recharge. By Christmas, she began performing. Fast forward a few years and her gig schedule is once again non-stop.
“Some things you can look at logically and say: ‘That’s not going to work.’ I say: ‘What if it does work?’ Then I jump. Sometimes I don’t even have that conversation with myself. I just go and mid-jump I realize I didn’t look at the risks. But then it’s OK. I have a lot of confidence in who I am.”
This mom calls herself a diva for the glitz and glamour, not the attitude. But like others with the title, she’s bold. She’s a powerhouse vocalist in false eyelashes who doesn’t mind wiping a bandmate’s face if need be. And when she sees that diva strength come out in her daughters, she doesn’t mind at all.
“Some of the things that I’ve done in my life that my kids have watched, or seen me struggle through have brought in that confidence. Even the quiet ones have strong personalities.”
The next two leaps on the horizon for Washington: recording more music and heading out on tour. She considers both money-losers, but integral to telling her stories to new audiences.
“I always hope that people feel inspired. That they felt loved. That they felt sorrow. That they actually felt emotions. That they stopped their lives and actually just got to breathe. That they actually stopped their lives, whatever was going on and just had those moments to feel embraced, loved, angered. That they got to feel something other than stressed and busyness.”
Even if those moments happen in a hospital room.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Newspaper article from Times Colonist

From food demos to jazz singer (with video)

Music was always in Maureen Washington's orbit, but cooking demonstrations tapped her inner performer

Maureen Washington takes great delight in being called slightly outside the box.
"I've been a crazy woman," Washington says with a big laugh. "I've worn a lot of hats in my life. I've been a million different people."
Washington, 45, is a selftaught singer, teacher, entertainer, organizer and storyteller whose personality could be classified as larger-than-life. Wacky, perhaps.
The gregarious singer with the solid-gold voice mines the jazz and blues repertoire for her concerts, but that's only half of what makes her so interesting. A conversation with Washington is full of stories that almost always end in laughter, tales you might consider too good to be true if the person telling them wasn't so eminently likable.
She was born and raised in Prince George, the youngest child in a family that still has strong ties to the area (Washington's mother has lived in Prince George for 72 years).
Washington was exposed to music throughout her childhood. Her tastes didn't always mesh with those of her parents and friends, so she developed some unique musical choices in her teens.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were a favourite, to the surprise of everyone. "I was always a little bit behind whatever kids were listening to. I loved the '50s. I loved the '60s. You could put on a piece of classical music and I was moved."
Something musical was always in her orbit, though music didn't truly come alive for Washington until she was in high school.
"I was in the choir, and everything I did - eat, sleep, drink - was music or anything to do with theatre and the arts."
She graduated from Duchess Park secondary with no firm direction. She eventually enrolled in music classes at a college in Alberta, but her education became sidetracked almost immediately after Washington got married at 21.
She returned to Prince George and by the time she was 28, she had given birth to five children, each of whom she home-schooled for seven years.
Those days, as Washington jokingly describes them, were her "dark years" as a performer. She stopped singing - to anyone other than her kids - and was working for a direct-sales kitchen supply company, Pampered Chef, doing cooking demonstrations for clients.
Surprisingly enough, it was during those presentations that she found her calling. "I started to realize I was an entertainer. I wasn't a sales person per se, because I had this shtick when I gave my spiel. It became an event."
Bosses at her company intimated that Washington should resume her career as a performer. Being asked to sing at a company conference "spurred me back into it" for good, she said.
It didn't take Washington long to settle into her new job. Music, as it turned out, became her saviour. "When I was 26 years old, I looked old. I felt old. But then I hit 35 and I started to look younger, feel younger."
Her first kick at the can was an album of original alt-folk songs. Shortly thereafter, in 2002, she got hired to sing for a Prince George jazz band, Bop, a decision that would eventually bring her to Victoria.
When Daniel Cook, lead guitarist of Bop, decided to move to Victoria in 2006, he told Washington to do the same. "I actually don't know why I thought it would be OK," Washington said with a big laugh. "I said, 'I have five kids and a mortgage, are you freaking kidding me?' "
He wasn't. Cook left Prince George for Victoria in March of that year. Four months later, Washington had sold her house and was following suit, albeit with no discernible employment options.
Against all odds, music wound up paying her bills. The pairing of Cook and Washington continues - they perform together Friday and Saturday night at Vista 18 in the Chateau Victoria Hotel - but the soulful singer has begun to work extensively with others, too, some of whom qualify as the best the city has to offer.
That was her on-the-job training. "All my training has come from doing. The amount I have worked with Karel Roessingh over the last two years, he's been my teacher."
Now that her children are growing up and moving out - the youngest is now 17 - a new journey lies ahead for Washington.
She'll face it headfirst, no matter the outcome.
"When I'm 90, I'm not going to go, 'What would have happened had I moved to Victoria?' I can say, 'This is what happened when I moved to Victoria.' "

Read more: http://www.timescolonist.com/From+food+demos+jazz+singer+with+video/6629569/story.html#ixzz1vOjs7Yna

Saturday, April 23, 2011

She won a Monday award on a Tuesday

"They like me! They really, really like me!"

It was one of those moments for Maureen Washington on Tuesday, when she won a fan-vote based Monday Magazine M award for best jazz and blues vocalist or group at the Victoria Event Centre.

Washington grew up in Prince George and moved to Victoria four years ago to take a chance and further her musical career.

"So having the support in my new town and the support in Prince George, it's absolutely astounding because this is the first time I've ever been nominated and to win when there's been people nominated off and on throughout the years and bang -- I'm just dumb founded with all the support I have," said Washington.

It took a bit of time out of someone's busy day to find the website, register to vote and to vote, she added. She can't believe that many people took the time to do that -- for her, she said.

"It overwhelms my heart," Washington said. "It's so fabulous. To be honest I didn't think I would win because the other two musicians are fantastic, phenomenal musicians that have been playing for many, many years in the community. But my people were just gung-ho and going for it."

The evening of awards drove home the point for Washington that live performance is celebrated, ever-popular and still going strong, she said.

"There are days that you spin your wheels and you ask yourself what you're doing this for," said Washington. "But when you know you've got all these people cheering you on, it makes you think you're going to get up and do another show and keep pushing it forward."

Her category of best jazz and blues vocalist or group was called second during the gala evening.

"There was a part of me that was sitting there just asking for it to be over with because I'm dying and then when I heard my category would go second it was like -- what?! Wait! I'm not ready!" she laughed.

"They had a great MC and the staff at Monday Magazine is just so wonderful. It's their favourite event of the year and there's so much energy and talent in the room. And you know these artists that have been nominated are some of the best of the best. So it's a real highlight."

Washington has been nominated for a Vancouver Island Music Award for Female Singer of the Year and the awards gala will be held in Courtenay on June 23.

Copyright 2011 Glacier Media Inc.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bits of History Repeating

February 2011

After a slight prompting of my Mum, I decided to talk a little about my last show.
I was hired by the Prince George Black History Organization to perform as their headliner for the kick off of the month long events for Black History.
An honor for me to be in my home town thinking of this thought provoking event.
I was born in Prince George, a predominately white community and we joke, that growing up in our community in the 70's, there were 3 black families: Morgans Reynolds and Washingtons. Of course there were more, but we were big family's and were easily noticed due to sports, church etc.

Preparing for this show, I wanted to use new repertoire and began to research some songs with my pianist. One song I've always wanted to sing was Strange Fruit, and after hearing Nina Simone's haunting version, I knew hers was the one that I wanted to emulate.

Looking for songs allows you to research and discover the stories behind the music which are interesting and eye opening. To read the struggles of the black musicians in the 20's, 30's, 40's etc. is encouraging yet heartbreaking; to see what these musicians had lived through, sacrificed and struggle throughout their lives just to make it 'big' in the industry, most of them paid improperly and with their lives.

My experience:
Music has a beautiful way of documenting the events, emotions and details of a time and place. Their stories can be clear and concise or can leave room for interpretation. Strange Fruit is a powerful song that needs no interpretation. I realize that this song was written to remind us of what 'was' and what should never be.

As I began to sing the song, Strange Fruit' I had vivid pictures in my mind and I struggled to sing without emotion, this was impossible. A waver here and there, but I pressed on as I felt that this story must be told yet again and especially for those who did not know of how severe the lynchings in the south was.
I came to last line and could go no further to make the statement of my people as "a strange a bitter crop" was too overwhelming for me. I stepped away from the microphone and allowed the pianist to play then shared these words from my heart.
"I am sorry for all of those who lost their lives, and yet, I am thankful for my grandparents and their parents that they had the courage to survive, for had they not, I would not be here today."

It was a sobering thought for me... I am only here because of the courage and strength of my ancestors!

I moved on to Sam Cook's song "A Change is gonna come" it seemed most fitting after Strange Fruits morbid truth, to sing a song of hope, A hope for even now seemed most fitting. I love SEAL'S version of it. A beautiful classic song that has stood the test of time! Once again Sam's life ended early and to this day they really don't know how he was murdered. He wrote the song "A Change is Going to Come, after being inspired by Bob Dylan's song "Blowing in the Wind" It was a risky move on his part to sing boldly about racism, but after hearing Dylan's song he felt a song about racism should be told from a black man's point of view... So he took the risk and to this day we all still feel inspired and thank full by Sam Cooke's song!

The whole night was moving for me, and I felt that I stepped ever so slightly in the inspiring shoes of these gifted song writers and performers from the past. I am humbled by their courage and thankful that these stories are still being told today.

Diva M

Article From Focus Magazine

Maureen Washington ~ Photo by Dean Kalyan Focus Magazine November 20 & December 11 2014 JAZZ ALIVE! MAUREEN WASHINGTON &...