Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing Featured at Benny Goodman Show

The King of Swing, Benny Goodman took the world by storm in the mid-thirties with his new swing music and he started this new thread of jazz with several groundbreaking “girl singers”.  Singers like Billie Holiday, Helen Ward, Martha Tilton, Mildred Bailey, Helen Forrest, Peggy Lee, all had voices that breathed life into the songs of early jazz.  This week when Ross Wooldridge brings his Benny Goodman show to Meaford Hall, he will have a girl singer who also has a voice all her own.

Alex Pangman has interpreted the songs of early jazz long enough now that she performs them in a voice that is distinctly Alex Pangman.  When she sings them these songs belong to her.

Christopher Louden of Jazz Times Magazine says it best:

“As salutes to Depression-era swing go, it’s hard to imagine a more authentic, or more delightful, evocation…Unlike the vast majority of contemporary vocalists whose approach to such material sounds patently artificial, Pangman is startlingly authentic in her interpretations. In other words, she’s not a poseur but a peer to Ruth Etting or the great Connie Boswell

Melancholy Lullaby, a song that truly does belong to her, she wrote for the 2001 film Torso:The Evelyn Dick Story, about the famous Canadian murderer who was convicted, acquitted and convicted again in the forties.  It won Alex a Songwriter of The Year nomination from the National Jazz Awards.

Kevin Clark, Alex Pangman and Ross Wooldridge (photo by Jaymes Bee)

The jazz of the early 20th century burns bright inside Alex Pangman and always has, since she first started collecting shellac.  An early mentor was Jeff Healey.  Later collaborations included people like Jim Galloway’s All-Stars, trumpeter Kevin Clark, drummer Don Kerr, Bucky Pizzarelli and Meaford’s favourite tourist, Tyler Yarema.

She went country without leaving her favourite musical era when she spent some time in the back room of Toronto’s Cameron House jamming with the city’s bluegrass and string-band underground.  She ended up in a promising band called Lickin’ Good Fried but had to drop out when a childhood disease finally got the better of her and she had to have a double-lung transplant.

The issue of a double lung transplant is fresh in the mind of local musicians. Not long ago musicians from Meaford and Collingwood got together to create a benefit for Raven Taylor, a local woman who also had to undergo a double-lung transplant.  She has recently returned home with a new set of lungs.  When Alex Pangman went through the same thing she immediately undertook to teach her new lungs those old songs.  The result was The Alley Cats, an album called 33 on the Justin Time label and a cross-country tour, where her new lungs managed to breathe in a wide variety of Canadian smells.

I guess they didn’t like it.  Her body was rejecting her new lungs as she was opening for Willie Nelson at Massey Hall in the summer of 2013 and had to have another double lung transplant.  By March of 2014 she was recording again.The irony is that, having been born with cystic fibrosis, if she had come along during the era when her favourite style of music was in vogue she very likely would not have survived to adulthood.

As with any musical style from the distant past there are always performers who approach it almost as a parody.  Alex Pangman stands out because she sings these old songs as if she means them, not as if she’s displaying museum artifacts.  There was a special approach to vocals in the 30’s and 40’s when the delivery was smooth and understated except for tiny nuances that subtly bring out the emotional substance of songs that, to modern ears, might sound exceedingly sentimental.  Alex Pangman understands this and her vocal delivery presents the true mood and sensation of music of that era without being imitative.

The concert with Ross Wooldridge playing Benny Goodman favourites is Saturday Jan. 14th at Meaford Hall, tickets are $45.

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One Response to Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing Featured at Benny Goodman Show

  1. Gillian says:

    What a story… I’m gobsmacked!

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