Long before I was diagnosed with a brain tumour, during my High School years, I trained in classical singing. I never let on to any of my friends at University that I had sung classically as it wasn’t particularly ‘cool’, but I sang at weddings during the university holidays.
In 1998 I moved into jazz singing and found in it such an incredibly thrilling thing with such a huge amount of freedom. However, in 2000 I unfortunately had to have 6 lots of neurosurgery in 8 days. These surgeries, along with my further surgeries in 2004 and 2006, affected my memory hugely and I lost my entire repertoire, and actually all memory of how to sing at all.
In 2010 two of my doctors recognised my passion for music and song, and encouraged me to try again. The problem was that I had no memory of how to even get a note out of my mouth to sing.
I researched online how to sing jazz, and for 2 years I taught myself, but longed for a pianist to jam with. Eventually in 2012 I was able to contact Andrew Faleatua, in his final year of a Master’s degree in jazz piano, and we managed to have regular jam sessions which I found exhilarating. When he mentioned that he was soon leaving to do his PhD in Sydney, I began to yearn to be able to record with him before he left so I would have a solid memory of our jamming together. However, I had no income, and this was a huge hurdle.
My cousin found out about this and without my knowledge arranged for my extended family to generously donate towards a day in a recording studio!
I regained contact with an old family friend, Roger Manins, now a renowned jazz saxophonist. Roger suggested I have some lessons with his wife, Carolina Moon, and he connected me with two of his past students, Cameron McArthur (bass) and Declan Smith (drums).
On the 18th of March 2013 we all met for the first time, and “Just this Once” was recorded.
Normally, due to the chronic pain muscle condition I live with, I can only stand still for about a minute before severe pain kicks into my back and my legs. Because of my awareness of this I was quite anxious as to how I would cope being on my feet all day on the day of my recording.
To my absolute astonishment I managed to be on my feet at the microphone for most of the time between 11am until 7.30pm!
By the second song my leg pain was already kicking in and so we took a break in the extremely comfortable control room
The incredibly talented saxophonist Roger Manins, who features on my album, was touring Australia in the 10 days prior to the recording and was due to fly in and be at the studio at around 3pm. Due to delays in his flight he didn’t arrive until after 5pm. When he had finished backing the tracks he’d missed, he recorded ‘Body and Soul’ with the other musicians. What was extraordinary was that it was originally planned for only Roger to do a solo. However, Roger felt that it would be better if they all did one together. It was completely off the top of their heads and was outstanding.
Roger then suggested that we add another track to the album to make it a full album, as opposed to just being an E.P. He suggested that we do ‘Summertime’ and once again, off the tops of their heads, the musicians got up and played this piece.
I had sung this song on the first album I recorded back in 1998 but was feeling so utterly exhausted and in so much pain by then that I feared I would forget them. Because of this I got the studio to get the lyrics off the internet and blow them up into a huge size for me to have in front of me.
As I left the studio I was absolutely elated and realised that the day of our recording was undoubtedly the best day of my life!
I named the album ‘Just This Once’ after the coming together of all the musicians for the first and probably only time for the recording. It was quite extraordinary seeing it grow from my being encouraged to sing but having no memory of how to, to relearning jazz, to finding a pianist, to then having a recording booked with no musicians other than me and Andrew. Our then progressing to having one of the best bass players in Auckland come on board along with a superb drummer was amazing. Then having Roger offering to join us for the recording was the icing on the cake!
'Just This Once' symbolised our all meeting together on the day and jamming together in one 8 hour jam session to record the album. The day of the recording was the first time I had met the bass player, the first time I had ever played with Roger Manins, & the first time we had ever all played together as a band. So the recording was just this once!
Singing is one of the most incredible “presents” that God has restored to me in the last 13 years. When I sing I am almost unaware of my physical pain and feel elated – my pain just goes to the back of my brain. And the beauty of jazz is that if my memory does slip up on things there’s the freedom to skat sing! It brings me such incredible satisfaction, and joy.
The full album of ‘Just This Once’ is available on itunes and two of my favourite tracks from it are up on YouTube for you to listen to:
‘Boy From Ipanema’ - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trQU9aaA7oE
‘Paper Moon’ - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoUQS5_ARDw
I can only hope that in listening to them that you, the reader, get a small sense of the incredible joy that this whole journey has brought me.