Pop, jazz and soul combine in latest Willows summer fare

Kristina Helene performs her jazzy vocals for Oak Bay’s free music in the park

Folk/pop/soul/jazz singer-songwriter Kristina Helene performs July 13 at Willows Park.

Kristina Helene stages a jazzy return to Oak Bay this summer.

Helene performed this winter in a Crooner’s Christmas at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel but turns in the croon for n upbeat repertoire for the second Recreation Oak Bay concert at Willows Park July 13.

A young but experienced performer, she’s done a handful of outdoor venues including Butchart Gardens, the bandshell in Sidney’s Beacon Park and the popular Victoria TD Jazz Festival.

Described as a folk/pop/soul/jazz singer-songwriter, Helene doesn’t pigeonhole herself in the one genre, but does love her jazz.

“I’ve never really known what I am. I’ve never been in one genre. … I’m pretty much a chameleon,” she says. “I enjoy it but I enjoy so many other things as well. I think people need to not be so shy of the word jazz. I really do enjoy jazz.”

Her Willows Park concert will echo the recent Canada Day performance with the trio of Thomas Kinzel on keys, Kiaran McMillan on strings (left hand bass) and Matt Peas on drums. “We’re going to do some Eric Clapton, Billy Joel and Melody Gardot, who is my biggest influence in modern jazz. It’s a really nice balance of music,” Helene says. “People have really enjoyed the mix.”

Helene wrote her first song at the age of eight and recorded for the first time in a little garage four years later. She went on to work with producer Greg Gunhold and at 15 was nominated semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition for two consecutive years for her song From Here. She has won honourable mention awards from the Billboard Music for Where is this Going? and twice for How Could You?

She’s worked in LA with producer CJ Vanston and had the honour of recording a couple of jazz cover songs at Capitol Records with legendary engineer and record producer Al Schmitt and Steve Genewick.

While a final semester of school dominated recent months of her life. Helene thrives on an exceptional summer last year.

“Last summer was huge for me,” she says. She grew up listening to “incredible flamenco guitarist” Jesse Cook and met him a couple years ago in Los Angeles. They kept in some contact and so when he was performing in Victoria she simply threw out the question: was there room in his show for her?

“I ended up singing with him at the Royal Theatre last year. We performed Fragile and it was so beautiful. It was just a dream. His entire band is so talented,” she says. “That was huge and then the same month I got back on stage at the Royal Theatre again opening for Naturally 7.”

In December she returned for a second winter season at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel with the Crooner’s Christmas, performing alongside Maureen Washington. “It was fun it was a good time,” Helene says. “She’s just amazing, she’s so naturally funny on stage.”

She recently shared the stage with award-winning producer David Foster and had the honour of opening up for Jim Cuddy from Blue Rodeo and Naturally 7 with Kinzel.

“I want people to become more comfortable with the word jazz as it seems it has almost become a bad word in our generation’s culture. I am in no means only jazz, my music is a complex and beautiful mix of folk/pop/soul/jazz,” she says. “I feel that it is so important not to lose sight of where we got our roots. I want to dust off the word ‘jazz’ and put it back on its pedestal where it belongs.”

While she’s working on an original album with a tentative 2017 release, she’ll have on hand The Nearness of You, her eight-song mini piano vocal cover album – produced, played, arranged, mixed, and mastered by Kinzel. “It’s a romantic ballad album with some of our favourite covers from our jazz set list,” she says.

The concert starts at 6:30 p.m. July 13 in Willows Beach Park. Get a taste of the music at kristinahelenemusic.wix.com/kristinahelene online.

“I just hope they enjoy the show,” Helene says. “We do a song where everyone has to sing along to one part. Don’t be shy, just have fun and it’ll be a good time.”

The Oak Bay Parks, Recreation and Culture summer concert series continues with Fintan O’Brien performing July 27 and Impulse Response on stage Aug. 10. Concerts are 6:30 to 9 p.m. in Willows Park.


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