Vocalist, pianist and arranger Sheri Weldon began her musical journey by listening to Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and the music of the big bands. Through her father, she soon discovered bebop and later the innovators of the post-bop era, such as Miles Davis, Art Blakey and Charles Mingus.
Weldon’s new album Shorty & The Giants is an ode to that bebop tradition, with numbers from Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie as well as the cool jazz sound of the 1960s.
Arriving on the Toronto music scene via Collingwood, Ont., Weldon is a talented improviser with a voice that’s rich and warm in tone. On Shorty & The Giants, Weldon is joined by a talented band comprising woodwind player John MacMurchy, pianist Mark Eisenman, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Daniel Barnes.
For the New Music Spotlight, Weldon joined us to talk about the new album and her musical influences.
Where did your love of jazz begin?
I have always been singing. I don’t remember not singing. My dad was an amateur musician and loved the old ballads of yesteryear. We used to sit at the kitchen table every night and play and sing. That’s where I really grew a love for jazz and beautiful music.
You released an album in 2009 and then took a break before recording this new one. How did Shorty & The Giants come to be?
People had been asking me for a long time when I’d be putting out another album. Last year, John MacMurchy and I decided that we’d put something out. It was honestly just meant to be a demo to get some gigs. We intended to go back in and do more recordings and so on, but then Covid hit and we were left with these few songs and weren’t sure what to do with them. We decided there was enough material to put together a half hour of fun music — and that’s how it happened.
So it was a happy accident.
It was a happy accident, exactly.
How has it been trying to promote and share this album at a time like this?
Bandcamp has been very good, and I have a bit of a local following up here in Collingwood, so that’s been helpful. But it’s been difficult, that’s for sure. I know all of our musician friends have been having a hard time, but it is what it is and you just have to keep going.
The album is an ode to the bebop era. What is it about bebop and post-bop that you love so much?
It’s fun music. It’s unpredictable, it’s harmonically and rhythmically adventurous, and there’s just more freedom to improvise. It’s just a lot of fun.
What artists influenced you when you went to make this record?
Vocally, Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan. These songs are a little bit different than the typical American songbook. I love the music, and finding some of these songs with Carmen McRae doing them got me excited.
Carmen McRae just has one of those voices, doesn’t she?
Oh, incredible. She can interpret like no one else.
This might be a silly question, but Shorty & The Giants — are you Shorty?
Yes, anyone who knows me knows my stature. It’s been a nickname throughout my life. I thought it would be a fun title for some fun music. The giants being, of course, the fantastic musicians that are on the album: John McMurchy, Mark Eisenman, Pat Collins and Daniel Barnes.
Had you worked with them before?
Slightly, yes — a gig here and there. I’m pretty new to the Toronto scene, but yes. However, we didn’t have a rehearsal for this. John and I took the charts down and we had a really great day together. They’re great musicians and really great people.
One of the songs is A Night in Tunisia. What drew you to that song, and what were you thinking about when it came to arranging it for this rendition?
I love Ella’s version of it, and I love to vocalize along with instruments — the saxophone, in particular. And again, it’s really great, energetic music, and it came out that way. I’m really glad. We had just come back together and had a nice chat, and everyone was relaxed. The energy level was great, and it came through in the recording.
You can find Sheri Weldon’s music on Bandcamp.
This interview has been edited and condensed.