Elaine Crighton.. Scottish Skylark and Bebop Sister
Elaine Crighton in Performance
Since I have lived in the UK for more than 25 years without travelling further north than Coventry, my trip to Cromarty, at the tiptop of Scotland, earlier this year, was not only a fascinating musical experience, but an astonishing geographical one as well.
When I got back to London, still yearning for Cromarty’s clear clean water and lovely snow-capped hills, and, most of all, the musical company of those who were at the weekend workshop put on by Liane Carroll, Fiona Duncan, Brian Kellock, Sophie Bancroft, and Sara Colman, I was thrilled to learn that one of Scotland’s jazz singers, Elaine Crighton, would soon be down south and she agreed meet me in London for a chat and a Barbican lunch.
Elaine has been singing from an early age, and her musicality, she believes, comes from her family: as we tucked into our, may I say, ODD hot polenta cakes, she told me:
“I always sang standards along at the piano with my Uncle George when I was a little girl. I am influenced strongly by my family’s love of jazz and I was brought up listening to Big Band music. I guess I didn’t realize how deeply seated in me were the music and lyrics were until I began exploring more jazz music.”
But living in rural Aberdeenshire meant that Elaine needed to go further afield than her family for more exploration; first by working through the singing grades with a local teacher, and then attending a workshop in London with Anita Wardell. By then, she was hooked. She also played cello and piano as a youth, but “After signing lessons and workshops with Anita and Sophie Bancroft for a few years, I decided that to satisfy my desire to sing more and better, I started on the 3 year Jazz Course at St Andrews University. I graduated from there in Summer 2017. It was a total immersion in jazz music for the 3 years, and I loved every minute of it.”
Elaine’s precision as a jazz vocalist is obvious to anyone listening to her versatile singing of ballads and swing, and of Latin rhythms as well as in the traditions of gospel and bebop vocalizations. But that is only part of what makes her such a favourite with an audience, for her performances are alive with her joyous personality and her lovely sense of humour. She has a natural ‘swing’ and is willing to let the audience see her pleasure in the tempos with which she engages. Elaine says frankly that she practices something musical almost every day, “but seldom sing “songs” in my practice”.
“I have learned the hard way that the credibility of singing the song comes from the work that is done on learning the changes and the chord structures. I am a slow learner and have had to work quite hard at it, so I sit at the piano a lot working out the chords and scales and I find that I have to write it all down. I will then sing through the chords and look at where the melody fits in. I am more careful about learning the melody from the chart than from a recording these days. In the past I often learned a “version” from a recording that I liked but realized that I might pick up notes that don’t exist in the original music. I am a bit of a perfectionist and now, instead of learning lots and lots of tunes, I pick a couple of new things to work on and really try to get inside the piece. Of course, I also then load up heaps of versions on Spotify and listen to them in the car but I try not to get hung up on one particular artist and I add to the mix a couple of instrumental versions too on the playlist.”
Elaine’s talents are proven by her full schedule of gigs – in recent months she has performed all around Scotland – at Rye and Soda, Aberdeen– the Moray Jazz Club, and Whigams Jazz Club in Edinburgh. And its instructive to hear her talk about how she prepares for and develops her gigging with a band:
“It’s a rare thing to get practice time with the band for the gigs I have regularly. I am organised with my repertoire and am happy to do my own practice and turn up on the gig and go for it. I am lucky to gig with some of the guys with whom I went through my Uni course, and Iain the guitarist is always happy to run tunes and go over the charts I have prepared but I live in Aberdeen and he is in Edinburgh so it takes a bit of planning. When we have a little run of 3 or 4 gigs, then we get the whole band together to work on the arrangements and to make sure that everything is tight. It’s hard work but so satisfying to get a good practice and run through. As we build the repertoire together it gets easier and takes less time.”
This June Elaine and Iain have been invited to perform at the Leith Jazz and Blues Festival, which runs from the 1-3 June: more information, go to: Http// www.LEITHJAZZ.comThey will be performing at 4.30 on June 2, in Sofi’s Bar.
I asked Elaine how she has managed to keep a career in the beauty business going as well as bringing up her children while leading a jazzer’s life:
“I am working full time in my beauty job and I am a single mum of 2 boys, they are 17 and 20 now and both getting more independent so I am finding it easier to get away from home and have more freedom over the last year than I have ever had! It is exciting and I am so glad to have music as a way of connecting with people far and wide. People often wonder how I can be bothered, or find the time, but I do love it and I am not the type of person who wants to sit at home watching telly, if I can fit it in – then I will. Friends joke and say I have the worst case of FOMO (fear of missing out) ever. I spent so many years wishing I could do something musical and every time I went to see a band I wanted to be part of it so I am not going to waste any more time!
A whirlwind of organization and precision, Elaine Crighton is a serious member of the Scottish jazz scene. I am hoping she will also be back at Cromarty next year!
Annie Janowitz. © Anne Janowitz