Cabaret Festival

Interview: Emma Pask – Accentuating the music of Harold Arlen

Australian jazz vocalist Emma Pask is set to perform at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival this week

With the temperature dropping this week in Adelaide, what could be better than settling down to listen to some soul-warming jazz performed by one of Australia’s leading jazz vocalists and her trio?

This Thursday evening, 20th June, Emma Pask and her trio will be performing at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival her sensational show, Emma Pask Ac-cent-tchu-ates The Positive — the music of Harold Arlen.

Emma Pask is an award winning vocalist who has firmly established herself as one of Australia’s favourite jazz vocalists. Her sublime voice was spotted by the jazz great, James Morrison, when she was just sixteen years old. Emma then spent the next twenty years touring the world with Morrison. Emma’s solo career has taken her all over the world, performing at some of the most iconic performance venues.

Glam Adelaide spoke to Emma in the lead up to her Adelaide Cabaret Festival performance to discuss her show, the music of Harold Arlen and where her love of jazz grew from.

“It must have had to have come initially from my parents, who played all these wonderful jazz numbers throughout the house when I was growing up. It’s a funny thing because I was not an only child; I had a sibling as well, but that music didn’t really tickle their fancy, just mine. I grew up listening to a lot of Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. So I think all those sounds were always around me. When I was in high school, the music teacher had such a big passion for jazz. It was like my worlds kind of collided. He was a trumpet player himself and had a big love of big band music. He also got me to sing with the school band because I knew some of the repertoire and it sort of flourished from there.”

Over the years, Emma’s career has flourished and is now one of Australia’s most in-demand jazz vocalists.

“I never knew that I could do that for a living when I was a kid. I was lucky to go out to see musical theatre or to see a band, but I just didn’t think that could ever be me and I never really thought I never thought I could make a living from it. It was just like a hobby and a love and a passion.”

Composer Harold Arlen’s timeless works like Over the RainbowStormy Weather, and I’ve Got the World on a String have become embedded in the American Songbook. We asked Emma what she loves about Harold Arlen’s music.

“Oh, gosh – we could be here for hours! When I was younger and thrown into this world of jazz, I learned pretty quickly that repertoire is important. So for us as young jazz singers, you turn to the Great American Songbook. What I found early on was that the songs I was attracted to were all by Harold Alren. What drew me to his music is that I love some good emotional content in the lyrics – I love a good story. My ear pricks up to beautiful melodies that are structured over the top of wonderful harmonies. When you look at his music, you can see so many different aspects of emotional experience. It can be longing or heart pain, like heartbreaking love songs. But there can also be so much humour in what he writes as well. It’s just all encompassing.”

With such a huge number of pieces in the Harold Arlen songbook, we were curious to know how Emma was able to narrow down her set list for the show.

“The struggle I have, especially with this show, is what I have to leave out. It’s not what I get to include. There’s so much repertoire, especially with Harold Arlen. His body of work is something like 500 tunes that he’s written, and many of them are gems. I created this show and I performed it first at the Opera House a few years ago, but this is the second airing of the show. It’s definitely a South Australian premiere. I’ve got a little bit of a less time limit than I had last time so I am actually having to cull a few little things, but I’m struggling with it – what do I even consider to leave out? We might have to lock the Banquet Room doors and just stay on a little bit. I think if everyone’s down for it, I’m down for that!”

Emma Pask, along with her trio (Kevin Hunt, Phil Stack and Tim Firth), will be performing Thursday 20th June as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

Emma Pask: Ac-cent-tchu-ates The Positive
Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre
Thursday 20 June at 6pm 

Photo credit: Kurt Sneddon

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