Karin Plato on the sorrow and joy of music

Karin Plato is a strong and steady force on the Vancouver jazz scene, not only as an award-winning and highly respected vocalist, but also as a composer, arranger, producer and educator.

Add to that her role as artistic director of the Joy of Jazz concert series, and it all makes for a pretty steady and busy career. It had been a while since she had been in the Toronto area, but Plato visited recently to perform at Toronto Vinyl Fest and for two shows with the Mark Eisenman Trio as part of the acclaimed concert series Jazz in the Kitchen. She is currently supporting her latest recording, This Could Be the One. 

Plato stopped by the JAZZ.FM91 studios to talk about her decision to write more original material, why dark and vulnerable art can bring so much joy, and what else she’s doing these days.

Scroll to the bottom if you’d like to listen to the full audio of the interview.

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Congratulations on the new record. It’s something that sees you going more in the writing direction.

I’ve always written, and this was a deliberate decision. I don’t know how wise, because people do love standards — so do I. This is not really a departure, but maybe some different choices have been made by me to go in an original direction.

There’s a bit of struggle as a vocalist, because in the jazz songbook, the expectation is you’re going to sing the Cole Porter and the Gershwins. When you’re choosing your material, particularly with this record, is there a statement you want to make? Where is your motivation coming from?

For this particular one, I’d have to say it has been about 10 years of putting ideas together. I worked on my craft of being a musician, so that would’ve hopefully influenced some of the writing I did. Along the way, I was still doing all the standards that I honestly and genuinely love. The statement on this recording is, “A lot of things happened in my life — don’t they to everyone?” So it’s a mixture of some of those things that have happened in my life coming out in the music. Happy, sad, all of that. It’s a big mess of what happens to everyone. No one gets it all good, and hopefully not all bad.

Do you worry about being vulnerable? 

I don’t think so. Not in this case. I don’t think there are any down-and-out pieces. There’s one piece called Sorrow that is about losing my sister due to being hit by a drunk driver. But a lot of friends have had serious losses, too. So it’s more about being unable to stop sorrow or sadness if something like that happens — but then life goes on, immediately. The good and the joy is still there. It really is. That’s what that song’s about, and otherwise I think there’s a lot of joy, celebration and appreciation in the music on this record.

That’s very much you. You are a very joyful person.

I’ve maybe been accused of living my life through rose-coloured glasses. I don’t like a lot of negativity. Certainly I’m aware of what’s going on in the world and in our cities. Across the border, you and I both have American friends. I’m aware of all that, but I tend to want to take the positive view that things will get better. And music is a huge part of that. Maybe some of the music that we make helps people celebrate or come through whatever they’re going through. I hope that’s the case.

Even the dark pieces, the dark art that we create, there’s a catharsis involved in that too, right?

I love listening to sad music, if I can use the general umbrella. I’m imagining you’re a fan of Kate McGarry. That’s someone whose music I revere, and of course there’s a lot of darkness in there, and it makes me feel happy. I’m not pretending I don’t feel sad, but there’s something about that exchange of emotions.

What else is coming up for you?

In Vancouver, I have this little labour of love series called Joy of Jazz. I’m a part of that so that I can perform with some colleagues, but also listen to them. I do go to a lot of shows, but this is a way of enabling us to have an intimate concert in a club, but there are tickets and the audience is told that this is listening; it’s not a regular evening where maybe they’re chatting. I’ve been told by some of the people who attend, “I never knew a guitar could be that soft. I never knew that you could hear all that.” It is a concert, and lots of people here have attended concerts of that nature, but I like the fact that I can curate something where I pick and choose some people.

Every city has its own hub, and it’s nice when those worlds collide. It’s great when you come out here, and I love going out there. It’s just nice having the cross-pollination.

I think it’s important for that to happen. Music, or at least jazz music, is still a small-ish community. So when people come on tour, it’s really nice for Vancouverites to go support them.