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Singer interprets Hollywood classics through jazz

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Monica Chapman

Jazz singer Monica Chapman has always been mesmerized by big movie musicals. That’s why her latest album, Small World, features songs from cinematic classics, such as The Bandwagon with Fred Astaire and Goldfinger, Sean Connery’s third James Bond flick.

“The inspiration behind this album was big Hollywood movies,” says Chapman, who left Romania for Israel when she was three and moved to Canada with her family at age nine.

Small World marks Chapman’s third jazz release to date. It is also her third album with producer Bill King, who she credits with enabling her to discover her true jazz voice.

Chapman is a classically trained vocalist with musical theatre roots. She also has her ARCT (Associate of the Royal Conservatory) in piano and currently teaches piano and voice at the Long and McQuade music store in Guelph, Ont., where she lives with her husband.

Less than 10 years ago, however, her husband suggested she make the switch to jazz. She fell in love with the swingy style of music and after working with King, began performing in small rooms around Guelph and Toronto. “I never turned back,” she says. “I love being a jazz singer.”

Icons like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday inspire her, and so she threw in some jazz standards on Small World for good measure. She covers, for instance, George and Ira Gershwin’s A Foggy Day and Cole Porter’s So in Love.

To hearken back to her musical theatre days, she tackles the vampy sounding Big Spender from Sweet Charity and Stephen Sondheim’s Small World from Gypsy. She’s quick to point out that some of the greatest jazz tunes come from musical theatre composers, like the Gershwins.

Piel Canala, a Spanish tune from the Puerto Rican composer Bobby Capó, might stick out on the album, but Chapman was happy to include it. She shared an accompanying music video for it on YouTube last fall.

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She shot it in Toronto’s Kensington Market, a setting she and her husband chose because of its Latin-American vibes.

Despite living in Guelph, Chapman’s performed in various Toronto venues, including the Lula Lounge and the Jazz Bistro, where she’ll return on June 4 for her album release party.

The album features a slew of musicians, including Dave Young on acoustic bass, Mark Kelso on drums, Reg Scwager and Nathan Hiltz on guitar, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Mike Murley on alto saxophone, Rob Somerville on trombone and Magdelys Savigne on percussion. On June 4, Chapman will be accompanied by a seven-piece band.

Thus far, Small World has gotten radio play on stations likes Jazz FM and CBC Radio 2. Chapman hustles to get her music to listeners, doing all of her own publicity and promo work.

“I think I’m the best person for the job,” she says, “Because who else is as passionate about what I’m doing?”

The Small World album release party is on June 4 at 7 p.m. at the Jazz Bistro,  251 Victoria St., Toronto. Cover is $20, or $10 for students.

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