It's tough being both the leader of a jazz band and a mom with two young kids. Tasks like making breakfast and changing diapers take priority over playing music in late-night clubs. So, in the past few years Anna Lumií¨re, keyboardist and chief songwriter for local quartet Mimosa, hasn't been able to do as many gigs or tours as she'd like to. But her situation is starting to get better.
"Now that Noah, our youngest, is 18 months, I'm getting out more than I was," says the Swiss-born Lumií¨re, interviewed in the Strathcona home where she lives with her husband, saxophonist Graham Ord. "I've been performing around town with individual members of Mimosa and with other musicians. And the band is about to become more active again."
The music of Mimosa-which plays Saturday (June 18) on the World Beat Stage at this year's Alcan Dragon Boat Festival-is an elegant blend of New York swing, Brazilian bossa nova, and French lounge and pop. In addition to Lumií¨re, the sartorially stylish band currently comprises singer Rebecca Shoichet, saxophonist and flute player Karen Graves, and drummer John Raham. "We also have an expanded version of Mimosa with vibes player and percussionist Nick Apivor and trombone player Rod Murray, which gives extra muscle to our sound."
Lumií¨re is an agile keyboardist and, in effect, performs on two instruments at the same time for the band: while her right hand plays chords and melodic lines, her left provides Mimosa's bass.
"It's as if I have two musical brains that need to interface," she says. "Developing the independence of the hands is tricky. What I really like, though, is that playing this way gives me a lot of freedom. If I want to improvise I can change chords without having to worry about the bass player following me. And it makes the rhythm section very tight because it's just me and the drummer. But in terms of harmony there are some obvious limitations."
Although she's not a singer, Lumií¨re writes the lyrics as well as the music for most of Mimosa's catchy compositions. The songs-whether in English or in French-draw inspiration from the sounds she heard while growing up in the '70s near Geneva. "France was just half an hour away in three directions, and most of what I listened to on the radio and TV came from there. So artists like Serge Gainsbourg and France Gall had an influence on me. There was also quite a lot of Brazilian music, which I really loved for its intricate balance of melody, harmony, and syncopated rhythms."
Lumií¨re took lessons in classical piano as a girl, but her heart was elsewhere. When practising scales proved tedious she would break off to write her own simple pieces. In her late teens she moved to Vancouver and started hanging out with jazz musicians, jamming with them to the best of her abilities. "I didn't know much jazz at the time because it wasn't big in Switzerland," says Lumií¨re. "I didn't have any lessons. I just copied pianists that I liked, note for note."
After playing for several years in different bands, Lumií¨re studied jazz formally at Capilano College. She considers herself fortunate to have had multi-instrumentalist Brad Turner and pianist Miles Black among her instructors. "It was like opening the door to a library," she recalls. "In one class with Miles I learned more than in a few months of self-study."
In 1998 Lumií¨re formed Mimosa, which brings together all her musical interests. The quartet has toured throughout Canada and released two albums-Bucolique, which was distributed in France, and last year's Voyage. Both recordings feature guest appearances from several of Vancouver's finest jazz artists, including Ord. "Graham and I get along really well musically," says Lumií¨re. "The hardest thing, really, is that often, when we're driving to a gig, we end up having an argument because we're late and we've been run ragged dealing with hungry kids and getting them bathed and off to bed. But it dissipates after the first tune. And the last time we played we got there early and it was such a relief to feel 'Hey, we don't have to wipe anyone's bum; we can just hang out together and chat.' Hopefully we'll be able to do much more of that in future."