Elizabeth Shepherd: The JUNO Nominated Artist Talks Love and Jazz

Published February 11, 2015

Winnipeg-born, Montreal-based Elizabeth Shepherd is a natural at moving between different musical circles. Though the critically-acclaimed vocalist and pianist has been embraced by international jazz fans since the 2006 release of her debut album, Start To Move, she is just as adored by lovers of soulful dance music and funky hip-hop.

That said, Shepherd’s own heart, much like her songwriting, is rooted in jazz.

“I fell in love with jazz relatively late,” Shepherd tells TD Music. “I grew up in a bit of a bubble, listening only to Salvation Army brass bands and classical music until I was well into my teens. When I finally did stumble upon jazz, it took me a while to warm up to it. But the deeper I got, the more I fell in love, until it became clear that there was no way for me to go back from the harmonic and rhythmic richness of the jazz language.

“I never set out to make ‘jazz,’” she adds. “Having said that, the music that moves me above all is jazz and its offshoots, from delta blues to hip-hop, so I guess it's inevitable that my music would eventually settle there. I've come to accept that I'm part of the jazz scene, and I'm honoured to be part of that line of musicians.”

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While viewed as a performer who brings jazz to new generations of music fans, Shepherd is no outsider. Her soulful vocal delivery, combined with an approach to the keyboard that ranges from subtle to flat-out funky, has earned the artist four JUNO Award nominations. The most recent finds Shepherd’s fifth studio album, The Signal, up for 2015’s Vocal Jazz Album of the Year award.

Released last fall, The Signal is perhaps Shepherd’s most challenging album to date. It’s also deeply personal, with a great deal of the lyrical content informed by the birth of Shepherd’s first child.

“I had no idea the extent to which becoming a mother would blow my world apart, in a good way, and completely change my perspective on just about everything,” she shares.

Throughout The Signal, Shepherd embraces womanhood, telling stories from a distinctly female perspective. These are songs of love and strength.

“In giving birth to a daughter, I realized the absolute necessity of upholding the sisterhood, of sticking together, of showing compassion towards each other as women, of helping each other along, and of mentoring our younger sisters,” states Shepherd. “This was the starting point for The Signal, and so I wrote about sisters, daughters, mothers, lovers. I wanted to create something my daughter could be proud of – proud of me as a woman, as a musician and a mother.”

Shepherd will tour Mexico, Western Canada and parts of Europe in support of The Signal this spring. Between, she’ll continue to work on her multi-media “Montreal project,” a collection of original songs based on random street interviews in which Shepherd asked fellow Montrealers about their relation to the city.

Shepherd and her band also perform this Friday (February 13), as part of the fourth TD Ottawa Jazz Winter Festival. In honour of this Valentine’s weekend performance, TD Music asked Shepherd to share some of her favourite lyrical expressions of love. Her list is below.

5 Ways to Say “I Love You” in Song

"Walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme" - from “Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye,” Leonard Cohen

“Heaven can be yours just for now” - from “All the Lovely Ladies,” Gordon Lightfoot

"Took the time to touch, to share" - from “Close Enough for Love,” Tony Bennett

"I know the meaning of the words ‘ever after’” - from “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” John Denver

"There's nothing quite as beautiful as your light” - from “Silver and Fire,” M. Craft