I came upon Chantale Gagne's Silent Strength completely by accident. The French-Canadian jazz pianist recorded this album in 2007, but I only discovered it last weekend while searching to see who had recorded Bill Evans' Peri's Scope. After sampling the Evans track and then others, I had to get hold of the CD. And ask Chantale a few questions.
Chantale Gagne (pronounced SHAN-tahl Gan-yay) was born in 1980 and began her jazz career on the organ. At age 15, after hearing a Bill Evans recording, she switched to piano. After studies in Quebec in the late 1990s, Chantale studied briefly with pianist Kenny Barron, a meeting that redoubled her commitment to the jazz piano. Recently, she has been touring with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash, both of whom appear on Silent Strength.
Chantale's originals on this album have depth and maturity that transcend her years. Second Wave is a rousing, lyrical tune and Tranquilite bristles with sensitivity and Bill Evans-like tenderness. In My Mind has a Bobby Timmons/Art Blakey funkiness, with Nash hammering out the 2/4 feel.
Chantale uses a soft bossa nova on Silent Strength, and follows it with a lilting waltz called New York Nights. Reves has the same, introspective impression. Her rendition of Thelonious Monk's I Mean You captures the bop pianist's disjointed feel but brings a softer feel to it. The album's high point for me is Evans' Peri's Scope, which Chantale takes at a brisk pace, finishing with her own chord flourish. But Beautiful receives an equally sensitive treatment. Closing out the CD is Subway Rag, a playful ode to the New York's transit system.
To learn more about Chantale and her art, I reached out to her in Quebec, and we had the following exchange by e-mail:
JazzWax: Was Bill Evans a big influence?
Chantale Gagne: Indeed, Bill Evans has been a very important influence. Portrait in Jazz is the first jazz album I listened to, and that's how I decided to play jazz. Bill Evans' playing is always beautiful and always means something to me. He's extremely melodic and emotional, and he plays with his heart. Everything he plays comes from somewhere, and everything he plays takes us somewhere! Bill Evans has a sound that nobody else has. It's very particular.
JW: Is there a female approach to the jazz piano that male players miss? Or is jazz gender-free?
CG: I think it's nice sometimes to have a female touch but overall I don't believe you absolutely need it. Jazz is gender-free. I think whoever you are—female or male—if you communicate your feelings and play with your heart, that's the most important thing. When you play or compose, communicating your feelings and provoking feelings is the essence of jazz.
JW: Many male jazz artists have male jazz heroes. Is there a female jazz artist who has inspired you?
CG: Not really. My jazz heroes are mostly men. But when I think of Marian McPartland [pictured] who, back in the 1940s and 1950s made her place among this guys' world and has been respected throughout her life by guys, I find it's pretty amazing. But again, I really and truly see jazz as gender-free. I believe that as long as you create beautiful music and your music arouses emotions, images and
feelings in the listener, it doesn't matter whether you are a man or a woman. When I sit down to play, I'm not thinking of anyone or anything in particular. Just to play as beautifully as possible.
JW: Has there been pain or sorrow in your life from which your art emanates?
CG: Not really pain or trauma. I would say it's a matter of the environment where I find myself, physically or spiritually. When I compose I think it appears more, and you can hear the difference. I have to admit, of course, that my life experience is quite short so far, of course, and will continue to be integrated into my music.
JW: You're French-Canadian. Do you think that made you more sensitive?
CG: I'm not sure yet if being Quebecoise helps what I do. But I can say for sure that I received a warm welcome from New Yorkers whenever I play there. I find that New Yorkers are very open. People want to know me and know where I come from. They ask why I started playing, how come I've had the will to try it and how come I am so gutsy. Because it's true, I don't know lots of people in my city who have done this. New York is a difficult world but so interesting and full of surprises.
JW: Will you be recording again soon?
CG: Hopefully in 2010. I'm working now on new material. I will likely change the ambiance a bit. I think it's important for me to do so now. It's too early to describe the theme, but I can say that I very much like music with a folk influence and that Lewis [Nash, pictured] and Peter [Washington] sound wonderful playing this music!! I can already hear Lewis' drums.
JazzWax tracks: Chantale Gagne's Silent Strength was self-produced and can be found as a download at iTunes or Amazon, or on CD here. For more on Chantale and to hear samples of tracks, visit her site here.