Rita di Ghent is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist-composer, born in Hamilton, Ontario and raised in Chicago. Since 1990, Rita has enjoyed a professional career as a bandleader, vocalist, composer and teacher. She made her New York performance debut in 1993 as a special guest of Verve recording artist Mark Ledford; her debut CD was released in 1995. Her landmark release "The Birth of Sprawl", released in 1999, was produced by Nick Blagona (Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Cleo Laine, and others.) It was nominated for the prestigious Montreal Jazz Festival's Prix de Jazz. In the same year, Rita and The Sprawl Project received a coveted Canada Council Touring Grant and toured jazz festivals in 10 cities coast to coast performing at mainstage and headline events.
Rita has studied with many great musicians at several highly distinguished institutions and holds Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Arts degrees. She currently is on faculty in the Jazz Department York University in Toronto. She regularly produces and performs in large-scale shows. Some of her productions include:
"Two Generations of Jazz", a double-bill with jazz legend Sheila Jordan,
"The Great Jazz Piano and Voice Series",
"The Canadian Independent Jazz Vocal Artists (CIJVA) Showcase",
“Self-Portrait in Three Colours” produced by Bill Stunt, CBC Radio,
The self-written and self-produced show "Great Ladies of Jazz: the lives and music of Sarah Vaughan, Anita O'Day, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen Mcrae and Annie Ross".
The number of women bandleaders with staying power in the Canadian jazz scene can probably be counted on one hand. The number of women bandleaders of longevity who invent their own musical style is even less— Rita di Ghent is one of those rarities.
Tragedy Almost Ruins Rita’s Career
Reviews of her debut album all decreed Rita a unique voice. The album, Mindin' the Shop, was a neo-traditional tribute to her musical influences. During the making of this first CD, Rita developed a mysterious illness while traveling in the U.S. Doctors were helpless to arrest the strange virus that was ravaging Rita’s body at an alarming rate. Her white blood-cell count raged out of control and a tracheotomy and openings cut into her lungs saved her from drowning in the fluid that filled her lungs. The doctors induced a coma and for months Rita clung to life on life support. As she continued to dwindle, doctors called her family to come to the U.S. to say their good-byes. Rita had sunk to 75 lbs and her lungs were damaged and scarred. Later Rita was to be nicknamed “Star” and “The Miracle” by hospital staff as, just when it seemed no more hope existed, Rita began to take a small upturn. With constant care from family and massive support from friends, it was arranged for Rita to be airlifted to Canada, where she felt she needed to be to recover. Stints in two Canadian hospitals and two years of painful rehab later, Rita re-introduced herself into the world. The mysterious lung disease had left her a vegetable, with impaired eyesight and no memory of how to do the most routine things, like dressing herself. She painstakingly had to train herself to speak, walk, sing--challenges that didn’t seem do-able at the time. But come back Rita did. She was invited to appear on CBC’s Peter Gzowski’s show to tell the country about her ordeal. Catch her references to dying and resurrecting in the Sprawl Indigo track This Body.
The Birth of Sprawl
Rita's next outing marked the birth of a jazz style of her own invention: Sprawl. Whereas Sprawl shares features with other swing, funk and hiphop styles, its uniqueness lies in the incorporation of melodic, harmonic or lyrical elements from jazz standard repertoire. For example, di Ghent's Signs of Spring in My Neighbourhood is alternative hip hop, with a bassline that paraphrases the theme to Spring is My Joy, an intro that borrows from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and horn shots devised from other jazz standards about spring.
Sometimes di Ghent shifts gears from a jazz standard— for which she's written lyrics— into a hip hop invention that expands upon the standard's lyrical content (e.g. Whiting and Moret's She's Funny That Way becomes di Ghent's Jazz Habit; Miles Davis' So What becomes di Ghent's So What, the Funk!; McCoy Tyner's Search for Peace becomes di Ghent's Peace Conspiracy.)
The beginnings of Sprawl took shape as far back as 1989 when Rita started incorporating hip hop into jazz standards. Rita was struggling to reconcile the need for the thematic content of vocal jazz to evolve and the need to retain the "jazzness" of the new compositions. It's often been pointed out that one of Rita's distinct features is that she doesn't just limit herself to singing about love relationships. Her lyrics delve into the realness of her inner-city world: poverty, predjudice, and hostility that exist alongside humanity's longing for spiritual evolution.
The Standards Sessions
Following the success of her groundbreaking The Birth of Sprawl CD, Rita created a "Classic" subsidiary of her indie label, Groove. To date, there have been two releases on the Groove Classic label: The Standards Sessions vol. 1 and vol. 2. Rita's considerable skill as a swinger and interpreter, as evidenced on these outings, have garnered her considerable attention in sales, airplay and licensing. The self-penned "All Baby Wants is Me" was licensed for use as the opening and closing credits of one of a series of film adaptations of the works of Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Carol Shields. Two of Rita's tracks from The Standards Sessions were licensed to Universal music. The tracks appear on Rendez-vous on the Jazz Boulevard, vol. 2 and vol. 3 on which Rita appears alongside Norah Jones, Roberta Flack, Diana Krall, Stacey Kent and Natalie Cole, et al.
And that brings us to this new outing...Sprawl Indigo...we hope it moves you.
Rita di Ghent
Jazz Dept Faculty, York University)
Bachelor of Fine Arts, York University
Master of Arts, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (U of T), Centre for Applied Cognitive Science
Royal Conservatory of Music (1994-1995)
Banff Centre for the Arts (1993,1995, 1997)
Private studies in jazz piano (Frank Falco), songwriting (Michael Coghlan), voice (Nancy deLong)
Worked with Victor Bailey, Mark Ledford, Jeff Haines, Dave Young, Hugh Fraser, Sheila Jordan, Don Thompson, Peter Appleyard, Anthony Braxton.
AWARDS AND DISTINCTIONS
Toronto Arts Council Music Creators and Composers Grant (2007)
Teacher of the Year Nominee, Faculty of Fine Arts, York University, Toronto (2206)
Jazz Vocalist of the Year Nominee, National Jazz Awards (2004)
Canada Council Grant, Career Development Program (2004)
Jazz Vocalist of the Year Nominee, National Jazz Awards (2003)
Ontario Arts Council Grant for Recording (2002)
Ontario Arts Council Grant for Composition (2001)
Toronto Arts Council Music Creators and Composers Grant (2000)
Prix de Jazz Nominee (Montreal Jazz Festival, 1999)
Canada Council Touring Grant, $29,000 (1999)
Canada Council Project Grant (1995)
FACTOR Independent Recording Artists Loan (1995)
FACTOR Compilation CD Grant (1992)
Banff Centre for the Arts Scholarship (1993)
Dean’s List (York University)
DISCOGRAPHY (solo outings)
Mindin’ the Shop (1994, Groove)
The Birth of Sprawl (1999, Groove)
A Groove Christmas (2000, Groove)
The Standards Sessions 1 (2002, Groove Classic)
The Standards Sessions 2 (2004, Groove Classic)
Sprawl Indigo (2009, Groove)
RADIO, FILM AND TELEVISION
The G-spot, a weekly show on CBC National Radio featuring original songs and commentary on pop culture (1993-1994).
Appeared in the feature-length film Giant Steps as a back-up singer to the female lead (Ranee Lee).
Appearing as a jazz singer in the upcoming Episode 4 of the TV series Tilt. (2205)
Licensed All Baby Wants is Me to Shaftesbury Films as the opening and closing credits to “Windows”, one of six episodes of a series called “The Carol Shields Stories”. (2004)
Licensed Signs of Spring in My Neighbourhood for the documentary Finding My Way, The Anishnawbe Story, No One to Blame Productions.(2005)
Filmed and scored two B & W “urban street-scene” films (edited by Matthew Krist): Signs of Spring in My Neighbourhood and Stygian Shore (2003, 2004)
Performed in and wrote the score for the feature film Three Sides of Love by Splice Productions (release date, June 2009)
RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS, etc.
Expert Learning in Music (Masters Thesis)
A Handbook for Teachers of Music in Botswana (currently used by music teachers in teacher training schools throughout Botswana.) This was based on my recordings and transcriptions of Setswana music, and the first time this music had been published in Western notation.
Accompanying Yourself From Scratch, Level 1 (The Jazz Singer Series)
Vocal Improvisation from Scratch, Level 1 (The Jazz Singer Series)
Jazz Vocal Q and A (Column on the National Association for Teachers of Singing site (www.nats.org)
How to Practice Jazz Singing (book in final edits)
Vocal Music of Botswana (book in final edits)
Select Review Excerpts
"The best new singers I’ve heard have depended not so much on pure sonic pleasure or vocal emotion, but on ideas," wrote jazz columnist Will Friedwald in The New York Sun Dec. 9. One of them is Rita di Ghent…one of the most interesting singers of the contemporary era… The three albums I’ve heard by her (on Groove Productions), all have new ideas on them," wrote Friedwald. Her latest album is Standard Sessions II, in which she does Jacques Brel’s "Ne Me Quitte Pas" as a jazz ballad with string section and solo bass – a sound reminiscent of Charlie Haden’s recent albums. Di Ghent’s most engaging idea is the sound she calls ‘sprawl,’ in which she starts with a standard, like ‘He’s Funny That Way,’ and departs from it in an original passage that’s somewhere between rap and poetry recitation," wrote Friedwald. "These variations make vintage songs seem contemporary without sounding like she’s stooping to conquer. Now that’s a new idea."
…”Rita di Ghent est une chanteuse hot dans la tradition, avec une belle voix mezzo qui colle a merveille (“What a Little Moonlight Can Do”)… Rita di Ghent est une chanteuse don’t on se souvient et qui ne laisse pas indifferent. (Michel Bedin, Jazz Hot, Paris)
“Rita di Ghent is a hot vocalist in the grand tradition, with a beautiful mezzo voice that really swings…there are so few singers capable of doing what she can accomplish…Rita is a singer one remembers, one who definitely doesn’t leave a listener indifferent.” (Jazz Hot Magazine, Paris)
“…di Ghent is in the mold-breaking business, and has come up with a style all of her own called “sprawl”….sharp, sassy, funky and even fashionable, di Ghent’s performance demonstrated that she can sing jazz in the traditional sense while also bringing her own more modern lyrical and vocal skills to the party. Several of her own song, which focus on North American street life, are excellent, particularly 20 Dollar Ring, a tale of a poverty-stricken girl murdered for a worthless piece of jewelry, and the witty Signs of Spring in My Neighbourhood. Perhaps the high point of the show, however, was a radical re-invention of Bob Dylan’s Just Like a Woman…extraordinarily compelling.” (The South China Morning Post)
“…to find an artist who can write and perform out of a traditional jazz setting, and yet do it in a way that appeals to a wide cross-section of musical tastes in no easy feat. To find this quality in an artist who also maintains the highest standards of musical integrity is even more rare. Rita is such an artist.” (The Medicine Hat News)
“The coolest jazz diva on the scene.” (Ottawa X-press)
“Intertwining original material with standard tunes is one of my favourite aspects of di Ghent’s work…di Ghent has a definitely refreshing sound. If the future of Jazz is Rita di Ghent, then the future sounds bright.” (The Vancouver Discorder)
“di Ghent’s versions of God Bless the Child and Bob Dylan’s Just Like a Woman are beautiful in their simplicity, her voice capturing determination and frailty as it dips and disappears…Signs of Spring in My Neighbourhood is a fantastic slice of life from her Dundsas/Sherbourne hood. She paints lyrical pictures with color and detachment, pulling you in and leaving you wondering…Who knows?—maybe one day they’ll make one of those Canadian Heritage commercials about the invention of Sprawl…” (Eye Magazine, Toronto)
What can I say... the girl is BRILLIANT!!! I have already made Rita my "Featured Artist of The Day" once and will most likely do it again in the near future. I'm crazy about her voice, her style, her arrangements, her own compositions, etc. This album is a gem. In fact, if there is a Standards Sessions Vol. 2, I'd love to receive it and put it on air immediately!!! Is there a chance that Rita will be coming to Australia in the near future? Keep those pipes working overtime kid... you've got a million dollars down your throat! All the best, Harold Ellison "The Jazz Cafe" TripleU-FM Nowra, New South Wales, Australia
Since Ella passed on I have been waiting for someone to come along with the capacity to make music exciting. For my ears, you have accomplished this. I will add your CDs to my play lists. Dick Hughes, Jazz Action Productions, Australia
Oh, my god, I don´t beleive what I heard when I retransmite your jazz material on my jazz radio program "JAZZ CAFE-FLAVOUR OF JAZZ" (FM Urquiza 91.7MHZ, monday to friday to 9PM to 12PM), a new fresh, sensual and swingin´ jazz lady... a fine and original voice. Billie Holiday,Carmen McRae, Sheila Jordan and others great jazz ladies are present in your sweet jazz voice. For me it is a great honour to broadcast your music to the argentine audience of JAZZ CAFE. I wish that someday you will come to sing your Standards Sessions on my country, and the jazz cafe audience love the way you sing jazz and love your compositions. Sincerely,Carlos Fernandez Pacin, Buenos Aires Argentina
“…di Ghent is a true original…Her composition $20 Ring is absolutely captivating. This vocalist is a coveted Canadian treasure.” (The Jazz Review)