MONTREAL — Jennifer Gasoi urges kids in her upbeat songs to follow their heart, stick with their dreams and anything is possible.
The Montreal singer/songwriter has proven that is more than a sweet platitude by winning a Grammy, the recorded music industry’s most influential recognition.
Gasoi took home the trophy for best children’s album at the annual awards ceremony held in Los Angeles on Jan. 26.
Her achievement is especially remarkable because she is an independent artist and her winning album Throw a Penny in the Wishing Well is self-produced.
She was chosen over four big-label Americans and is the first Canadian to bag the best children’s album prize.
“It came out left field,” said Gasoi of news in December of her nomination. “Children’s album is one of the most competitive fields, and some of the best music is coming out of that genre.”
Gasoi has had a close association with the Jewish Public Library (JPL) for almost a decade. Her winter holiday concert there has drawn more than 500 people for the past six years.
Her popularity there has gone a long way to establish Gasoi’s career as a children’s singer since she moved to Montreal from her native Vancouver in 2002.
“The JPL is thrilled for our longtime collaborator and friend on this monumental win,” said Penny Fransblow, head of the JPL’s Norman Berman Children’s Library. “Right from her early days at the JPL, when she gave music lessons to small groups of moms and tots, her warmth, talent and enthusiasm were clearly evident. Her hard work and dedication to her craft are evident in everything she does, and she is wonderful and unassuming person who is most deserving of this award.”
Gasoi performs an average of only about five concerts a year, but she expects that to change dramatically as invitations pour in from all over the world.
Throw a Penny in the Wishing Well is her second album. She wrote all of its 18 songs and arranged it, secured the funding and hired the best musicians she could afford.
“I really did it all on my own,” said Gasoi after returning home from Los Angeles still a little breathless from keeping up with the sudden flood of interest from the media, industry and public. “It hasn’t stopped… It’s pretty overwhelming.”
Throw a Penny was nominated for a Juno Award in Canada, as was her debut album, 2004’s Songs for You, which also garnered the Parents’ Choice gold award. Last year, she was shortlisted for Sirius XM’s Indie Children’s Artist of the Year.
Gasoi employs a wide variety of music from swing to bluegrass to calypso and, always, a little klezmer as a nod to her heritage – and it’s all eminently danceable. Her work is distinctive for its intelligent lyrics performed in a voice that would be at home in a jazz club, which is why the songs appeal to adults, too.
Gasoi had a promising career as an adult jazz singer before she made the switch to younger audiences – and to Montreal. She continues to do some adult cabaret, notably at the Upstairs Jazz Bar on Mackay Street.
Gasoi studied at McGill University from 1992 to 1996, and her father, dentist Ivan Gasoi, was from Montreal, so she felt drawn to the city when she wanted to get out of her “comfort zone” on the West Coast.
She hadn’t really thought about children’s music – she has no kids of her own – but a young cousin and some other kids liked what she tried out on them.
“I don’t talk down to children. I speak to them as equals. That’s why adults also respond. There are layers of meaning in they lyrics about living the best life you can,” Gasoi said.
“The littlest ones just love the music – they feel the heart and love in it.”
Montreal’s vibrant music scene, with its strong indie spirit and diversity also attracted her. “Montreal is a really creative city that values the arts so much… I live in the Plateau and am exposed to all kinds of musical styles and cultures here. I think by osmosis, I’ve incorporated a lot of that into my music.”
How did she get where she is today? Gasoi unabashedly cites “hard work, perseverance and vision,” and above all a belief in herself, as the attributes that have seen her through the struggling years.
Ecstatic as she was in December when nominated, Gasoi worried about what to wear to the Grammys
“It was just before Christmas and nothing was open. I really only had about three weeks,” she said. She chose Westmount designer Astri Prugger, who with Gasoi’s input, created a strapless, red below-the-knee-length gown, with corsage appliqués across its flouncy skirt.
Her award was presented to her by veteran pop singer Cindi Lauper.
Gasoi is not sure where the Grammy will ultimately take her, or if she will stay in Montreal. “It’s hard to tell. There’s a firestorm right now, people wanting me to do concerts and buy my CDs. It’s opened many doors. But in a few weeks, when things settle down, we’ll see.”