Kate Wadey is a gem.
Based in Sydney, she is a jazz singer in the proper sense. Informed by history, but not constrained by it, she’s one of the few modern jazz vocalists that I really, truly enjoy. No, I love her singing. As a person, she’s warm, interesting, clever, and engaging. As a vocalist, she’s warm, interesting, clever, and engaging.
Last night I saw her sing with her band Kate Wadey’s Presidential Holiday, and I danced every single song in the first set. Which is a big deal, as I haven’t been dancing as much as I like lately. But the band came in with a lovely, accessible dancers’ favourite at a comfortable tempo, and then continued, moving up and down tempos, in and out of classic swinging jazz styles. And i danced every one. Then I put the band break to good use, and had a drink of water and a nice sit down.
What made the band so great?
I think it was the combination of voices in the band. Sam Dobson on bass has been anchoring the younger generation of Sydney jazz bands for a while, and in this band he set down a swinging beat that managed to rein in even the overly enthusiastic OG drummer Ian Bloxsom. He has that type of playing that melds into the whole sound of the band, not pushing forward, but you’d miss it if wasn’t there. Just right for lindy hop. Andrew Scott, band leader for the Corner Pocket Trio and other good swinging combos, plays piano, and that is also nice. But the real business is the relationship between Kate and Chris O’Dear on saxophone.
They’ve recently done a show of Billie Holiday and Lester Young music, and you can really hear that influence in their musical relationship. It’s not that they’re trying to be those two icons, it’s more that they’ve paid attention to the way the two musicians worked together, call and response, combinations, echoes, conversations. Kate and Chris are both talents to watch, but together, they’ve developed a mutual sensibility that really makes you _listen_.
I think that’s the most interesting part of Kate’s style: she draws you in. She’s really present in every single note, really singing every single note to _you_, to the band, to us all. And we can’t help but pay attention. What is she saying to us? We need to know. If she was a dancer, she’d be present in every single step, committing her weight, playing with time and rhythm, but right there, giving every single beat her whole attention. There’s the delay and stretch of a very good blues dancer, but with jazz sensibilities. As a singer, she fills up the room, and you can’t look away.
For dancers, it invites us into the music. What does this mean, here?
When she sang My Baby Just Cares For Me, an almost too-tired standard in the dance world, suddenly it became interesting and new. I wanted to know _what_ her baby cared for, if it wasn’t Lana Turner or shows or clothes. And then, Kate added a note of… was it smugness? that he cares for her. The tone is just perfect. She moves us from that that confidence of a woman with a man who loves her, to an almost-feeling of sorrow. Perhaps he’ll leave. After all, she asks, ‘what is wrong with baby, that he just cares for me?’ The song builds, with Chris taking turns, adding clever notes of humour as he picks up the riffs from other standards, and by the end of the performance, we are all dancing.
I was too busy dancing to take photos or record any snippets but that last vocal number. And I’ve been listening to it over and over since I got home last night. I’ve never thought so much about the lyrics. I’ve never realised that balance of pathos and love. But I think that’s the talent of a good vocalist: we find new meaning in old standards.
Kate’s band doesn’t have an album (yet), but she does have a solo release, which is just lovely. Watch out for her recording of ‘Sit right down and write myself a letter‘. It features some of Australia’s best musicians (Eamon McNelis!), but Kate’s vocals gives Fats’ hit just a little more melancholy.