Music about honesty for Diana Panton

Jason Kerr
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Diana Panton wasn’t always a jazz singer.  In fact, it was years before she was even introduced to the genre.

Canadian Jazz singer Diana Panton plays the E.A. Rawlinson on March 13 at 7:30 p.m. 

“I heard almost exclusively classical music in the house,” Panton says of her upbringing.  “I think the first cassette tape that I bought, on my own, I remember being about maybe 17, and I bought one (cassette tape) of the Rolling Stones and one of Aretha Franklin.  I didn’t even know what they were, I just guessed.”

Panton’s father had strong opinions about music.  He enrolled Diana in a violin pilot program when she was seven, and exerted considerable influence over the music that was played in the family home.

“He was very particular about letting us touch the radio at all,” she recalls with a chuckle.  “He didn’t have very much patience for rock music and that sort of thing.”

Panton’s first brush with jazz music came when the 25-piece Hamilton All-Stars Jazz Band played at her school.  It left a mark on her that blossomed into six albums, with more on the way.

“It planted a seed, I guess, that it was something I’d like to try,” she says of those concerts.  “(Then) I discovered my dad’s jazz collection, which oddly enough he didn’t play when I was little, or growing up, at all.”

Panton says her father was surprised to find out she liked jazz music so much, and it soon became a staple in their home.  She listened to his entire record collection, which included Horace Silver, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, and was soon borrowing LPs from her local library.

He even encouraged her to pursue jazz music instead of his preferred instrument, the violin.

“When I expressed an interest in the jazz music that he had he was very keen to foster that,” she says.  “It was good that we both found something that we really liked.”

Now, three Juno nominations later, Panton has found her niche as one of Canada’s most respected jazz vocalists.

“I haven’t evolved too much.  In my first album I tried to be very honest in my delivery and I think people don’t realize, how challenging it is to stay true to that as you continue on in the music industry,” she says.  “I really have tried to stay within my essential self, if that makes sense.  I’ve never tried to make a drastic departure.”

Panton says she tries to connect with her audience.  She wants to give them an authentic experience, which is a product of her Hamilton roots.

“It’s got a very raw emotion-based kind of music,” she says of her hometown.  “It’s not overly produced, which is something I notice when I go into a lot of larger city centres.  The music might be more polished and more produced (but it) sometimes has a little bit less feeling in it, whereas the music that’s performed here is largely for a working-class audience and they want to feel something.”

Capturing human emotion through song is something that’s very important to her.  It’s so important that she waited years to record her first album because she felt the timing wasn’t right.

“That was maybe a bit unusual,” she says.  “Some people are desperate to get the first album out, and it’s fine, it’s just that sometimes you haven’t quite settled into yourself and maybe you notice a larger change.”

Her newest album, Red, which she calls a sequel to her 2009 album Pink, reflects that attitude.  She describes Pink, which explores the topic of first love, as having “a certain sweetness and naivety.”  Red, in contrast has a more insightful feel to it.

“There’s definitely more intensity (to) that album and there’s more maturity,” she says.  “It’s a more profound album, but having said that, I had it in mind to do it back when I did the Pink album.  I tend to think far ahead of myself.”

That’s not to say Panton dislikes her earlier work.  She says she has no regrets about the songs she chose to record.

“Sometimes you have a skeleton in the closet, you don’t want anyone to ever hear it,” she says.  “I don’t feel like that about the first album.  I think it was a pretty honest impression of where I was and I think the most recent one is too.  I hope all my albums are like that.”

While still heavily involved in the music scene, Panton also teaches art classes in French in Hamilton.  It makes it difficult for her to tour, since she has to work around a school schedule, but she’s not going to stop anytime soon.

“I have so many albums that I’d like to record,” she says.  “I probably won’t be able to record all of them, but I’ll try.”

Panton will play three shows in northern Saskatchewan next week before beginning a tour in Russia in April.  She’s scheduled to perform at the E.A Rawlinson Centre in Prince Albert on March 13 at 7:30 p.m.  Tickets cost $38.

Organizations: Rolling Stones, E.A Rawlinson Centre

Geographic location: Hamilton, Canada, Northern Saskatchewan Russia Prince Albert

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