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Kellylee Evans. Photo: Anne Staveley

Gig Pick: Kellylee Evans at the NAC—12.21.19

By Leah Geller on December 18, 2019

We’re so darn lucky to have Kellylee Evans in our midst.

She’s won Canada’s highest music award, the Juno, for her beautiful tribute album to Nina Simone, simply titled Nina, and before that, was chosen by the likes of Quincy Jones and Dee Dee Bridgewater as the runner-up in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition.

Although based in Ottawa, Kellylee Evans regularly tours in France, where she performs to sell-out crowds. Closer to home, she’s begun speaking to groups of adults and children about overcoming adversity and self-care, sharing her own inspirational journey of recovery from a lightning strike in 2013 and a devastating concussion just two years later.

This Saturday, Kellylee Evans will be serenading her devoted Ottawa fans with a combination of Christmas classics, new holiday standards and a couple of her own creations. I spoke with her last week to find out more about her upcoming performance on Saturday, December 21 at the NAC.

Apt613: What can audiences expect to hear at your upcoming “Winter Song” concert?

Kellylee Evans: I love the holiday season and, for the NAC, I really wanted to celebrate with songs that speak to this special time of the year. I’ll be performing a couple of songs that I refer to as “the kind you hear in the stores” like “All I Want for Christmas,” plus some more refined standards like Joni Mitchell’s “River.”

I’m also really excited to be performing some selections from Andrew Craig’s Christmas Gospel Project, an album that is very close to my heart. I was involved in this amazing project for close to a decade, working with an incredible gospel choir called Faith Chorale and soloists like Alana Bridgewater, Jackie Richardson and Toya Alexis. We toured to places like Massey Hall, with performances produced, recorded and broadcast by CBC Canada Live. The album is almost impossible to find and I’m so happy to be reviving some of the album’s songs for this concert.

I’m also blessed to have a really great group of Toronto-based musicians who will join me, who I’ve been playing with for a while – Ian Wright on drums, Mark Godfrey on bass and Thomas Francis on piano.

What do you think it is about holiday music that appeals to audiences so much?

I think it reminds you of your childhood, a time of wonder when anything seemed possible. You wrote a wish on a piece of paper then hoped it would arrive. I believe the holidays take you back in a very nostalgic way to this time of awesome food, familiar smells, lights at night and that hope for snow. And I believe there is a lot of good that comes at this time of year.

Do you have your own favourite holiday songs or albums?

Well, top of my list is Andrew Craig’s Christmas Gospel Project, but good luck finding it! I also love Ella & Louis Christmas on Verve, the classic Christmas with Boney M., the surf guitar sounds of The Ventures’ Christmas Album and, of course, Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.

For those who would like to hear or see more of your music, do you have any suggestions?

My next concert is February 1 for Black History Month at Cathedral Arts. We did a concert there last year and it was so much fun! The venue is absolutely glorious and I will have the same band with me as the NAC concert. It is an afternoon concert, which I really appreciate, and proceeds go to support the Black Canadian Scholarship Fund. My CDs, including Come On, Nina and Fight or Flight, are generally available at Compact Music.

Kellylee Evans is playing a sold out show at the National Arts Centre on Saturday, December 21 at 8pm. For upcoming tour dates, visit her website.