She Has “High Expectations”
Steve Robertson “Jazz on Saturday” PBS 106.7
Some of the brightest stars in the jazz singing firmament have also enjoyed distinguished careers as actresses. Think of Annie Ross, for example, or Julie London or Cleo Laine. Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday all had a go at screen acting while enjoying fruitful careers as much-admired vocalists.
So it should be no surprise that Melbourne’s own Connie Lansberg has won raves, not just for her singing talents but also for her acting, which, unlike most of the others, actually came first.
Even though acting is a glamour job, it has never replaced Connie’s love of music. As a child she sang and played guitar, in church, mostly. The appreciation for jazz didn’t arrive until later. Working in her original pop group meant discovering another love, dance.
And that’s exactly what she does in her regular singing dates at Dizzy’s Jazz Club, the vocalist of choice for the much-admired Dizzy’s Big Band on Wednesday nights. She’s also been known to cha cha or boogie through a tune with her own small combo at Manchester Lane, the elegant mid-city Melbourne eatery with delectable music four nights a week.
With the big band, the repertoire is strictly standards. Teach Me Tonight is a special favorite; so is Blue Skies or All The Things You Are. Others in her vast repertoire include Georgia, It’s Alright With Me, Lullaby of Birdland, and a really unique version of Cry Me A River. At Manchester Lane, she’s more likely to treat her audience to some of her many original compositions.
But whether it’s something old or something very new, the song, especially the feelings behind it, comes through with crystal clarity. Not simply because Connie possesses the actor’s gift of good enunciation and projection. No, it’s more than that. It’s the way she obviously thinks about what the lyrics mean, perhaps how their message might resonate in her own life. It’s the actress in her. She’s playing her part, and she’s also living the words, living their meaning.
Poised, beautiful and stylishly attired (“my closet is crammed with lovely clothes, and I want to wear them all,” she moans), Connie commands her audience’s attention from the first note. Unlike some singers, she maintains a delightful (and often quite sexy) eye contact with her listeners. No staring off into the lights or the exit signs for her -Connie is very involved, not just with the crowd, but with each individual in it. To say that her male listeners find this quality extremely attractive…would be an understatement.
And the singing? It’s clear, powerful, intimate and in tune, all at the same time. Her breath control is flawless and she uses it to master the dynamics of the song, even over the roar of a big band.
“The songs are all part of my personal journey,” she says. “I think we are all conduits and receivers of creative energy. For the last three years, jazz is the medium I’ve chosen. It makes me fearless.”
It’s a fascinating philosophy, very close to the thoughts of acclaimed jazz composer and pianist Keith Jarrett. And, like Keith’s, her music is not elitist. It is warm and conversational, like its maker.
“I’m happy to see the commercial success of singers like Diana Krall and Michael Buble,” she notes. “It’s music that makes you feel lighter than when you came in.”
Jazz is not the only music du jour for Connie. She’s happy to belt out the odd Patsy Cline or rockabilly swinger. But, obviously, her passion is to sing originals like High Expectations, a song she has recorded and which has already enjoyed airplay on Melbourne radio.
So, what’s next for Connie? There’s a busy schedule of concert and club dates, a tour of the New South Wales south coast, and more recording. In the ‘best of all worlds’ category is the film she wants to make, a grand epic of Lord of the Rings proportions called Perfect Tear. Her original songs are central to the fantasy plot, and it will be full of magic and mystery, a spur to the imagination.
The script is all done, the songs are written – now all Connie needs is a producer and tons of cash. And will she act in it?
“Perhaps, she laughs, “ But, I’m happy just being its creator.”