A major jazz singer and educator based in Toronto, Brenda Carol has built an important career that has touched the ears and hearts of a countless number of listeners and young singers. Her open-minded approach has found her often interpreting songs drawn from the rock, pop and folk music worlds, transforming them through improvisations and arrangements into jazz without losing their essence, while also performing her own highly personal versions of jazz standards.

Born in Sudbury (a small town in Ontario), she grew up in nearby Brantford, which is in a very rural area. “I had a lot of time to listen,” she remembers. “ Toronto was the big city that I would visit to go see concerts.” Brenda sang often as a child, took piano lessons from age nine, and played saxophone in school. She switched her focus from tenor sax to voice when one of her high school music teachers began to offer singing ensemble lessons. “The teacher regularly introduced jazz songs to me. I did not appreciate them that much then but I learned them and later on it really helped me because I knew so many songs.”

Brenda at the time was much more into progressive rock, including the music of Genesis and Yes. At 17 she began singing with a rock band and was soon performing all across Ontario, often singing backup in rock and folk groups. At York University she earned a degree in psychology (working with the handicapped) while minoring in music. She sang with the Moors, which she describes as a bit like “Peter, Paul and Mary meets the Stranglers.” She also had a progressive folk trio, CinderBloc Garden, that had unusual instrumentation including bassoon and Moog. An important turning point in her career occurred when she met Max Roach. She took a long bus trip with friends to Chicago to attend a blues festival only to find it rained out. At Joe Segal’s jazz club, she caught Roach’s quartet for two nights and met the great drummer. “After asking me to sing for him, he suggested that I sing jazz, saying that he thought I could be a jazz singer.”

Eventually Brenda took Roach’s advice. She had always been drawn to jazz a bit due to its spontaneity, improvising and openness. In the mid-1990s she co-organized ClaireVoyance, a progressive jazz ensemble that, in addition to standards, sometimes takes its material from unlikely sources (such as the songbooks of Joni Mitchell and Stephen Stills) and turns the songs into jazz. ClaireVoyance has featured many top Canadian players through the years including Brenda’s husband pianist Stephen Gardner and, for the past decade, flutist Bill McBirnie. In 2005, Brenda performed a few special concerts with ClaireVoyance that featured the group performing the music of Yes. “We gave the Yes songs jazz solos, altering some of the pieces to become jazzier, and jamming them out pretty far.” She also performs duets with Stephen Gardner as Oui. The duo has gained attention for its ability to perform very difficult compositions.

In 1998 Brenda Carol released her self-titled debut, a memorable studio album that includes her fresh renditions of such songs as “Nefertiti” (which had rarely been recorded previously as a vocal), “You Must Believe in Spring,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “The Man I Love” and other fresh renditions of standards. Among the key soloists are Stephen Gardner, guitarists Ted Quinlan and Lorne Lofsky, trumpeter Steve Crowe and violinist Igor Romanyk.

Brenda and ClaireVoyance have played a yearly engagement at Toronto’s HotHouse Cafe for 17 years as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival. 2000’s Live At HotHouse Cafe documents some of that year’s music in exciting fashion. In addition to inventive revivals of some jazz standards, the group performs Stephen Still’s “Everydays,” Chris Squire’s “Lucky Seven,” Chick Corea’s “You’re Everything” and Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower” which has Brenda’s lyrics. Both of her CDs are available on the Darwyn label.

In addition to her performances, Brenda Carol has been an influential educator since 1994 who teaches privately and gives master classes. “I love to learn from my students,” she says enthusiastically. “Learning their repertoire helps one hone their own skills and I am very proud of my students.”

Currently Brenda Carol is working on her third jazz album which includes some original songs, and a solo folk jazz CD in which she plays guitar in addition to singing. She looks forward to further collaborations with stimulating musicians, to exploring songs from a variety of sources, and to future performances. With her beautiful voice, creative explorations, and joyful desire to continue stretching the boundaries of jazz, Brenda Carol promises to be a major force in modern music for many years to come.

©1998 - 2016 Brenda Carol. Design by Janine Stoll Media. Speaker Image: Morrison Audio.