First we take the Park Theatre

Veteran singer Anna-Lisa Kirby to give Leonard Cohen’s tunes a new twist

Local jazz singer Anna-Lisa Kirby makes the songs of Leonard Cohen her own. Lucia Madariaga-Vignudo

The duo responsible for creating Winnipeg’s jazz scene from the ground up is at it again.

University of Manitoba jazz studies coordinator Anna-Lisa Kirby and her husband Steve moved to Winnipeg in 2003 when he accepted the job of program director at the university. Now after almost 10 years of hard work the two still find time to perform their world-renowned jazz tunes.

Jazz is known as a very creative musical art form, something that attracted Anna-Lisa, also a renowned singer, from the beginning.

“A lot of music sounded very much the same,” says Kirby, 43. “I felt that jazz was so much more creative. I guess the swing feel got to me. I was just hooked after that.”

In her role as jazz studies coordinator, Kirby has a lot of responsibilities. She organizes outreach programs, student ensembles, faculty performances and does most of the PR work. As a result, the program is incredibly nurturing and has become a very unique school in itself.

“It (the program) has just exploded. It has become very huge in a short amount of time,” Kirby says. “We’ve had so much support in the community and so much support from the university. The students are doing amazing things.”

One of Kirby’s creations is the Cool Wednesday Night Hang, a New York club-styled jam session open to all.

It is a great forum for university jazz students to cut their teeth and show their talent.

“When we first moved to Winnipeg, Steve’s whole idea and concept of creating the jazz program started with creating a jazz scene,” says Kirby. “So that’s why we decided we needed a jam session.”

Since its inception in 2004, the venue has moved from the Free House to Buccacino’s and is now at the Orbit Room at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Wednesday Night Hang regulars and jazz lovers alike will be excited to learn that Kirby is slated to sing a Leonard Cohen tribute set this coming Saturday, March 31.

Kirby’s band will include Steve (bass), friends Derrick Gardner (trumpet), Larry Roy (guitar), Quincy Davis (drums), Jimmy Greene (sax) and Will Bonness (piano).

Kirby has already performed one such set in 2010 as part of the Tarbut Festival, a celebration of Jewish culture.

The enigmatic nature of Cohen’s music is not lost on Kirby, who admits she wants the concert to be her interpretation.

“I listen and I take from him and I try to be me,” she says. “I try to be truthful and honest and tell the story I’m trying to tell. There’s no way I can tell his story.”

Kirby’s uniqueness as a vocalist also translates to her listening habits. As someone who has been around jazz music for so long, her opinions on jazz’s future indicate that it is in good hands.

“Jazz is always growing and changing. So much music is being tinged with hip hop and gospel,” she says. “I think it’s important to keep the traditional jazz of the ‘50s and ‘60s alive but there’s room for everybody and everything. I love it all.”

Published in Volume 66, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 28, 2012)

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