A rising star in Calgary’s jazz community, Ellen Doty might be the perfect blend of time-honoured tradition and musical evolution. The singer’s ability to mold and integrate the best of Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, with the upbeat energy of today’s pop genre, has created a form of jazz separate from the conventional.
Her award winning voice, an ability to command the room and the overwhelming talent of the musicians behind her, have brought about a revitalization to Calgary’s jazz scene — one audiences are excited to take in.
For more than three years, Doty’s unique brand of jazz has been heard nearly every Friday evening at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel’s Oak Room. Performing both original music and an array of covers — each with their own Ellen Doty twist — she’s garnered the attention of some of the jazz world’s heaviest hitters, including jazz legend Dave Mancini, whom she met in Fall of 2012.
“Dave was in town performing with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and he was staying at the hotel,” Doty says. “He heard me singing and walked right up to me. Six weeks later I was in New York.”
“Mancini’s old school jazz mentality forced her to mature as an artist and develop her talent”
It was there Doty performed with Mancini and his backing band — while also receiving some vocal training at the prestigious Juilliard School. Doty says that Mancini’s old school jazz mentality forced her to mature as an artist and develop her talent in new and exciting ways.
“I learned so much from him. He’d make me sing a phrase or a passage over and over again until I got it perfectly right. That was something that was very cool for me. As some twenty-something singer, I had a lot to learn about jazz and all its nuances.”
Fast-forward to today.
Doty has toured nation-wide and recorded two albums, including her brand new full-length, Gold, released this past May. She’s shot multiple music videos, with her video for the single That’s Love garnering nearly 10,000 YouTube plays. She’s received an outstanding soloist award at the 2013 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and her singles have climbed jazz charts across the country.
It‘s quite a resume for a 26-year-old from small town Alberta.
Originally from Okotoks, when Doty is asked about her foray into the world of performing, she fondly thinks back to her first “real” performance — her rendition of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight,” sung at her Grade 1 talent show.
“That sticks with me,” Doty says. “After that, I auditioned and performed in the Calgary Stampede Youth Talent Showdown [now called Calgary Stampede Talent Search] for maybe four or five years.”
Performing throughout her childhood, it wouldn’t be until Doty reached junior high that she would receive any formal training. Doty received regular voice lessons while also playing both saxophone and French horn in school.
Also an athlete, she chose sports over music during her high school years while maintaining regular vocal coaching outside of school, something she says would benefit all young musicians.
“I think any type of theory learning as a young musician is helpful,” Doty says. “For me, it helped when I got into university and had to do everything from ear training to sight reading. It was really important that I could read music.”
Doty went on to study vocal jazz at Carleton University in Ottawa and eventually performed at the Canadian University Music Society Congress.
She moved back to Calgary in 2009 and began piecing together her signature sound — a sound inspired by familial roots and modern soul.
“ Nat King Cole actually lived across the street from my grandma in Los Angeles”
“Nat King Cole actually lived across the street from my grandma in Los Angeles and a lot of his music was passed down to me through my dad,” Doty says. “My grandparents were huge jazz fans. They’d go dancing to Duke Ellington or Ella Fitzgerald.
“With modern artists, Lauren Hill, when I was just getting started, was definitely an influence. I think there’s definitely some of that sound in what we do.”
Doty says that part of her unique sound comes from her contemporary “pop approach” when writing, basing melodic verses around a key hook and prominent bridge sections. In contrast, traditional jazz might be built around a “head,” which generally refers to an overarching theme of a song as a whole.
As for Doty’s take on the city’s jazz scene, she sees it as only getting stronger, infusing our nightlife with a sharp take on a rooted culture.
She points to Jazz YYC’s work in the community and their drive to to bring a prominent jazz festival back to Calgary to showcase the talented musicians calling the city home.
“(The jazz scene here) is something that brings people together and artists from all over the world are coming to Calgary. If jazz continues to gain popularity it’ll be huge for the city,” Doty says.
As for her favorite Calgary venues, she recently played at the Fort Calgary Theatre for the first time — a performance complete with jazz swing dancers; her love of Wine-Ohs is apparent in hearing her speak to its impassioned atmosphere; and her regular stomping ground, the Oak Room, has helped her make a name for the last three years.
Still, there’s one venue she can’t say enough about.
Having released Gold to two sold out crowds at the Ironwood Stage & Grill on May 29 and 30, Doty says the venue will always be one of her favorite, with the support she’s felt from owner Pat McIntyre nothing short of amazing.
“He’s someone who just treats artists so well. He really cares about what he does and wants them to have all the success in the world. So it’s amazing to go in there and feel that.”
Heading into 2015, Doty will have just wrapped her most recent national tour. Ever the workhorse, she already has her sights set on evolving her sound and developing new material in the New Year.
So, if you’re looking for a night out and are in the mood for a little bit of tradition infused with modern energy, check her out.
You’ll be hooked at the first note.
For more on Ellen Doty, check out her website, www.ellendoty.com.
— Justin Wilson