By Jillian Dawson
If you’re someone who frequents local live music performances, you’ve most likely observed varying crowd dynamics depending on who’s performing and where. Catching one of the summer concerts in Houdini Plaza tends to bring out the party crowd who are ready to dance, beer in hand, singing along to their favorite cover tunes. Festival music fans are a dedicated bunch, meticulously choosing their personal lineup down to the minute, full attention on the musicians until the very last note. Let’s not forget about the smaller dive bars and bowling alleys that bring out a rowdy crowd who are most likely going to have a line of shots waiting for the band at the bar. More often than not, however, it cannot be denied that bands can become background music to a crowd, lost among the bustle of a night out on the town. That being said, what’s the best part of watching Erin Krebs perform? The hush that falls over the crowd, heads popping up from conversations put on hold, and the handful of commentary sprinkling the bar noting, “Damn, that girl can sing!”
With a voice reminiscent of her musical inspirations, Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James, it’s surprising to hear singing was not always in the forefront of Krebs’ musical career. “In a nutshell, I always knew I would be teaching and I would be involved in music, but I had no idea I was going to be singing, especially because I was never a singer!”
Krebs worked as a music teacher in schools for ten years, eventually opening her own studio for private lessons to make time for writing and performing. Playing gigs led her to Jeff Johnston, who would become one half of their duo you can most often catch around the area as well as their full band, the Swingin’ Johnsons (who always get the crowd on the dance floor). Their performances showcase a variety of jazz standards and soulful renditions of pop songs with everything from Ella to Elle King. “It’s possible to take non-Jazz songs and arrange and interpret them in a different way. You can replace the chords with more lush harmonies, improvise on the melody, change the form, groove, et cetera.” She adds, “Jazz isn’t always the standards from the Great American Songbook, which is a common misconception.”
Krebs notes that ‘Jazz’ is a broad musical term which holds a variety of forms that are often overlooked, partially due to lack of mainstream popularity and exposure in the area. “Unfortunately in this area, in the ‘showcase’ shows or festivals, Jazz is rare or absent entirely, other than the Fox Jazz Fest or the Jazz concert series at the Trout.” She is quick to add, “It’s not like we aren’t working - the gigs are there for local Jazz musicians at certain venues and private events, but it is hard for us to get on a stage where a lot of people will see us at one time.”
As someone who feels indifferent to Jazz as a genre, speaking with Krebs peaked my interest, especially when it comes to performances.
"The coolest thing about Jazz is the improvisational aspect of it; it draws you in. I’ve seen people that have never seen Jazz before sit on the edge of their seat because they’re so into what’s happening on stage.” Aside from planning the timing of a few solos, the performances are typically more off the cuff. “The collaboration happens in the performances. I give the musicians the lead sheet, tell them what kind of feel and tempo, and let them run with it. We often communicate with eye contact and gestures during the songs regarding who’s doing a solo and when, and for how long. The songs are never the exact same way twice, which is one of the best things about playing Jazz and Blues!”
Krebs, who came out with her first album, Love Always Wins, this summer will be performing a live studio taping of her original songs alongside Johnston, Mark Martin, Justin Zopel and Mike Malone at Rock Garden Studio. In addition to Jazz, her songs have elements of Blues, R&B, Swing and Latin influence. “I’ll be singing words, scat singing, and playing some flute on a couple of the tunes. The audience can expect to hear and see lots of improvisation, and be moved by some soulful stuff as well.”
After speaking with Krebs, I can’t help but feel a bit more educated on the art of Jazz - a nod to her teaching background. For the future of Jazz, she says, “I’m hopeful. Jazz is still being taught and played in high schools all over; kids are learning it and developing an appreciation for it. Jazz albums are still being made, it’s still used in the media and performed on stages around the world, big and small. We are still out and about doing what we love and sharing our music with others. I think it’s here to stay. “
Catch Erin Krebs live at Rock Garden Studio Thursday October 6th at 7pm.