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Move to Cowichan re-ignites Burns' love affair with jazz
Zandra Burns of Chemainus thinks of herself as an old soul. She jokes that she would wear 1950s dresses most days of the week if it were practical.
But it’s her choice of music that perhaps most exemplifies her love for days gone by.
Burns is a jazz singer who loves the melodies and lyrics of songs sung decades ago by legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme.
She received classical voice training as a young girl in Winnipeg, but then she heard Ella Fitzgerald sing.
Jazz is where her heart lies.
“Every time I do a set of standards from the Great American Songbook, I hear two things ‘I really love your music,’ and ‘do you have a CD?’” she said.
“It never really occurred to me, but it’s not my music. It’s a plethora of music history. Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin thought of such clever ways to get a point across or tell a story.
“My biggest pleasure is seeing a woman who could be my grandmother mouth along the words. Maybe it’s not for the masses and not for Top 40 radio, but I think I need to stay with what’s authentic to me.”
Burns moved to the Cowichan Valley from Winnipeg five years ago. After working as a nanny on Thetis Island, she moved to Chemainus, and she has lived here for more than a year.
Burns started singing when she was very young.
“My parents were not musical,” she said with a laugh. “I liked watching The Sound of Music, or the Pavarotti Christmas specials that would come on TV. I begged and begged for lessons. I really wanted to be in musical theatre. My stepmom did a lot of research, and chose classical. I am very grateful for that base of training.”
She was a gigging musician in her twenties while she lived in Winnipeg, playing in a Top 40 band and just starting to do jazz gigs. But she stopped singing for a decade and began again after moving to B.C.
“When I stopped singing, I needed to stop,” she said. “When I came out here, it wasn’t the plan. I guess I got the bug, and the passion is back, immensely. I discovered being quiet for 10 years changes your voice. I have a different instrument.”
Burns is learning how to develop and build her skill set after going back to school. She started the jazz program at Vancouver Island University (VIU) in September as a mature student.
“It was kind of a whirlwind decision, but it felt right,” she said. “It’s still very overwhelming, but the teachers and the history of that program are stellar. It’s about being a well-rounded musician, knowing what your strengths are and developing your weaknesses.”
Burns has a lot of opportunities coming up this fall in the Cowichan Valley.
She will perform with other VIU jazz students Sunday afternoons at the Horseshoe Bay Inn Pub in Chemainus from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 27 and Nov. 10 and 24.
As well, she will sing Thursday, Oct. 24 at the Old Firehouse Wine Bar in Duncan at 8 p.m.
Burns will perform at the Once Upon a Night gala fundraiser Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Chemainus Theatre Festival’s Playbill Dining Room at 7 p.m.
For the first time in her life, she will sing with an orchestra Dec. 7 during the Christmas Singalong conducted by Robert Mari at the Duncan Christian Reformed Church on Trunk Road at 7:30 p.m.
Burns says it can be hard to put herself out there, especially when this isn’t her hometown, but she is happy doing exactly what she is doing.
“I know I’m doing the right thing,” she said. “The goals I’m going after, working on a specific song or technical dexterity, they are improving, so I keep going.
“Anita O’Day sang until she was in her nineties in a club, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”