The new album by Terez Montcalm will be released in February, and we had the opportunity to listen to it. With this album, Terez Montcalm confirms that she is one of the greatest interpreters today, covering songs from the 60s/70s in both French and English. It’s a fascinating album in a soul/ funk/ pop atmosphere.
Thierry: Terez, hello – You are certainly one of the most interesting vocal artists in the jazz world. You often cover songs by other artists, which you passionately make your own. As a musician yourself, we can talk about “rewriting” each time. Can you explain how you choose a song and your approach to working around it?
Terez Montcalm: Indeed, it has become a very personal technique, and I am often asked about it! It’s a bit like a re-creation. Firstly, I believe that there are many songs that are so well-written and composed that it would be difficult to do better. These are timeless standards that can be simply readapted and personalized. Songs that already have a history deserve to go even further. And there are so many beautiful songs; I must say I have a lot of choices! However, after that, I need to find the idea, the inspiration. I can spend several days figuring out how to “twist” a song, and if I don’t find something I like, I choose another song!
Thierry: You seem to place great importance on keeping the same musicians for recording sessions, certainly for creation as well. Can you introduce them and tell us what these musicians bring to your work?
Terez Montcalm: I have been playing with guitarist Jean Marie Ecay for a long time. He is exceptional and very versatile. The first time I saw him on stage, he was accompanying Claude Nougaro, one of my idols. But he has also accompanied Didier Lockwood, Richard Galliano, and many others. Over the years, I have trusted him more and more, and a great complicity has developed. He has somewhat become my musical director. I have known bassist Laurent Vernerey for a long time, and we had already played together. For this new album with a more bluesy and R&B sound, I wanted to surround myself with different musicians. Laurent, like Jean Marie, immediately understood what I was looking for. They then introduced me to Nicolas Viccaro, who is very talented, and the four of us form, I think, a good team.
Thierry: Being a Canadian artist and therefore, by default, bicultural, allows you to musically travel between French and English with the same ease. In your opinion, what is the influence of this biculturality on your art?
Terez Montcalm: Simple! I was born in Montreal with an English-speaking father from Toronto and a French-speaking mother from Montreal, so I am already bicultural by birth! And I add that Montreal is already a bilingual city, half English, half French. Then it’s true that my father listened a lot to English-language music, especially jazz, and my mother to all the great French songs. My brothers listened to rock! So, I was immersed in all these influences. They say I am the most rock of jazz singers or the most jazz of rock singers – it’s true; I am both at the same time!
Thierry: I checked your concert dates, and strangely, I didn’t see any scheduled in the USA. Is it as difficult for a Canadian artist to perform in the USA as it is for a French artist, or is it a choice on your part to focus on the French-speaking world?
Terez Montcalm: I think it’s difficult because jazz comes from the United States, and Americans are quite protective of jazz. However, it’s probably less challenging for a Canadian artist than a French artist to build a career in the USA. We have some great examples of Canadian artists like Neil Young, Céline Dion, etc. But it’s not easy. If you invite me, I’ll come! I recorded an album in the USA with Jay Newland producing, featuring Rufus Reid and Gil Goldstein. I had the great pleasure of having Steve Williams on drums to record the tribute album to Shirley Horn, one of my favorites – a great moment.
Thierry: I won’t go back to all the albums you’ve already released, but a new album is coming out in February that we had the chance to listen to. Can you tell me how the idea for this album came about?
Terez Montcalm: After four jazz albums, I wanted to renew myself, and I wanted to make an album that reflects me more. I am not just a jazz singer. I have several strings to my bow. I listened a lot to Motown tracks, and I still do. Clearly, that era inspired this album, whether it’s the covers or the compositions. And I thought, why not, follow your instinct!
Thierry: An album of pleasure, where we find, for example, your vision of songs like “I’ll Be There” by Diana Ross, which in its French version is translated as “J’attendrai.” My American wife, who speaks perfect French, when she heard this title, said, “It’s magnificent, in which language is it?” It’s exactly what happens to me sometimes with well-interpreted English songs where the musicality surpasses the understanding of the text. How do you manage to put such “groove” into each track?
Terez Montcalm: It’s the original version by the Four Tops, also popularized in France by Claude François! Regarding this song, I recorded it in both languages; both tempted me, and the choice was difficult to make! It’s always a real challenge to make French swing; the words don’t sound the same at all, and the translations are often improbable. I think I focus on the melody and twist the words so that it works! Otherwise, I move on to another song. I am quite perfectionistic; it has to work, be easy, or the audience won’t like it!
Thierry: In your upcoming album, you also bring back to life songs by Nancy Holloway or The Zombies, leaving an impression of songs heard in your childhood that fascinated you. What is this fascination, once again bicultural, as you do the same with French titles that push you each time to rewrite and magnify the works?
Terez Montcalm: Indeed, these are my influences. I cover songs that have particularly marked me, but I am also capable of covering songs I have never heard before but that I like. I can have a crush on a new title, and I also rely on my close ones to introduce me to new songs. For “J’attendrai,” a French editor friend suggested it to me. And I immediately liked it and had the idea to rework it with arrangements different from Claude François’s! I don’t know where this desire to rewrite these works comes from; maybe I don’t have a choice. My voice may be the guiding thread, so unique that I have to adapt the songs to my vocal style!
Thierry: One of the peculiarities of Bayou Blue Radio is to work, among other things, with many Canadian jazz artists. In this context, we broadcast artists like Dominique Fils-Aimé or Tina Leon, to name only vocal jazz. What is your view on these young artists?
Terez Montcalm: A lot of goodwill. They both sing very well, and I wish them a beautiful career. It’s always courageous to do what you love, not to compromise, and to sing what truly represents you. Not to follow trends that become outdated as quickly as they appear. And I think that’s what they do; they follow their instinct and make music that represents them.
Thierry: What we don’t know, the title of this new album by Terez Montcalm?
Terez Montcalm: “Step Out,” an original title that talks about the moment when you go on stage, which is where I feel best in the world, a space of total freedom! You go from shadow to light! And you return to the shadow after the show! But what a thrill between the two!
Thierry: Thank you, Terez, for accepting this interview. We wish a warm welcome to this new album.
Terez Montcalm: Thank you, Thierry, for your interest. I’m glad you liked it, and thanks for this interview.
Bayou Blue Radio/PARIS-MOVE, January 8th 2024