Like great wine, jazz vocalists – if they are very lucky, and like great wines the lucky ones are rare, grow better with age. There is a resonance, mellowness, a richness that only time, and perhaps a few thousand nights in a heady environment of smoky jazz clubs, can instill in the vocal muscles. Arlene Smith’s husky contralto is of a rare and wonderful vintage long appreciated by jazzaholics and also by those who are enjoying their first sips of that thing called jazz.
Arlene has cultivated a strong following throughout North America, having worked both coasts and both sides of the border. She made her home in New York City for a decade and a half playing to packed houses with such notable sidemen as Ellis Larkins, Joe Benjamin, Clark Terry and Jimmy Jones.
A native Montrealer, Arlene was considered “the best jazz singer in Montreal,” according to music critic Bill Hartley. She was instrumental in opening Club LaVoute in the late 80’s, a club that featured internationaly acclaimed jazz musicians like Pepper Adams, Joe Newman etc. She sang regularly at L’air du Temps and Biddles with the likes of Oliver Jones, Don Elias, Charlie Biddles, Nelson Symonds and Michael Donato. Arlene & pianist John Hicks took part in a jazz series presented by CBC Radio Canada
Arlene is truly at home when she is singing. Her repertoire is without borders; from Fats Waller to Gershwin, Berlin to Stein, Matt Denis to Hoagy Carmicheal; she is comfortable in big band settings (where she got her start) as well as more intimate groups and works wonders with a crowd in a duo setting. She offers everything from standards to bop, to rarely sung jazz compositions and ballads. With this extensive a selection – she often presents evenings build around a theme or composer; a Cole Porter Songbook; Thelonius Monk’s themes; Tadd Dameron works or Rogers/Hart lovers’ theme for Valentine’s Day.
In past years, Arlene has appeared throughout the Toronto Jazz circuit including regular stops at the Top O’ The Senator, Montreal Bistro, the Rex Hotel, Mezzetta Café, and Le Select Bistro. Arlene’s concerts at the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario drew spectacular crowds. She was also featured at the Juno Awards presentation.
She has played with many Toronto based jazz greats including Norm Amadeo, Reg Schwager, Ed Bickert, the late Moe Koffman and Peter Appleyard. She has performed numerous times at the Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa Jazz Festivals.
Arlene Smith’s appeal is of a talent aged to perfection!