Patrice Jégou

Do you remember the first time that you heard Streisand, Renee Fleming or Celine Dion? The voice was beautiful and distinctive, which made the moment of discovery so exciting. Each person is blessed with that “little something extra”, as James Mason described it to Judy Garland in the movie “A Star Is Born”, which signifies true star quality. You can instantly feel the same effect when you hit “play” on track 1 of Speak Low by classically-trained mezzosoprano PatriceJegou. It is that ineffable “je ne sais quoi” that distinguishes the truly great from the good. Jegou’s 15 tracks span Broadway, Nashville, and beyond and blur the lines between jazz, pop, country, and gospel. He is accompanied by an all-star lineup of musicians including Andraecrouch, guitarist Paul Jackson Jr., and bassists Victor Wooten, David Finck, Shawn Pelton, and saxophonist Kirk Whalum. Other production credits include Mark Kibble from Take 6 and Cheryl Bentyne from Manhattan Transfer. As compelling as the album is, the story of Jegou and her serpentine career, including the development of Speak Low, can be read. Jegou was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She was raised in Red Deer (Alberta), the province’s third largest metropolis and a prosperous oil-and cattle town located equidistant from Calgary and Edmonton. Jegou grew-up in a home filled with music. Her mother was an amateur keyboardist, guitarist and singer. She took piano lessons at her mother’s request, but she was more interested in other sports than music. She was a natural athlete and excelled in baseball, volleyball, and ice skating. Jegou was eager to explore the world beyond Red Deer and began coaching in New Zealand, Canada and the United States. She also toured Mexico with an ice show. At 23 years old, she gave up skating. She was cast in a Monterrey show. One of the newcomers was a Vancouver native with a strong background in musical theatre. While the cast was singing along during intermission, he noticed Jegou’s voice, and encouraged her to learn singing lessons. Jegou was intrigued and returned to Red Deer. He sought out a well-known local voice teacher, a nun from Jamaica, and also enrolled at Red Deer College. She joined the jazz choir. She then went on to study music at the University of Calgary. After two years of her studies, she decided to audition for the soloist role in Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. The Mass was presented by the Calgary Philharmonic, under the direction Maestro Hans Graf. Graf jumped up and ran down the aisle to tell her, “You’re so great!” Graf began to coach her right away. Shortly after, Jegou’s U of C voice teacher, who had studied under the renowned pedagogue Richard Miller and encouraged her to continue her education in America. Jegou was soon in Nashville studying with Shirley Zelinksi, Miller’s protege, and eventually becoming a teacher there. Jegou was determined to stay in the USA, but her application for a work visa extension was denied. Jegou returned to Alberta to teach at the University of Lethbridge. She loved academics and enjoyed working with talented music students one-on-one. However, she was determined to pursue her doctorate. Jegou was able to do her doctoral studies at Rutgers University, New Jersey after completing an internship with NATS (the National Association of Teachers of Singinging). Jegou won the prestigious international singing contest in Peru during 2005 before moving to New Jersey. The prize included a concert by ILAMS (the Iberian Latin American Music Society), in the UK. Shostakovich was the pianist. There were also Ernani Braga Brazilian songs, Argentinian folk songs, and Montsalvatge black songs. The following year, a Rutgers classmate, Spanish multi-instrumentalist Cristina Pato ( makes a most unusual guest appearance on Speak Low – invited Jegou to join her in recording that same eclectic repertoire. She settled in New Jersey and is currently studying for her doctorate. Jegou married Yinka Olese, a highly accomplished physician whose musical background includes a prominent a cappella group from his native Nigeria. Soon after their wedding, the spark that would become Speak Low was lit by Oyelese. In 2008, Jegou went back to Peru to serve as an adjudicator. She was also asked to present a masterclass and a recital while there. She recalled singing a Schubert set, Debussy set, and a Swedish song while working alongside a Costa Rican pianist. I decided to include something more popular so I prepared “Till There Was You” from The Music Man and performed it as an encore. The audience applauded so loudly that the pianist approached me and asked, “Do you have another song?” I replied, “No,” and he continued, “Well, you’ll have it again.” A few minutes later, Jegou’s church minister was retiring and Oyelese was asked to sing. She chose “Till There Was You” again, and the response was amazing. She recalls that people were crying, cheering, and cheering for the song. “Yinka turned to her and said, ‘You know honey, I think you should make a non-classical record.'” Jegou suggested a session in the living room using GarageBand by Apple. Oyelese had an even grander vision. They were inspired by Charlie Haden’s Come Sunday and Kathleen Battle’s outstanding work with pianist Cyrus Chestnut. However, Patrice was concerned that an album of spirituals written by a white Canadian might not sell well. Ted Labow, a jazz pianist from Toronto, joined the fray around the same time. He was Jegou’s friend while she was preparing her dissertation on Irving Glick’s music. Patrice and Yinka decided on a simple voice-and-piano record. With Labow playing the piano, they laid down five tracks at the Avatar Studios in NY. These included “Till There Was You”, the traditional Irish song “Down by the Salley Gardens,” Michel Legrand, Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s “The Summer Knows,” and the jazz standard “Lullaby of the Leaves.” Jegou also began singing “This Little Light of Mine” all around the house. Oyelese captured it with only Labow and Thomas Guarnieri Jr. The result was not powerful enough, at just two-and-a half minutes. The song would grow steadily, adding layers to the mix, eventually becoming a five-and a half-minute show stopper. Oyelese felt that some tracks by Labow needed strings. He was not afraid to seek out the best possible help and he reached out to the Nashville String Machine. He and Jegou went to Nashville to work with Conni Ellisor, a string arranger and conductor. They sweetened “Till There Was You”, “Down by the Salley Gardens,” and “The Summer Knows”. They also recorded four new songs with full orchestra: a second Legrand tune, “What Are You Doing the rest of Your Life,” and “Speak Low.” In keeping with the song’s bolero roots, Jegou sings both in English and Spanish. Labow contributed his talents in arranging the strings of “Lullaby of the Leaves” and the Nicaraguan folk song, “Nino precioso”. Oyelese was in Nashville and decided to gather some local musicians and add horns (trombones and trumpets) to “This Little Light of Mine”. The track was not quite grand enough. He recalls that he told Patrice that the Andrae Crouch singers are the best gospel choir on the planet. They did Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”, so we’ll see if Crouch can add vocal backing. I wrote to him, his manager asked for a demo, and then Andrae replied that he would be happy to do it.” Oh, but the tinkering wasn’t over. Yinka felt that “This Little Light” required an instrumental solo so he requested Kirk Whalum, a Grammy-winning saxophonist, to perform a guest performance. Whalum delivered a blistering solo saxophone performance. Oyelese says that while we were at 90 percent, it wasn’t enough. He asked Mark Kibble, Take 6, to arrange Irving Berlin’s “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning” for Annie Get Your Gun. Although Kibble was not familiar with the song, the Take 6 crew created a stunning rendition. He didn’t stop there. He said that Yinka was a good friend and that Patrice has a background in classical music. “I thought the project would be a good marriage of her classical training with the jazz direction she desired to take.” I enjoy things that are slightly different from the norm and present challenges, so I thought I might bring something new to the table.” Kibble and brother Joey also arranged “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”, a song he learned from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. He says that the song is so easy, that the challenge is “where can you take it?” Patrice was a rock star and blew it out of the water. She was amazing in the studio! He laughs and says, “Well, I was a little late for that party.” Because of its size, it was the most difficult. It was already quite large and we had to do our best to make it work. But, we rose to the occasion. It was a matter of bringing out the true essence of the song as a gospel song. Patrice was completely new to this ball of wax, so we had the task of finding the gospel roots. It was tremendous fun.” Oyelese says, “But,” Jegou entered the Sarah Vaughan Vocal Jazz Competition. Oyelese and Jegou agreed that both of her demos should be included on the album. They flew back to Nashville and re-recorded the songs. The first was a big-swinging arrangement by Chris McDonald featuring Vic Juris and trombonist Conrad Herwig, while the second was recorded with Pat Coil (from Jegou’s first Nashville session), who is known for his work with Olivia Newton-John, Carmen McRae, and Michael McDonald. The album was completed, but there’s one more chapter. Oyelese suggested to Jegou, prior to the Nashville concert, that she seek guidance from an outside coach. Jegou admits that she didn’t know anyone in the music industry, but Yinka and her family are huge fans of the Manhattan Transfer. We contacted Cheryl Bentyne, and she sent us a demo. She was open to teaching me so Yinka arranged a mini workshop with Cheryl Bentyne in L.A. I’m so glad she did. We re-recorded the lead vocals of “I Got the Sun In the Morning,” Lullaby of the Leaves, and “Walkin’ After Midnight” together with Tom McCauley, her engineer. Jegou, Oyelese and the mastering team agreed that it was important they had complete control over the music. Jegou says that he had started his own label (Prairie Star Records) a year ago. He and Oyelese will release the music on their label. However, it is possible to work with larger labels for marketing, promotion, and distribution. Oyelese says that it has been an amazing adventure. It was not done to make money but to perform music Patrice and me love and want to share. It is truly a labor of love.” from

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