When Claire Dickson was just 11, a key revelation took place: her dad loaded Ella Fitzgerald into the MP3 player. The rest, for the now-14-year-old jazz singer, is history.
How much history can be absorbed by a mere three years? That’s hard for anyone to say, but Dickson sings and scats through 10 swinging and scorching numbers with a world-weariness and a funk that singers three times her age can’t muster on their best day. Think I’m kidding? Check out Scattin’ Doll and be wowed.
Dickson’s first CD was recorded in two sessions when she was 12 and 13. She won DownBeat Jazz Magazine’s “Best Jazz Vocalist: Junior High School Level” award twice and knocked out her two recording sessions with rapid live studio takes. Without airs, Dickson’s flow is crystal-clear and her adventurous scat-singing leaves it all out in the open. Free from digital trickery, this is the real stuff.
It would be easy to simply discard someone like Dickson as a mere kid singer, stumbling through songs better done through an adult’s rasp. But when this chick dumps her swag into “Black Coffee,” there’s almost a bitter flavour in the air. With Greg Loughman’s bass, Michael McLaughlin’s piano and Eric Rosenthal’s drums, it’s not hard to take Dickson seriously she sings “and in between, it’s nicotine.”
Whether this 12/13/14 year old is drowning her sorrows in black death and cigarettes is not for me to say, but Dickson sinks her teeth into tracks like Ellington’s “Caravan” and Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” with the eyes and soul of someone who’s seen it all, done it all, been it all.
George and Ira Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now,” a deeply emotional cut, is given the expert treatment. Dickson’s gorgeous tones tackle the desolate, sad tinges, while dramatic piano gives her a foundation to “say her prayers” on.
Unafraid to take risks and sing songs that tear beyond the standard fare for youngsters of her age, Claire Dickson is more than just a teen singer on the rise. She’s a monster of jazz, fed on instinct and poise and power and guts. In between heaping mugs of black coffee and cigarettes, she coats herself in all that is daring and magical about the world of music.