Just like the languid last days of summer can make you nostalgic for all the good times shared, the warm memories that a favourite song from our youth brings to the surface can make us long to relive those days as well. JUNO nominated Canadian jazz vocalist Mary Lou Sicoly knows the power of that feeling very well and celebrates a personal connection with the music and music makers of ‘70s supergroup Earth, Wind & Fire with her smooth, sweet take on their nostalgia-fueled classic “September.”
The sixth single from her delectable debut album “Lemon Meringue Pie”, Sicoly’s “September” trades the punchy horns and high energy groove of the original for a more laid-back tempo and a vibey keyboard melody line supporting her sparkling lead vocal. Sicoly’s “September” is dreamier than dance-y, amping up the nostalgia and underlining the song’s “do you remember” focal point.
Re-making this classic in her own style was paramount for Sicoly, especially because of a wonderful personal connection she made with Earth, Wind & Fire themselves.
“The backstory for this song is quite exciting to me,” offers Sicoly. “I’ve always been a fan of Earth, Wind & Fire and lucky for me, my Musical Director, John Ebata is a personal friend of Myron McKinley, the musical director for this fabulous band.
That single degree of separation helped pave the way for a special meeting between Sicoly and E, W & F. “A few months before we finalized the songs for “Lemon Meringue Pie”, I had an opportunity to attend a concert and enjoy a backstage visit with members of the band including Myron, indeed one of the highlights of my music career!”
So, when it came time for Sicoly and Ebata to deep dive into recording her debut album, E, W & F’s “September” was an obvious, if jitter-inducing choice.
“John assured me that we would do a more laid back, jazzified version of the song, which was already quite daunting for me,” explains Sicoly. “And then I thought about what the song was saying, how it painted memories, great memories that often sustain us as the years pass. With that story in mind and John’s brilliant arrangement to enhance the style of the tune, it was a unanimous choice for the album.”
Released last April, Lemon Meringue Pie lines up 10 delicious, hand-picked classics that Sicoly and Ebata have added their own secret sauce to. From the American Songbook standard “Blame It On My Youth” to Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind, to Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”, this dynamic duo puts their experienced, innovative stamp on a batch of well-known and loved songs.
Lemon Meringue Pie may be Sicoly’s debut jazz album but that’s just the latest accomplishment in a career that has seen some wonderful milestones so far for the Toronto-based singer/songwriter. She has written and recorded five children’s albums, including the JUNO nominated Chase a Rainbow. Sicoly, Ebata and Nova Scotian vocalist Mark Riley also recently toured a “classic duets” album. Additionally, Sicoly, Ebata and Dora Award winning multi-instrumentalist, composer and vocalist Waleed Abdulhamid released “Canvas” on October 21st, the first single from their upcoming equity, diversity and inclusion album project called “Songs For Humanity.”
“‘Canvas’ is a metaphor for the people of the earth, who together create a rich panorama of shapes and colours to ‘give our souls the wings to soar’, expressed as “flying” and sung in English, Italian, Hindi, Swedish and Urdu,” explains Sicoly.
Sharing the educational foundations of music is also a big part of Sicoly’s career. An esteemed music educator, she’s a recipient of the CARAS (JUNO) Award for Music Education, a TVOntario Award for Innovation in Music Education and was the 1999 recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. A presenter at several education conferences, Sicoly has also toured the Arctic with “Strings Across the Sky”, leading music camps in Tuktoyaktuk and Iqaluit.
From singing with her dad’s dance band in Sault Ste. Marie to jingles and commercial spots, to performing in various solo, ensemble and big band shows everywhere from the CNE to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Mary Lou Sicoly has years of diverse and exciting performances behind her and ahead of her too. A recent tour of Ontario and the Maritimes in support of Lemon Meringue Pie saw Sicoly and Ebata share the pure joy of their brand of jazz that goes down smooth and warm, any time of year.
For Sicoly, it all starts with the songs she chooses to make her own, including her newest release. “The storytelling attributes of a song are the main drawing card when I’m looking for material to record and perform and this song has it abundantly.”