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John Labelle

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Primary Instrument: Vocalist

Born: May 12, 1968    

Born in Montreal, John Labelle has been a jazz fan for as long as he can remember. From an early age, he listened to the great big band vocalists, including Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney; and, of course, Frank Sinatra, who would later become one of his greatest influences.

To be close to the music he loved, Labelle landed a job at the famous Biddle's Jazz and Ribs nightclub, an institution in Montreal for the last twenty years. Working there, Labelle came into contact with some of Montreal's finest musicians whom he listened to and learned from. He quickly gained a reputation for knowing all the lyrics, and could often be heard singing along with the evening's performers...
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Reviews

Last Time I Was Here

One of Canada's top crooners, John Labelle's fourth CD, Last Time I Was Here, is filled with selections that his fans enjoy. “A lot of the songs on this recent recording,” says the singer, “such as 'Mack The Knife,' 'Beyond The Sea' and 'Strangers In The Night,' are songs that people request of me all the time. For the new project I decided to perform numbers that most people are familiar with and want to hear. I wanted this to be primarily a record with nice songs and one that listeners will derive pleasure from.”

John Labelle's goals for Last Time I Was Here were previously achieved in his three earlier recordings. As was true then, he was careful in picking out the best musicians to accompany his singing. “I really prefer sidemen who listen closely to what I am doing. With guitarist Greg Clayton and pianist John Sadawy, both of whom I have worked with for some time, we have a close interaction going on, almost a conversation. We answer and build on each other's phrases, inspiring each other. Greg is very strong rhythmically and he spends a lot time reharmonizing standards, making them sound fresh. John, who wrote the arrangements for the six trio numbers on which he appears, is a well established pianist in Montreal, does a lot of theatre work and works with many singers. Bassist Alec Walkington has played on all my recordings and in Montreal is probably the number one bassist if you want someone who swings. Dave Laing is on the trio sessions with John Sadawy and is a great straightahead drummer. Andrew White, a real Renaissance man, plays drums, vibes, percussion and piano on some tracks. I've known him for many years and he engineered my first record from nine years ago. In addition, I used trumpeter Aron Doyle on a few selections; he added a lot to the music.”

Most of the songs on Last Time I Was Here are well known standards that, while reflecting John Labelle's love of the music of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin and other singers, also feature his own fresh interpretations. His voice serves the music, his subtle improvising adds to the swinging nature of the performances, and the two rhythm sections keep the momentum flowing. In addition to the standards (which include fairly rare versions of “What Kind Of Fool Am I,” the Billie Holiday-associated “Travellin' Light” and “Why Do I Love You”) Labelle contributes a pair of recent originals. “'Last Time I Was Here' I wrote after the breakup of my marriage. I would go somewhere to perform and remember that the last time I was there, I was happily married. The line came to me in one moment and I wrote the song that night. The title of 'It's Not Love, Not Yet,' came from a friend of mine who, when I asked about how things were going with his new girlfriend, gave that reply.”

There are many other highlights to the easily enjoyable set. To name a few, it is a pleasure to hear the verse to “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” a lightly swinging and joyful rendition of “Strangers In The Night,” “Mack The Knife,” Labelle's enthusiastic phrasing on “Why Do I Love You” and a catchy version of “Learnin' The Blues.” However each of the 18 concise selections are fun and there are no slow moments throughout the definitive program.

John Labelle, who grew up in Montreal, loved standards, jazz and singers from nearly the start. “A lot of the songs that I perform today I used to love as a listener and as a fan.” By the time he was 12, he was buying records by Ella and Frank Sinatra, and learning as many tunes as he could. When he turned 18, he went up to the manager of Biddle's, one of the top jazz clubs in Montreal, asking if he could get a job as a busboy. “I thought that the best job in the world was to work at a jazz club and be able to hear music every night.” Working as a busboy and a bartender, he quickly developed a reputation for knowing the lyrics of all the songs played by the musicians. Labelle frequently sang at Biddle's Monday night jam sessions and, after being encouraged by a pianist, he took the plunge and pursued a career as a jazz singer and crooner. Soon he had landed a three-month contract at a small hotel, and he has not looked back since

After making his recording debut in 1995 with If You See Her, John Labelle's successful appearance at the 1995 Montreal Jazz Festival resulted in him gaining recognition and signing with the Jazz Inspiration label. The company reissued If You See Her and released 1997's Don't Say No. Since that time, John has recorded Too Close For Comfort for his own label, worked regularly at Modavie Jazz Bar several nights a week for ten years, performed for eight years with the Montreal Jazz Big Band, appeared at a variety of festivals, sung with two other vocalists in The Three Crooners, and worked in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing, Washington D.C. and throughout Canada.

“My number one goal is to keep doing this as long as I possibly can. I want more people to hear my music and I would love to tour throughout the United States in addition to Canada.” With the release of Why Do I Love Her, which is arguably his finest recording to date, John Labelle continues to delight his growing audience with his heart-felt renditions of infectious classic songs, revitalizing vintage tunes and living his musical dream.

Scott Yanow Author of nine jazz books including Jazz On Film, Bebop, Swing, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76

Too Close For Comfort

It's been far too long since we last heard from this fine Montréal vocalist. Once signed to the now defunct Jazz Inspiration Records, John Labelle has since their demise, floated without a label. As a live performer, however, he has never ceased in the pursuit of good music making, performing six nights a week at better venues in his hometown. And as this beautiful new album attests, John Labelle has transformed, an artist entirely renewed. He is more secure in himself and his craft than those early albums could possibly have shown. Retained is John�s intimate way with a song, sultry and seductive, more introspective than explosive. But where he�s made the greatest stride is in a pronounced ability to sing complex lyrics with a greater willingness to take emotional risks.

The results are nothing short of breathtaking, as each ballad becomes memorable in its own particularly way, Too Late Now and I�ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face are both standouts. Of course, John can swing and has a pleasing way with a rhythm tune, so tracks like Too Close For Comfort show tremendous character and verve. Helping immeasurably in support of John in this pursuit, are guitarist Greg Clayton and his spectacular trio. Beautifully arranged and totally in keeping with the mutual ethic and respect for the material they both convey, this album becomes as much a showcase for the Greg Clayton sound as it is for Labelle. We proudly herald this long-overdue return to recording by an important artist on the Canadian vocal scene.

George Evans, Planet Jazz May 2003 (George Evans is a prominent jazz vocalist on the Canadian Jazz scene as well as being a journalist and radio personality. Visit his web site at http://www.george-evans.net)

Don't Say No

Canadian John Labelle is carving out a successful career for himself as a vocalist-a career that had its genesis when he began listening to Sinatra records as a boy at home in Montreal. And plenty of what makes ol�Blue eyes special has rubbed off on this 30-year-old singer-composer, whose release on Jazz Inspiration, Don�t Say No, has him swinging in front of a big band, having fun with a program of his own tunes arranged with an infectious, jazzy vibe.

“As a teen, some of my best memories were listening to Frank�s record in my room,� he recalled, noting that he wore out the grooves on the live Reprise recording of Sinatra with Count Basie in Las Vegas. It�s no wonder, then, that Labelle developed a burning desire to perform himself, but he was plagued with self-doubt during those early years, as well as with a voice that wasn�t quite mature. �It wasn�t until I started turning into a young man-around 21 or 22- that I started to hear things in my singing that caused me to think I had a chance.”

His debut came at a Montreal jazz club where he worked as a bartender. The pianist called him up to sing and Labelle obliged, scared to death and singing “A Foggy Day” on automatic pilot. “The crowd enjoyed it,” he recalled, and I had a good time, although I was in a complete daze. From then on, I was hooked and I started trying to get gigs around Montreal.”

Labelle's goals include getting good management and representation, more gigs in Europe and doing the festival circuit. “I want to work with some of the better accompanists in the world, as well as continuing to record-perhaps with strings,� he said. “Above all, I want to always be able to say that 'I�m proud of what I�m doing'.”

David Zych, JAZZTIMES/MARCH1999
If You See Her

Harry Connick jr. he is not. Despite being young, clean-cut and fairly well dressed on the album cover, John Labelle creates his own style. On this debut CD, he cuts a wide and impressive swath through tunes that swooners and crooners of the past belted out to adoring crowds.

Labelle aims for a soft, smooth, almost whisper-like sound in his singing, clearly differentiating him from singers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. His best work in the 12-track album is a great rendition of Someone to Watch Over Me. Labelle�s octaves get low to not only emphasize the song�s underlying sadness and neediness, but to accentuate the fine piano playing of Steve Amirault. Labelle does what every great singer must do: take any song, old or new, and display all the musical and lyrical qualities, feelings and meanings with a fresh style and voice.

All the other tracks are, if not simply well done, downright good. I Thought About You features a more insistent (but still soft) singing style with a good combination of Marc Miralta�s drums and Amirault�s piano. The Girl From Ipanema isn�t as rushed and staccato-sounding as the original; Labelle takes his time and glides through the harmonies with a light tone in his voice. Honeysuckle Rose and Embraceable You are fine numbers with Labelle singing in almost a whisper. This soft tone casts a seductive spell on the listener in Embraceable and Rose has a good melody and beat due to the work of Johannes Weidenmuller on bass and Miralta�s drums.

Also worth a listen is the album�s only original song, the title track If You see Her, written by Labelle and Amirault. Here, Labelle�s voice has the lament of the wounded lover trying to reconcile his parting with a girlfriend for whom he still has feelings. He begins, �If you meet her in some café/Here�s what to say/I�m doing well,� and ends the song pining, “In case you meet/the one who swept me off my feet/Don�t tell me, I just don�t want to know.” His reprise of the saddened paramour in I Don�t stand a Ghost of a Chance with You is nicely handled, suffusing and integrating his lilting voice with the piano playing. If You See Her is a fine debut album and John Labelle is a name to look out for. A.L.

A.L., Rapport Magazine, San Francisco

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