I’ll always remember the first time I heard “Flora”: I was sitting in a cab, barely paying attention to the radio, when all of a sudden it came on and instantly captivated me, to the point I actually shouted at the cabbie when he changed the station. There’s really no way to describe it as other than hauntingly beautiful.
Really, what I wrote about Megan Jerome last week in the context of “Flora” could go double for her most recent album, Bloomers. About half the album is comprised of similarly bewitching songs, hauntingly gorgeous piano melodies that simultaneously sound beautiful and eerie.
Of course, that would only tell half the story. After all, for every song on Bloomers like “Flora” or “Upside Down”, there are tracks like the Eastern European-tinged folk of “Cocktails”, or slow-moving ballads like “Starry Star” or “Big Old Moon”, or upbeat jazz like “Cake Tray”, or Franco-accordion folk like “Ils ne sontaient pa là” — in other words, songs that show that that Megan Jerome is an incredibly talented artist. It adds up to make Bloomers a wonderfully diverse album, and one that absolutely deserves to be checked out.
Matthew Pollesel, i(heart) music, Top songs of 2010
To purchase a CD of Bloomers and have it mailed to you, please click the link below:
Thank you so much, and enjoy!
Read on for more super supportive press – two really kind articles in Ottawa Papers, one in Centretown News, by Chris Cooper and the next in Guerrilla Magazine, by Travis Boisvenue!
Centretown News, 2010
The Jazz Singer
Megan Jerome has returned to a simple piano sound for her new album Bloomers.
Surrounded by the headlining band’s crate amplifiers and electric steel guitars, Megan Jerome appears particularly delicate, sitting at a small keyboard with an accordion tucked under her arm.
But once Jerome belts out a few of her signature cabaret-style songs, that first impression fades quickly – she already has the audience howling out choruses and slamming pint glasses down onto their tables.Bigger, more boisterous audiences are a reality Jerome is becoming accustomed to.
“That’s a really recent development, and it’s a thrill,” Jerome explains. “I just hope that continues to grow and keeps happening.”
And after nearly a decade spent writing and performing her way into the heart of downtown Ottawa’s music scene, Jerome’s performance schedule is busier than ever.
Later this month, she will be launching her newly recorded third album, “Bloomers,” with a release celebration at the National Arts Centre.
Having played in a number of groups and collaborations over the years, Jerome – now well into her 30s – has simplified the operation this time around.
These days, it’s just her songs on the piano with help on the drums from husband Mike Essoudry.
“She does the writing,” Essoudry admits with a grin. “I love the clarity of Meg’s songs . . . They’re all very beautiful.”
Her repertoire of original songs is impressive, considering she has only been crafting them since she was in her late 20s.
Born in Sudbury and raised in Ottawa, Jerome pursued a degree in mining engineering from Queen’s University before returning to the city to study jazz music at Carleton University.
After she graduated, she started taking songwriting more seriously as a profession.
“I always thought it would be something I’d do for fun on the side, but then I started to do it more and more,” she explains.
Her early compositions – reflecting a folky twist on the jazz she fine-tuned at Carleton – brought her to a wide variety of stages in and around Centretown. She has performed at multiple jazz festivals, both outdoors near Elgin Street and inside the National Arts Centre as a part of the Composers’ Collective.
The latter locale is one she visits regularly for dance classes.
“I met a whole gang of theatre people in Ottawa who are doing really creative things,” she says.
Robert Turner is a longtime friend of Jerome’s and worked with her and Essoudry at the Ottawa Folklore Centre.
Ever since the three quit their jobs on the same day, he has kept in touch with the couple, and even now regularly attends her performances.
He recalls his first time watching her perform, with a “great and very fun little band” called Four Little Cars.
While a lot has changed musically since then – Four Little Cars delivered a jazzier sound than one would hear in her current work – Turner believes it was a change for the better.
“Her stagecraft, and being a performer, has really improved dramatically,” he says. “It’s really, uniquely her.”
Jerome’s gift for songwriting and creative keyboarding is one she has started passing along to local youth, through teaching piano lessons to children at her home studio.
Her teaching method is unique. Along with structured progress through levels of piano theory and technical skills, Jerome encourages the children to use their creative muscles, working with them to play improvisations and write their own songs.
“It’s really, really inspiring. Especially the young kids are excited, because they have no barriers to their creativity,” she explains.
Essoudry agrees that there’s a lot to gain from Jerome’s lessons – if the student is prepared to make a serious commitment to music.
“She’s a very demanding teacher,” he explains. “One of the things she focuses on is making the kids have a really strong connection with music.”
Jerome’s love of working with youth has spread into Centretown.
Last year, the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals selected her to be a mentor for a young singer-songwriter during the course of their annual conference.
She says her music professors at Carleton emphasized creative output, and were a significant inspiration for the approach she takes to working with young musicians.
“It was a tiny program, at the time, with really amazing professors,” she recalls. “That’s a very fun way to learn, you know? You’ve got somebody who knows more than you do, who can help you filter through information.”
But even with the unexpected growth of her reputation as both a performer and a teacher, Jerome says she has stayed true to herself through the whole process – and found a widespread local acceptance of her genuine approach.
“There are lots of places where I don’t fit in. I’m not an indie rocker, I’m not alt country,” she explains, adding that cities such as Montreal and Toronto might be too “self-consciously hip” to enjoy her music the same way Ottawa crowds have.
And Jerome insists she is never content to rest on her laurels.
Over the past year, she signed herself up for vocal coaching, all the while working hard to improve her stage presence and musical form.
“Somebody told me the other day that they don’t know how I’m doing it, but every time I perform there’s more richness in my voice,” she recalls. “What I’m doing is practising… I’m working on singing, I’m working on piano playing, I’m working on musicianship.”
Her plans for the future are as ambitious as they are quirky. She plans to play a set of “improvised accordion” music at the upcoming Ottawa Fringe Festival, and hopes to continue her involvement with the SAW Cabaret and Ottawa’s dance community.
Jerome says these days, she feels more liberated as an artist.
“After jazz school, I think I was hoping to impress some jazz musicians with my music,” she says. “I’m not as concerned about impressing anymore, and that makes everything a lot more fun.”
She believes that her new CD “Bloomers,” which she is set to release on April 29, will reflect the big changes in her both her persona and her approach to music.
“It’s a big difference,” she says of the new album, which is currently receiving finishing touches in the studio.
“I think it’s a bit sexier than the other CDs that we’ve had.”
While Essoudry says that he agrees that the sound has shifted towards a slightly more sultry style of composition, he believes she has held on to one intrinsic quality that has been there since the very beginning.
“Some of the sentiment is sexy,” he explains, “But some of the aesthetic is also beautiful.”
Guerilla magazine, 2010
Story by Travis Boisvenue / Photos by Meaghan Walton
Twisted tangos and bawdy lyrics, tipsy dancers and Francophone hecklers, calls for an encore before the first song had begun. All this and more marked my introduction to Megan Jerome’s latest musical renaissance during a rollicking December gig at Kaffé 1870 in Wakefield.
Jerome’s Wurlitzer-and-vocals performance backed by drummer, husband, and long-time collaborator Mike Essoudry was illuminated by Christmas lights and would be illuminating in a different way to anyone who has listened to Jerome’s two existing recordings. Compared to the live performance, material on This Uneven Pace and Unlonely is much more laid back, pristinely recorded, and jazzier.
Jerome is, evidently, a tough artist to pin down, but that’s fine by her.
“If you weren’t constantly self discovering,” she told me later, “you wouldn’t be making music at all.”
When Jerome graduated from Carleton University’s music program in 2002 she was encouraged by a professor to apply for songwriting grants and began performing at smallish venues such as 107 4th Avenue in the Glebe. She released the two albums with Megan Jerome Trio—featuring Essoudry and multi-instrumentalist Petr Cancura—played countless festivals and even launched a semi-successful cross-Canada tour.
Jerome seemed to have found her groove singing love songs, songs lamenting the loss of lonely days, and meditative songs about skating. So forgive me for being not quite prepared for the Wurlitzer-fueled party that happened in Wakefield that night. You see there is a vibrant new recording in the works. I had chanced upon a Megan Jerome in the midst of a liberating musical discovery.
Megan the mining engineer
I couldn’t help but see evidence of the woman and the artist everywhere in her home. Jerome’s paintings hang on stark white walls, a family photo rests atop a grand piano, an enormous window that illuminates the living room seems to match her bright and open personality. And of course there’s the vintage Wurlitzer, which seems a good fit for Jerome’s old-school approach to art and life.
As she poses for photos, sitting at ease behind her piano, smiling and laughing through new songs she hasn’t quite finished yet, I imagine that Jerome’s carefree expression was passed on to her from her father, James Jerome, a former speaker in the House of Commons and avid musician.
“My family played a lot of music,” she told me. “My dad would play the piano for hours at the end of the day, and at parties. On Sundays, after dinner, we would sit around and sing songs.”
But although music was ever-present and piano lessons began at the age of nine, Jerome became seriously sidetracked on her musical journey during high school. She quit piano lessons when drawn in by a promotional campaign called “Women in Science.”
Much to the confusion of what Jerome calls her “liberal arts” family, the same teenager who had once written lyrics to fit with a Harry Connick Jr. recording enrolled in the mining engineering program at Queen’s University.
The rationale? Jerome wanted to challenge herself by studying something that wasn’t already all around her.
“I sort of had a feeling that it would be taking the easy way out if I took art,” she recalls.
Thankfully for the world of music, that feeling wouldn’t last. Jerome had a change of heart in the third year of her program after a key conversation with an engineering classmate about challenging herself.
“He said to me, ‘I have no idea what you mean, Megan. I’m really good at this and I find it easy and I like it. I’m not doing it because it’s hard for me and I have something to prove’.”
It wasn’t long before Jerome left Queen’s, moved back to Ottawa, and found a home in the Carleton music department, where she would receive her most valuable education under influential professors such as Jennifer Giles. But the lessons learned from her experience at Queen’s wouldn’t be forgotten.
Megan the painter
On the white chair below the living room window, Jerome sits, cross-legged, confident and upright, and seems to smile all of her words. She offers her visitors coffee and doughnuts early on a Sunday morning.
“We don’t usually have doughnuts for breakfast,” she assures us with a chuckle. I can’t imagine this woman going through a quarter-life crisis.
“I liked writing words and poems a lot in high school,” Jerome explains. “But my poems always rhymed. I remember this one friend of mine in grade nine saying ‘Welcome to the 20th Century Megan, poems don’t rhyme anymore!’”
It’s likely that Jerome has never quite felt at home with other people’s conception of art. Her music is deceptively transient. The simple song structure and lyrics feel like folk songs, but the musicianship on her albums is rooted firmly in jazz. She has played both jazz and folk fests, but the two genres don’t always play nice, as in the story she tells about debuting a song she wrote to a pragmatic jazz teacher.
“I finish this song, and she goes, ‘That’s it? The lyrics—maybe—but the piano playing? It’s like you’re taking spinach and you’re putting it between your own teeth’.”
This story gets a big laugh from everyone in the room—and the biggest from Jerome herself.
“You have to honour your impulse to create,” she explains. “The songs that I write are much easier to play on the piano than what I am capable of doing. But it’s what I discovered with engineering. My friend, who likes it, does it. He’s not doing it because it’s hard.”
It’s a deceptively simple idea. I mention Jackson Pollock choosing splattered paint over classical techniques and Jerome responds, “Anybody could splash paint on a canvas, but anybody doesn’t.”
Megan the wife
In many ways, Essoudry and Jerome are one person, and they seem perfectly content being that way. In performance they have a kind of chemistry that could only come from years of practicing, arguing, cohabitating, and being totally in love. But is union like this antithetical to the self-discovery that Jerome talks so much about?
“I didn’t want to make any compromises,” she says of her early days with Essoudry. “But I realized, maybe I have something to learn from this person’s perspective. Maybe the ways that I would compromise are going to be a way of growing, not giving up. The stronger you are as an individual, the stronger you are as a partnership.”
Essoudry is quiet, handsome, and a skilled wood worker. Jerome is quick to point out that the impressive, decorative coffee table in their living room was hand-made by Essoudry when they were dating. He seems calm and collected standing next to the whimsical wife, and gives only frank-yet-thoughtful answers to questions.
When asked what he thought of Jerome’s analysis of their relationship, Essoudry smiles and says, “What she said.”
But after a moment he elaborates: “It just gives you the security to express yourself. And there’s a bunch of others things that come out of the equation of being an artist. Who does it have to be good for? Are you impressing somebody? Are you trying to get this girl or this guy? We aren’t trying to create on that level. We try to create just to put it out and to be ourselves. In the best way, without any sort of pretext.”
Megan the soloist
With the departure of bassist Cancura, Megan Jerome Trio is now a duo, but with a bigger sound in the new material. Jerome claims that the 2007 album Flying Club Cup by the Balkan folk band Beirut and recent vocal training with Jose Hernandez were major influences.
Big, European folk rhythms pervade the new album on songs such as “Little Girls,” while the lyrics drip with arched-eyebrow bratty-ness: “I like sweet and I like nice, and I am learning I like a little spice/ champagne in my orange juice/ making love to who I choose.” The song turns on a dime from delicate, precocious piano to bold, bombastic drumming and accordion.
Another tune, “Cocktail,” a song about cafés, alcohol, and lustful alleyway encounters, is buoyed by staccato drumming and Jerome’s tango-tinged accordion.
“I think the songs evolved because I wanted to have more rhythmic music and I wanted to have a groove to play. I’m happy to move away from the Trio for a while so I can be a bit more autonomous,” says Jerome.
It turns out that that Kaffé 1870 show was typical of recent performances, partly due to Jerome serendipitously finding a Wurlitzer to bring to gigs and partly to the teachings of Hernandez, who encouraged Jerome to bring out a sensuality in the songs.
“To bring out a character, a femininity, a women-ness—not a girlishness,” says Jerome.
“The whole self-discovery thing is very, very necessary to create the music I want to make,” she explains. And she knows that such discovery never really ends. After the new album is released, Jerome plans to take a year away from lessons to learn even more about creating songs just for her self.
Fittingly, she describes this essential process, in her own terms, as “removing what I thought I wanted, and getting closer to what I want.”
Megan Jerome releases her third independent album, Bloomers, with a performance at the National Art Centre’s 4th Stage on Thursday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.