ELAINE DAME - YOU'RE MY THRILL
There is no one you could name who is anything like Elaine. Dame, that is.
After years of playing concert and club dates all over town and in New York, Elaine Dame is recognized as one of Chicago's most gifted jazz singers and vocal coaches. And she gives back, as we found out in our lively conversation at Winter’s Jazz Club on March 31st, where she’s helping owner Scott Stegman expand programming for the hot new venue in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood.
Raised in a family that appreciated music, art and culture, she recalls her parents urging her to sing and take piano lessons. Her grandmother, who passed away recently at 101 years young, was an extraordinary influence in her life, taking her to concerts, theatre and sharing a deep appreciation for art. There was also a long line of spiritual influence at play: her grandfather, a Protestant minister, followed several generations of ministers before him.
The intermingling of music, art, faith and all the encouragement paid off. A flute became the instrument of choice, with choral singing and theatre close behind. Professional aspirations, spurred on by band and choir directors who still proudly come to see her perform, pulled her far away from the small town of Stevensville, Michigan where she spent most of her formative years – first to Pepperdine, then classes at UCLA and then to the Theater Repertory Program at California State Northridge.
In the mid 90’s, after a four-year investment in Chicago’s busy theater scene, things seemed to be stalling a bit. That’s when she discovered Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, an insightful guide to understanding creative potential. The transformation that began all those years ago ultimately helped her to develop a much more centered life, and to recognize that jazz singing, and coaching vocal jazz technique, was her true calling.
Her spiritual compass took a meditative turn as well. Elaine Dame is now a practicing Buddhist. There’s much more to hear in our captivating and enlightening program recorded at Winter’s where she is preparing for her April 25th show – Elaine Dame Sings Ella with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra All Star Quartet.
The impact of The Artist’s Way … “It is an incredible book for anyone who wants to be more creative in their life … I always recommend it to my students … When I did this book not only was it an incredible experience creatively but spiritually it was intense. I had not before or since had that kind of spiritual experience. I felt like I was in this strange zone, in the flow … stuff just comes to you … serendipity … sounds so ‘woo woo’ and I am not a ‘woo woo’ kind of a person but it really did set me on this path. The book dispels the myths about what it means to be an artist … that artists are broke or crazy ... Most artists I know are very well-adjusted, lovely people with families and this is their job … We each have our own blocks … psychologically … when it comes to doing creative things and this book allows you to explore all the myths in your head.”
Music as therapy … “Thank God for music. It has always been a way for me to relax and meditate … for my brain to slow down and focus on one thing.”
Skat facts … “You have to study it. It is a language. It is an art form ... You cannot just pretend to be good at it … Initially you have to start just by experimenting … basically stream of consciousness kind of stuff … and imitation … When you first start you imitate the people you love … Once you get passed that and figure out if you have an ear for it … playing around can only get you so far so you have to start studying harmony. It is an ongoing, challenging thing … to break down the way the harmony is moving … what the scale means to that c7 chord and be able to sing that scale … and have a way to get to that next scale … teach them how to do that ... guide tones and all that … You have a map that you can use but you obviously have to be a great listener and move with what is happening. It is a beautiful thing when it works out.”
On practicing Buddhism …“I chant every day and it helps me stay positive. It helps me have what the Buddhists call a high life condition which means one filled with passion, compassion, wisdom, joy and all that good stuff. We all have challenges and should look at them as opportunities … It helps a lot in the music business.”
Coming up at Winter’s Jazz Club … “I am doing an Ella Fitzgerald tribute at Winter’s. It will be her 100th birthday on April 25th... She, more than any other artist, is someone I am obsessed with. It is going to be with Chicago Jazz Orchestra. It is an incredible group and we will have a lot of fun. Hopefully the audience will too.”
Listen to selections of Elaine Dame's album You're My Thrill and a feature performance of our show's theme song.