Love Is Here
The title Love Is Here works on two levels. It indicates that the over-arching theme of the album is love, the staple subject of so many great jazz songs. It also recognizes the fact that this stunningly accomplished debut album is a labour of love from Toronto singer and composer Francine Hailman, the happy consummation of her life-long love affair with jazz. The album had an independent release on Feb. 10, 2011.
A catalyst in the birth of the record was acclaimed Juno Award-winning guitarist and producer Tony Quarrington, as Francine explains. “In late 2009, I went to see someone perform at The Trane Studio and Tony was the accompanist on guitar. At the end of the evening I approached him and said ‘can we discuss making an album?’ We exchanged cards, got together and the rest is history. There was something very magical about the way everything fell into place. I just had this intuition we were going to do it, and my instincts are pretty strong.”
Together, Hailman and Quarrington assembled an A-list of Toronto players for the recording sessions in the famed Wellesley Sound studio. These included pianist Robi Botos, horn and reed player Tom Skublics, violinist Igor Romanyk, bassist Neil Swainson, accordionist and B3 player Dennis Keldie, and drummer Nick Fraser. Quarrington’s work on nylon and electric guitar is a sweet treat throughout the album, and he also handled all the production and orchestration. This may have been Francine’s first recording experience, but her extensive performance background with ace players stood her in good stead. “I always ask and respect their opinions. I’m not a diva who thinks she knows it all!”
The result with Love Is Here is a uniformly impressive and musically vibrant album that announces the arrival of Francine Hailman as a jazz vocalist and songwriter of the highest order. It possesses a refreshing stylistic variety, encompassing classic jazz, swing, Latin and blues elements with a graceful ease. Throughout, Francine’s rich, smoky and sensuously husky voice takes centre stage, quickly winning you over with both her subtle phrasing and emotional authenticity.
Of special note is the fact that eight of the 16 tracks here are her original compositions. They fit seamlessly with her fresh interpretations of standards by the likes of Hoagy Carmichael (“The Nearness Of You“), Irving Berlin (“Let Yourself Go”), George and Ira Gershwin (“‘S Wonderful“), and Lieber and Stoller (“Feeling Too Good Today Blues“). That latter tune was popularized by Peggy Lee, one of Francine’s favourite vocalists. “She is an inspiration, and I hope to do a Peggy Lee tribute show one day,” she says, while explaining “I’ve always ensured not to parrot other vocalists’ stylings or phrasings. Many have commented that my sound is pure and distinct.” Other musical influences include Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Diana Ross, Janis Joplin, Anita O’Day, Frank Sinatra,Tony Bennett, Cleo Laine, and Diana Krall.
By writing so much of her own material, Hailman is adding to the tradition, not just taking from it. “I started writing poetry in the late ’90s,” she recalls. “My friends encouraged this as a creative outlet, given that I had four children at home then. The verse snowballed into writing song lyrics and melodies.” A prolific writer, Francine now has a novel way of capturing her flashes of inspiration. “For the past few years, whenever I have an idea, I’ll call it into my answering machine, humming a melody or speaking lyrics. I probably have 20 songs on my machine right now!”
The original songs on Love Is Here all explore different aspects of that ever-fascinating subject, love. “My songs are a reflection of hope, pain and joy. They are about preserving love through the celebration of music,” Francine explains. “When I was writing these songs I thought about
music, love and how they just seemed to interwine together magically. There are so many aspects of love. They are about real dreams, wishes, going after what you desire in life, moving on after the heartache, trials, tribulation, and a constant, everlasting celebration of the music”.
An original tune here of which Francine is especially proud is “A Woman’s Heart.” “I see that as a teaching song. It is important for a man to take care of his woman in a very special way, and this song gives advice on how to do so. Adding the sweetness of the violin encompasses and elevates the lyrical and musical composition.” “Trace Of A Woman” is a cautionary tale of infidelity, while “Love Is Here” is inspired by her deep and ongoing love for husband Steven.
Tony Quarrington praises Francine’s achievements on the album, noting “she is a totally sincere performer, who has a unique way with a lyric. She displays a real ear for catchy melodies in her writing. My personal favourite of her originals is the bluesy ‘My Love Is Gonna Pull You In’. I think the players in the band were amazing too, with their incredible technique and swing.”.
The album is already receiving a highly positive response. Famed international theatre producer/composer/director/pianist David Warrick calls it “an absolute delight,” while Toronto Music Journalist/Author Kerry Doole and Music Reviewer (Globe & Mail, National Post, Tandem, Words &Music, Socan) terms it a compelling blend of fresh interpretations of standards and strong original compositions. Her songs match up well with versions of classics from the likes of Gershwin and Leiber and Stoller”.
Francine describes herself as “a late bloomer” as a jazz singer and songwriter, but her strong musical talent was evident from an early age. She began studying classical piano at age eight, taking it to the Grade 8 level. “If I’d stuck with it my teacher said I could have been a concert pianist,” she notes. Her love of jazz also began early. As a child, she’d sing old style jazz tunes from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s, experience that has really paid off for Love Is Here. Francine also explains that “from the time I was a baby, my mom always sang to me in both Yiddish/English and had a great influence on my love for musical expression.”
Her long-time desire to make a jazz record was given added impetus by Francine’s recent near-fatal battle with colitis and bowel disease. “I allowed getting sick to inspire me, and thinking outside the box allowed me to make a total commitment to this project. Having a strong belief and trusting what needed to be done allowed me to take the journey,” she says. Francine is now an eloquent advocate in raising awareness of this disease, and she is donating a portion of the sales of the CD to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada.
Love Is Here may be her first album, but Francine has been diligently honing her craft as a singer and entertainer by performing in a wide variety of venues across the the GTA and in adjacent areas like Kleinburg and Newmarket for the past decade. An early investment in her own sound system was a smart decision. “As well as showing I was committed, it meant I could play places that didn’t have their own sound system,” she recalls. “It gave me the freedom to knock on doors and say ‘I’m a jazz singer. Would you like some live jazz here?'”
The songstress has played restaurants, coffee shops, private parties, retirement homes, fundraisers and civic events, and has also performed with distinction at established jazz clubs like Gate 403 and Chalkers Pub, Orleans, The Doctors House. Prominent musicians she has worked with include Danny Mcerlain, Norm Amadio, Kory Livingstone, Ron Lopata, Peter Hill, Tony Laviola, Stacey McGregor, John Roney, Ross McIntyre, the late Bob George and Brian Harris.
Francine has also been a diligent student, and her path to success has been paved with the help of vocal tuition from recording and performing artists Louise Lambert , Carolyn Godan, and Lisa Martinelli. Showing true initiative, she bartered with Lambert, exchanging her tasty vegetarian meals for voice lessons!
With the release of Love Is Here, the profile of this richly talented artist will deservedly be elevated.