15 February 2024

Natalie Claire kept coming back to jazz, now she's bringing it to IPAC

| Dione David
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Natalie Claire Jazz Band at Lazybones

Natalie Claire Jazz Band is headed to Wollongong. Photo: Samantha Waterhouse.

It could come as no surprise to her family that Natalie Claire became a jazz singer.

The front woman of the Natalie Claire Jazz Band – which comes to IPAC’s The Music Lounge later this week – grew up surrounded by the warm, smooth tones of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee and her own mother.

“My mum had a great music collection and she would either be playing all the old jazz standards or singing them herself. She has a beautiful voice,” she says.

“My grandfather, who immigrated from Sicily in Italy was actually a singing waiter. I guess you could say it’s in my blood.”

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After singing in talent quests and choirs, Natalie moved on to paid performances at local leagues clubs and the like, before studying classical music at university.

“I love classical music but I always came back to jazz,” she says.

“And I’d be so bored if I were performing pop hits precisely how you’d expect to hear them and performing songs the same way every evening. With jazz, every performance is unique; it happens in the moment. We feed off each other, we feed off the audience, we improvise, and we see where the song takes us … We play in the pocket; we’ve become a real tight ensemble over the years.”

Members of Natalie Claire Jazz Band pose with instruments

Miroslaw (Mirek) Galczynski, Natalie Claire, Nicholas Powning and Steve Ley form the Natalie Claire Jazz Band. Photo: Samantha Waterhouse.

Aside from Natalie on lead vocals, the Natalie Claire Jazz Band comprises Nicholas Powning on double bass, Steve Ley on drums and Miroslaw (Mirek) Galczynski on keys. “Nick’s walking bass lines have a profound sense of groove, precision and soulfulness,” she says.

“I’ve performed with several thumpers over the years … in contrast, Steve has transformed jazz drumming into a high art form. Though he can swing with wild abandon, he is also a sympathetic accompanist who adds delicious percussive colours to stirring ballads.

“And as for Mirek, I’ve been performing with him for about 15 years now … He has next level musical intelligence and is a true virtuoso. You have to come and see it to understand what I mean.”

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The set list is organised for their intimate performance later this week at IPAC. Though billed as “a celebration of the classics by Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra and more”, the list includes tender ballads, hard-swinging classic jazz and upbeat Latin rhythms, with a sprinkling of Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and the improved language of the jazz artist – scatting.

“Scatting is a skill you must take the time to develop,” Natalie says.

“You have to have a good ear to hear the chord progression, be able to pick out notes from that chord and let your tongue tumble over different syllables that you pick in the moment. It’s not something you can pre-learn – it’s very much an ‘in the moment’ jazz solo for the vocalist.”

Natalie Claire Jazz Band comes to The Music Lounge at IPAC on Saturday 24 February. Expect good grooves, lush melodies, and high-energy improvisations from jazz musos at the top of their game.

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