When Laura Crema was five years old, growing up in North Burnaby, she started taking tap-dancing lessons. As well as being a good workout for her nimble limbs, the music she'd dance to introduced her to some of the world's great jazz and pop singers. But it wasn't until she saw Judy Garland performing "Over the Rainbow" in The Wizard of Oz that the youngster realized the true force and beauty of the human voice.
"I just remember being really moved by it," recalls Crema from her current home in East Van, "by the power of song and the power of the voice."
Also inspired by the Frank Sinatra records her parents would play, her grandfather's love of country artist Hank Snow, and the emotive voice of Billie Holiday, Crema set out to follow her dream of becoming a professional singer. Her first recorded project was A Personal Soundtrack, by the late-'90s prog-fusion quartet the Dreaming, which saw her in the company of guitarist Nathan Lorch, bassist Jesse Lyon, and current Woodshed Supply Co. drummer Matt Heximer.
Then Crema started making a name for herself as a solo artist, releasing five albums, the most recent being the celebrated Blue Shadows on the Trail. Coproduced by Vancouver guitar great Scott Smith of local blues-rock combo Terminal Station, who also handles various stringed instruments throughout, it's an album of mostly covers in a variety of styles. No Depression magazine raved that Crema "reimagines country and jazz classics with spellbinding vocals...her voice shifts from mysterious to magical."
Crema's skill at reimagining the work of others is exemplified on Blue Shadows on the Trail by her intoxicating version of the traditional folk ballad "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair".
"I'm always collecting songs and looking into different genres," she says. "What's great about jazz is that you can actually take different songs and give them your own interpretation. I had a couple of songs by like Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers that I would sing, and I just loved them. And then I decided to do a whole album of them, so I got in touch with Scott, and we collaborated on arrangements. It was a really fun project."
Crema's next album will be an all-original collaboration with guitarist Bill Coon, a project that received a timely grant from Creative BC just before the pandemic hit. Some of those songs will likely get previewed when Crema joins the Bill Coon Quartet for a jazz fest gig on July 2. The sold-out show takes place at Frankie's Jazz, one of Crema's favourite venues.
"After the Cellar [jazz club] shut down [local saxophonist and entrepreneur] Cory Weeds came onboard booking people and taking over the creative aspect of it. Great people have come through from different parts of the world, the food's great, and the setup is wonderful—because it is about the music. if you haven't been there, I definitely recommend it."
Bill Coon has played many a set at Frankie's in the past. Crema hooked up with him several years ago at the suggestion of a bass player she was working with.
"When we met we had a great musical chemistry," she says, "so over the years we've recorded and played a lot of gigs. And when Bill wanted to explore more of a singer-songwriter type thing, we came together on this project."
Crema is grateful that world-class guitarists like Smith and Coon are keen to meld their talents with hers. There seems to be no shortage of ace musicians for singers like her to connect with in Vancouver.
"It's pretty incredible," she says. "I'm doing a Leonard Cohen tribute with a bunch of different musical people and dance artists, and the woman that's producing it was saying there's a real desire to create opportunities for people here because there are just so many amazing musicians and artists."
Laura Crema performs with the Bill Coon Quartet at Frankie's Jazz on July 2 as part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival. She also performs a jazz fest brunch set with pianist Sharon Minemoto at the Water Street Café on June 27 at 11:30 am.