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Carol Welsman

Peggy Lee is one of the most underrated jazz vocalists of all time. We hear about Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald, but seldom do we hear about a woman who not only had the voice, but also the knack for writing songs that did tell a story well. Now Canadian vocalist Carol Welsman salutes this special woman with a new compilation of songs called I Like Men: Reflections of Miss Peggy Lee.

Even though at first glance there is little connection between the two singers, Welsman has always admired Lee. She says, in that day in age, she was greatly known as a popular singer because a lot of the songs she sang were songs that were on the pop charts. At the same time among the jazz community, she was known as a jazz singer because she swung so well. She sort of crossed the line in a way.

Not only was Lee a strong vocalist, she was a strong song writer as well. Welsman says, this is what amazed me. I didn't understand the depth of her repertoire of songs that she had actually co-composed as a lyricist until I met her granddaughter. Holly Wells is her name and Holly really brought me up to date. I knew that Peggy Lee had written the lyrics to all the music in "Lady and the Tramp" the movie and I knew that she had contributed some verses in "Fever," which she never got credit for unfortunately. But I didn't know she wrote the lyrics to the song "I Like Men."

Carol Welsman also was surprised that Peggy Lee was also a great arranger. She says, Lee came up with the idea in "Fever," for example, just to have the bass and the drums and no harmony. That was all her doing and the Latin feel on "Lover" was all her idea and she wrote "Manana." I didn't know how much the public knew, so I'm here to preach that.

Welsman says other singers of the time were not like Lee. She says, the fact that Lee was also a writer and an arranger, that was something Sarah Vaughn wasn't doing and Ella Fitzgerald. They might have had some hand in the arrangement of their music. They were just great singers, which was fine. Actually, Sarah Vaughn did play piano and I'm sure Ella Fitzgerald did, too. They were musicians in their own right. They would never have been able to scat like that if they didn't. Peggy Lee was really one of a kind.

As she was doing research of Peggy Lee, Carol Welsman found a number of similarities between the two. She says, I've written quite a few songs myself. I have 26 songs published and one's been recorded by Celine Dion and one was recorded by Ray Charles. I've had an exposure in the songwriting business, mostly pop songs, not jazz songs.

One notable song that is not on I Like Men: Reflections of Miss Peggy Lee is the Grammy winning "Is That All There Is?" Welsman says, I heard Bette Midler do a cover of that and I thought as much as I love Bette Midler, this was a Peggy Lee signature song. It's something that I know was very telling about her past. For example, there was a fire in her childhood where they lost their house. It almost like "Is That All There Is" was written for her. I really thought like I couldn't do it justice and that's why I left it off. When I was a little girl, I heard that on the radio. I was very young when it came out and my father's favorite singer was Peggy Lee. Many of her fans probably have the deepest memory of her with that song.

Carol Welsman's success in Canada has come more from the smooth jazz audience than from a mainstream jazz audience. She says, it's a complete surprise to me, in a sense. As an artist, we're often influenced by producers we hire to produce our CDs. I've had two producers in the past who have taken the music in more of a direction they feel I want to go, where we get away from using acoustic bass or synthesizers, electric pianos and things like that, which are things that completely distance you from the traditional jazz world. What's happened in Canada is smooth jazz has a much, much wider scope than it does in the U.S.

That Canadian success comes from the Canadian government's broadcasting regulation group, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission. Welsman says, because we have Canadian content laws, many of my songs that aren't smooth jazz at all get on their radio stations by virtue of the fact that they have control over what they play. They have widened the scope so that they can play ballads like "The Girl from Ipanema." It's not smooth jazz, but they allowed those things to happen. I become part of their world and they nominate me for Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards and I'm thrilled for that. In the U.S., I wanted to take the opportunity to present myself in a way that I feel I always presented myself, which is with acoustic instruments and playing swing, playing some Latin stuff, playing some different rhythms and doing some really, really classic ballads and who better to showcase than Peggy Lee.

Carol Welsman has been a fan of Peggy Lee for a long time and it shows on I Like Men: Reflections of Miss Peggy Lee. What a great way to introduce a Canadian singer to an American audience by singing the songs of an American legend.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Carol Welsman
  • Interview Date: 12/1/2009
  • Subtitle: Carol Welsman Salutes Peggy Lee
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