What’s in Your Fridge is where the Straight asks interesting Vancouverites about their life-changing concerts, favourite albums, and, most importantly, what’s sitting beside the Heinz ketchup in their custom-made Big Chill Retropolitan 20.6-cubic-foot refrigerators.
On the grill
Who are you?
I’m a jazz vocalist (apparently sounding like I am living in the mid-’40s rather than today) and bandleader of vintage-jazz band Black Gardenia, and ukulele jazz/folk duo Ruby & Smith along with my little darlin’ uke. So, I’m also playfully known as “Vancouver’s first lady of uke”, spreading ukulele madness, it seems, wherever I go. I founded the Vancouver Ukulele Festival and Ruby’s Ukes Ukulele School, now the largest ukulele school in the world outside of Hawaii, in 2009 and have made it a personal mission to make a difference in the world with music. (It’s true!) Coming up next for me is Vancouver Ukulele Festival 2019, with workshops (March 23 and 24) and a gala concert (March 22), and some really cool gigs coming up this summer I can’t tell you about yet! Originally from London, England, I am now deeply planted here in Vancouver, so much so it seems I have earned the title of “Canadian Uke Royalty” (Ukulele magazine), which makes me feel pretty at home. Thanks, Canada!
Earth, Wind & Fire. I forced my classical-music-loving dad to take me. It was our first, of many, “Dad ’n’ Daph” music dates. The show was at the London Coliseum (yes, London, England, not Ontario), this famous, beautiful old theatre. I knew every word of The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire. I was only eight years old. And there they were, my favourite band, in tight, all-white, shiny jumpsuits, with their sweet moves and an indoor firework display. (That last bit is actually true!) That’s the moment I fell in love with funk music, and the beauty of African-American men.
First one: Diana Ross live at Wembley Arena, London, when I was 11 years old. I had become obsessed with her after sneaking in, underage, to see Lady Sings the Blues in our local cinema, a film about the great late Billie Holiday. I would dream and dream about meeting both of them. At Wembley that night, Diana walked out into the crowd, stunning in a long, clinging silver dress, singing “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand,” and reached out to me. I was actually so awestruck that I couldn’t move to reach out to her. She sang some tracks from the film, and that’s the moment when I fell in love with singing, Billie Holiday, jazz, and secretly decided one day… Now, where’s my silver dress?
Second one: it would have to be seeing the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in a tiny little folk club called Cecil Sharp House in Primrose Hill, London, around 2001. There were only 300 people there max, real old finger-in-the-ear folkies. A friend suggested we go, and I went thinking “What am I doing at the ukulele concert?” But she is one of the funniest people I know—to date—and so I went. I couldn’t believe my ears, and the audience, who were a mixture of old folkies and Primrose Hill trendies, were laughing out loud in absolute glee and joy—not in a “piss-taking” way at all. When they played “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” on ukes, we went insane! Now they sell out the biggest venues in the world. I didn’t play the ukulele then and would not have ever even considered it. I was totally immersed in jazz singing and piano then, so I reckon that it did change my life!
Top three records
An almost impossible task to pick three, so consider these three of 30:
Ahmad Jamal The Ahmad Jamal Trio To me, Ahmad Jamal is one of the most unsung heroes of jazz; his work paved the way for later pianists that I also love, like McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, and Herbie Hancock. I love his early playing and his sense of internal rhythm. I have to say that, based on the playing-again-and-again-and-again factor, he is my favourite jazz pianist and I could listen to this album all day. I learned so much about jazz, improvisation, composition, and swing from the album. Plus, apparently it’s perfect to listen to on repeat night and day.
The Carpenters Close to You The first time I heard “Close to You” the purity of Karen Carpenter’s voice blew my mind and I was instantly addicted. I would spend hours singing along to the record in my bedroom when I was small; I often think Karen Carpenter taught me to sing. This album became a guilty secret when I was a teenager; I remember going to a party and we all had to bring a record we loved and I brought “Close to You”, and as I was coming back from the loo I heard someone saying in disbelief “Who brought this album?” I think that’s when I realized some music’s cool and some wasn’t. I always just liked what I liked. I was never the cool one. Now I know that is cool.
Mandolin Orange This Side of Jordan I just saw their show at the Imperial a couple of days ago, so I am reminded of how brilliant I think this album is. Andrew Marlin’s songwriting is phenomenal—he manages to put his poems to music. I love, love, love visually rich songs where I can see the picture of the song in my mind as well as feeling the feeling it conveys. His tune “Cavalry” really captures what it would have been like to be in the cavalry: “These days I’m saving my strength for running.” Along with Emily Frantz, their harmony singing magnetically pulls me and makes me put the album on repeat still.
All-time favourite video
Amy Winehouse and Paul Weller “Don’t Go to Strangers” I first saw this video when I was sitting in Bar Italia opposite “Ronnie’s” (Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club) in Soho, London, when I was doing my foundation in jazz. I would sit there with my coffee and watch music videos on the big screen. I saw Amy Winehouse and Paul Weller singing “Don’t Go to Strangers” on the iconic Later… With Jools Holland TV show. She was already gone then. Their duet was so brilliant and, for me, the perfect musical moment. I love the way Paul Weller is quietly blown away by her singing, and she sings the hell out that tune, in a way only she could do. The whole café fell silent and stopped to watch it; it still brings tears to my eyes when I watch the video. That day I cried ’cause it was so beautiful and because for me she was the jazz singer of my lifetime. I looked up and one of the handsome Italian baristas was there, handing me a massive brandy.
What’s in your fridge?
A bottle of Wray & Nephew overproof rum. I love rum and juice, and I learned to make rum punch from my Jamaican friends in London, and still make a killer one that will lift you up fast and then let you down nice and slow. Keeping this strong rum cold makes it really smooth to drink. I love shaking a strong punch martini with cherry and apple juice and tons of lime. The perfect postgig or postclass or postanything cocktail. I feel like I am “back home” in London every time I have one of my specials; I am instantly back partying in Crouch End, London. Yes that is a place…
Fine chocolate. I am a lover of fine chocolate. Back in the day when I was a massage therapist in London one of my clients would bring me bricks of fine chocolate—he was, like, a chocolate dealer—wrapped in silver foil at the time when Bourneville was about as dark as it got. He’s Martin Christy, now the founder of the International Chocolate Awards. I learned to properly taste chocolate from him, and was one of his chocolate judges back in the day. In his home in Highgate he has a wine cooler full of only bars of chocolate. I have Sirene, out of Victoria, who won silver for their dark milk (65 percent), which is incredible, especially for relatively new chocolatiers. And a new bar by Pacari, single-bean, 70 percent, with cardamom.
Pesto sauce. The perfect right-there-when-you-need-it kind of sauce. I love pesto sauce (especially Costco; it’s not cool, but it is true, and I’ve pretended I made it from scratch once… only once). It’s perfect for everything: salmon with pesto on top (grill for 15 minutes); cut-up leeks (steam first, then add pesto) with a poached egg on top; any kind of pasta, with anything else I can find; cheese-and-rye-bread grilled toast; late-night chips when there’s nothing else in the fridge postgig, served with the aforementioned Wray & Nephew punch martini.