Kellylee Evans
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Kellylee Evans

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Kellylee Evans wants to bring her music to the entire world, and the Ottawa singer gets her stunning shot at jazz's big leagues in the U.S. next month, writes Peter Hum.

Peter Hum
The Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


With just a few gigs and a minimal musical education under her belt, Kellylee Evans is set to compete next month in one of the jazz world's biggest competitions for vocalists.
The 29-year-old Ashton woman is one of Ottawa's more low-profile jazz singers -- a stay-at-home mom of two young girls rather than a dues-paying vocalist singing standards each week downtown. Evans, who has degrees in legal studies and English from Carleton University, admits that while she writes her own songs, she barely reads music and came to jazz late.
But this year she entered the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition -- the tourney that helped launch the career of Jane Monheit, among others -- and learned last week that she made the cut for the semi-finals, ahead of almost 150 other hopefuls.
She and a dozen other female singers are to square off Sept. 12 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The next day, three to five of them compete in the finals for fame, glory and $20,000 U.S.
"I guess I got lucky," she says. "I just really did get lucky, and I'm thankful."
It's probably more accurate to say that Evans made her own luck, capitalizing on tremendous talent with single-minded drive.
"Of all the jazz singers in the Ottawa area, she's the most naturally gifted," says Gaby Warren, an Ottawa jazz fan and singer who has helped Evans with her repertoire.
"She has chutzpah -- in a nice way," he adds.
"I'm not surprised that she made it into the Monk competition," says Lonnie Plaxico, a New York-based bassist. He helped Evans record the music that she submitted to the competition judges to make the semis. "I know many singers in NYC who are well-known recording artists who don't have what Kelly has, or the drive to write their own songs," Plaxico wrote in an e-mail.
On her website (www.kellyleeevans.com), the sound files from her session with Plaxico speak volumes -- Evans has a big, clear voice that soars confidently over her "neo-soul jazz" compositions and lyrics.
The tracks are all the more impressive when you know how self-made Evans is.
She says she was singing as a three-month-old in Scarborough, vocalizing along with the church choir. She sang at school talent shows, but took just a few years of Suzuki piano lessons and had no vocal training until her late teen years.
There was lots of music in her mother's house, but little jazz. "The only connection to jazz that I really had growing up was that my mom was a huge Nina Simone fan ... but I couldn't stand her," Evans says.
She moved to Ottawa for university in 1992, and stumbled into jazz on campus after an acquaintance told her that singing with Carleton's jazz combo would be too difficult for her. "I'm not a mental nincompoop," Evans says. "That comment she made -- I kind of took up the challenge."
Evans began singing with Carleton musicians. She schooled herself in jazz's pantheon of singers, studying a different great each month. "I just wrote down in my planner, this month is Ella Fitzgerald, this month is Sarah Vaughan, this month is Mel Torme, this month is Cleo Laine, this month is Carmen McRae.
"I got obsessed with jazz -- not necessarily instrumental jazz, just vocal jazz," Evans says.
She has since taken sporadic voice lessons, one or two from this teacher or that, but says she is not a very good student. "I mentally fight with the teachers," she says.
In 2001, she met bassist Plaxico at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival's jam session. Plaxico was in town with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, and after he and Evans chatted at the bar, they played together on the jam session stage.
They kept in touch, with Plaxico advising her to write her own music -- even if that meant Evans singing melodies into a digital recorder and puzzling out harmonies with a Casio keyboard that named chords.
Since then, Evans has had lots on the go to offset her musical ambitions. With her husband, she has two children, aged one and nearly four years. She developed nodules on her vocal cords, and even had singing problems once the nodules went away.
"I have a lot of issues with trying to be good and trying to be perfect," she says. "That's one of the things I'm fighting against.
"Up until that point, I was obsessed with having that crisp, pure sound," Evans continues. The vocalists that I like have that sound. I was always leaning more towards Sarah and Ella than to Billie Holiday. Listening to someone whose voice is giving out like Billie, or even, say, to Macy Gray -- honestly, it's like listening to nails on a chalkboard for me. I can feel it in my throat. I feel like they're torturing themselves.
"Now, I can listen to those singers from the emotional standpoint and hear what's coming out in their voices."
Late last year, determined to make a CD to help her land performances (she has had just a few low-level gigs in the Ottawa area), Evans exhausted some money she had stashed away and took her family to New York. After she and her family combatted a nasty flu for several weeks, Evans went into a studio for two days with a band that Plaxico assembled and recorded 10 of her songs and two jazz covers.
"I didn't do much," Plaxico says. "Kelly is a hard worker. I just told her what she needed to do and she came right back with everything. She seemed focused and ready to work, and that says a lot for someone who also has a family.
"For her recording, I just put the band together and helped with some charts. But she knew what she wanted, and that made everything easy," he says.
This year, Evans submitted five tracks to the Monk competition and won her spot at the Washington event.
She's now shopping her music around to labels, hoping that she can soon release a CD.
"I have huge ambitions, huge, huge, huge," Evans says. "I really would like my music to reach all corners of the world at some point."
An impressive finish at the Monk competition would surely help. On Sept. 12, she will have 12 minutes to perform as many as three songs, after rehearsing the day before for half an hour with the house rhythm section (which, coincidentally, includes Plaxico).
On paper, she is a bit of an underdog. A glance at the websites of other semi-finalists reveals singers with extensive musical educations and gigging histories. One has shared the stage with Herbie Hancock.
Evans doesn't sugar-coat her prospects. "I know it could all easily go to pot. If I don't win, or come pretty close to winning, I'm pretty much back at square one. I also know that I could win, and then nobody will be interested in what I'm doing," she says.
Warren, however, is in Evans' corner. "If she gets inspired, anything's possible," he says. "She doesn't let anything stop her."
© The Ottawa Citizen 2004

- Ottawa Citizen


Sunday, August 8, 2004

Kellylee Evans finds her voice

Evans heading to D.C. for prestigious competition

By ANN MARIE McQUEEN -- Ottawa Sun

Kellylee Evans plans to stick with jazz singing.

While the married, Ottawa-area mother of two young girls -- aged one and four -- may have quit her master's degree confusingly close to finishing it, the statuesque 29-year-old Toronto-born brunette with the sultry voice intends to stay with this singing and songwriting thing.

Though she's been singing since she was a tot, it took the death of her mother and a near-death experience from an allergic reaction to come to that decision.

"I was just really stressed, my mom had passed away from cancer," explains Evans of the decision to drop out of her Carleton University legal studies MA a few years ago. "I just kind of saw life differently. It was hard to sit in class and see people talk about human rights ... I just really felt like I would probably feel a lot better doing what I wanted to do with my music."

SEMI-FINALIST

Doing what she wanted to do with her music just landed Evans a spot as one of 13 semi-finalists out of more than 200 applicants for the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocals Competition.

In September, she will travel to Washington to perform before a judging panel of celebrity jazz vocalists including Al Jarreau, DeeDee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling and Jimmy Scott. At stake are potential recording contracts and more than $60,000 in music scholarships and prizes.

The annual competition for talented 30-and-unders, which rotates between instruments each year, hasn't focused on the voice since 1998. In the past it has launched recording careers for artists including Jane Monheit, saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Marcus Roberts and others.

"(Vocalist) Tierney Sutton was just in the competition, she didn't win," said Leonard Brown, co-ordinator of production. "It's not necessarily winning the competition, it's the exposure the competition affords you."

Ironically, once Evans decided to make music her career she lost her voice. At first nodules on her vocal chords were to blame, but even after they went away months later Evans was still having trouble. It wasn't until she started writing that her ability to sing returned.

"I swear finding my own voice for writing has helped me find my own voice for song," she says.

RECORDED CD

Evans, who has no formal training, started chatting with producer Lonnie Plaxico (past musical director for jazz crooner Cassandra Wilson) in 2001 during a post-Ottawa Jazz Festival jam session and ended up singing a few tunes.

When she later decided to pen her first CD Evans called Plaxico up and he was happy to help. Fight or Flight was recorded in a New York City studio in John F. Kennedy Jr.'s former loft with some of the community's finest musicians backing her up.

Evans plans to release the CD independently after the Thelonious Monk competition on Sept. 12 and 13. For that she has prepared a mix of originals and standards to perform, including her jazz version of Climb Every Mountain -- "it totally works," she promises.

"I'm so excited," she says. "I'm walking on cloud nine. For me this is a big deal."





- Ottawa Sun


May 25-31, 2006

By Francine Buchner

Kellylee Evans may not consider herself a true jazz musician, but one listen to her debut album, Fight or Flight and it’s obvious that she’s true, talented and going to be around for a long time.

She tried to run from the cultural connection that being black, you must sing jazz to be classified as an authentic musician and thus respected in society.

“There are other straight jazz musicians who would say my music isn’t real jazz”

With undertones of reggae, calypso and Hispanic music fused with the more traditional jazz, rhythm and blues, it took her 3-year old daughter to convince her that the Ella Fitzgerald song playing in the grocery stores, sounded like mommy. “When a three-year old thinks its jazz, then it’s jazz,” she concludes.

It’s just not an acceptable profession, coming from the immigrant experience, they don’t understand the concept of passion.

She considers her album autobiographical: “it is my interpretation of being Canadian.” Her song, “What About Me?” reflects on the embarrassment she felt most of her life, having to answer the question, “well, how’d that happen?” with a sibling born the same year she was, a result of another woman.

Her own fear of failure caused her to delay pursing her passion. She concentrated on her Masters in Minority Rights at Carleton University [Editor’s Notes – masters of Arts, Legal Studies]. When her mother was diagnosed with cancer and died in June 1999, she quit school, got married in October 1999 and had her first child in 2000. But it wasn’t until she almost died from an allergic reaction in 2002 from a tennis injury that she said enough, and with the encouragement of her husband started writing, performing and in 2004 won second place at the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, in Washington, D.C. It was judged by Quincy Jones, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling to name a few. She titled a song “Enough” on this album and started a new, more relaxed attitude to life, reflected in songs, “I Don’t Want You To Love Me: and “Who knows”.

Fight or Flight is Evans’ story, “It’s me looking at other people’s lives, the not-so-nice things people feel about themselves, the not-so-amazing aspect of being”, hinted in her song “Rapunzel”, addressing self-esteem issues that girls sometimes feel.
- Canada Extra


(September 20, 2006)
By Ryan B. Patrick

Defining the sound of vocalist Kellylee Evans is perhaps a task best left for the talented singer/songwriter herself. “I call it Urban-Jazz, or Jazz for Black people,” Evans says with more than a hint of facetiousness.

Raised in Scarborough (to Jamaican parents) and now based in Ottawa, Evans represents the classic second-generation African-Canadian. Growing up in Canada means being exposed to various cultures and diverse musical sounds and Evans new critically acclaimed album (released earlier this summer), Fight or Flight? (www.kellyleeevans.com.) is steeped in multicultural flavour.

“It’s an interesting mix that happens here in Canada. I grew up listening to different music, different genres,” Evans says. “The album has this really interesting, Dancehall and Caribbean feel to it. With my vocals on top, it is best describes as soul jazz, or even hip-hoppy R&B. I’d call it Urban Jazz.”

Evans’ smooth and calming jazz vocals speak to a maturity that belies her youth. Indeed, Evans was purportedly heard "vocalizing" in church at three months old and had her first solo while still in kindergarten. Growing up, she performed at various talent shows and was an esteemed member of the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir.
Evans was determined to be in school, attending Carleton University for legal studies. But it was several unfortunate and tragic events that ultimately drove Evans to kick start her musical career. The death of her mother to cancer coupled with a near-fatal allergic reaction a few years later forced Evans to reevaluate for life goals and focus on doing what she loved – music.

“It put perspective in my life,” Evans says of her experiences. She realized that she had to put her experience into musical form. Evans ultimately traveled to New York for a whirlwind two-day recording session at a Manhattan studio. Evans notes that recording the album was very "in the moment" and resulted in 11 of her original compositions. I was always waiting for someone else to give me a break, instead of making things happen so I decided to take charge. I learned so much making this CD,” she says.

The theme running through Fight or Flight? is introspection, Evans says, adding that making the CD has been a cathartic process. “It’s about relationships…and the not so nice thing about relationships,” Evans says.

So far, the accolades have been swift in coming. Indeed, Evans is fast becoming a rising force within the Canadian jazz-urban music scene. The groove-based Fight or Flight? has been in regular rotation on radio stations FLOW 93.5, JAZZ FM and CBC Radio
In 2004, Kellylee was awarded second place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, held at Kennedy Center in Washington. And U.S.-based bookstore Barnes and Noble is featuring the album in its stores.

The album is filled with musical treats such as the soulful “What About Me?”, the groove-based “Lead Me Closer” and the rhythmic “I Don't Want You To Love Me”. The track “Rapunzel” specifically addresses the self-esteem of Black women. “It's a song for the girl in society who feels she will never live up to the ideal,” Evans explains. “I think every woman can find something in that song to identify with, where they feel, 'Yeah, my butt is too big,' or 'I'm not thin enough'”. Simply put, Fight or Flight? is perhaps one of the better Canadian music releases this year. Evans invested her own money into producing the album and it seems to be paying off.
“You have to make your own way…you can’t just sit and wait for someone to give you something,” Evans says. “It’s funny because I never made this CD to be a part of the Canadian music scene. It’s more about being a part of the global music community. In Canada there usually isn’t recognition until it’s a success elsewhere. You open up for other people to identify with. There’s this solidarity within the music that makes it bigger than me. I get to vent within the songs and then I can move on.”

-------------------------------
That One Phone Call
Ottawa Xpress

June 8th, 2006
Kellylee Evans

That one phone call
Steve Baylin

Kellylee Evan's 100-watt smile

Local singer Kellylee Evans lands the bigtime

In the working jazz world, there's no shortage of musicians who possess both heaps of talent and unbridled enthusiasm for their craft. Take Capital City's own Kellylee Evans: Ever passionate in performance, her 100-watt smile never fails to light up a room in a flash, while her sinuous voice alone could melt the coldest of hearts in mere seconds.
But what often separates the pretenders from the contenders, the spectators from the players, is neither talent nor enthusiasm, but rather courage - on stage and off - and Evans has it in abundance.

She came to embrace it more fully through a series of traumatic circumstances.

Back in 2002, Evans was a master's student in legal studies at Carleton University by day and a burgeoning jazz/blues chanteuse by night.

Then fate intervened: she suffered a near fatal allergic reaction and was rushed to the hospital after taking medication for a minor ankle injury.

"It was a shock to the system," says Evans over the phone from Toronto.

"It took something like that to learn not to take things for granted. I feel like I'm a lot more bold now. After that, I knew I had to follow my first love, music."

True to her word, Evans put down the law books and turned her full attention to music.

While taking in a post-Ottawa Jazz Festival jam session, Evans caught the ear of New York's legendary jazz bassist Lonnie Plaxico and eventually found herself on stage singing a few tunes at his request. But shortly after she found her voice, it went curiously

silent.

The culprit: nodules on her vocal chords.

Still, after much needed rest and successful treatment, Evans, consumed with plans to make a record, was still experiencing some difficulty. At the urging of her husband, the still-green Evans decided to pick up the phone and reach out - way out - to Plaxico.

"I was kind of in this head space of like, 'what the hell,'" she says of her decision to cold-call the musician who had shared the stage with the likes of Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon, Wynton Marsalis, David Murray and Dizzy Gillespie.

Evans' guts paid off. Not only did Plaxico take the call, but he invited her down to New York for a two-day recording session with a who's who of the scene that Martin Sewell, Steve Hass and George Colligan.

"I was reading all these self-help books... and the weirdest thing that happened was that my voice was just fine. If I never made the choice to call, I probably would still be at home thinking that I couldn't sing."

Despite maxing out her credit cards she completed her first record, Fight or Flight: an exotic, sensual slice of jazz-inflected neo soul that finds Evans roaming through everything from reggae ("Let's Call a Truce Tonight") and sultry blues ("I Don't Think I Want to Know") to the Cuban clave rhythms of the title track with slippery smooth precision.

"The record is kind of a snapshot of where I was in 2004," says Evans, who later that same year went on to place second in D.C.'s annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition.

"We had two days to rehearse, and two days to record, so most of the songs are one-takes. I was just so happy to finally hear the songs outside of my head, and I think it captures that excitement."

KELLYLEE EVANS
DOMICILE MAIN STAGE
SUNDAY, JUNE 11, 2-2:45 p.m.
WESTFEST
FREE
- Pride News Magazine


Canada is becoming more and more important upon the map of black music and the attentive readers of jazz-not-jazz surely remember Nick-e, Diane Taylor or LAL. Kellylee Evans is another Canadian who impresses with her debut album full of original songs.

Kellylee was born in Toronto but lives now just outside Ottawa, Ontario. Throughout the years, she performed at various talent shows and was a member of the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir. At the Carleton University she was part of a school jazz combo. Soon she realised that studying law may be fine but her heart was really with music and she eventually pursued a career in music.

And Flight Or Fight?, her debut album, is really an amazing start. To start with, there’s the well photographed cover (yes, I’m always a sucker for a great photo) and unlike most of her peers Kellylee relies only on the strength of her own compostitions.

Kellylee offers a unique blend of jazz, soul, blues and reggae and then some with a few pop overtones on her debut album. “I started getting into jazz before Diana Krall started getting big. Her success really floored me,” Kellylee says. “Growing up, I wanted to be a pop star, but when I started liking jazz so much, I realized I wasn’t going to be pop star famous, but then Diana’s success really got exciting.”

The majority of the songs were produced by Lonnie Plaxico and Kellylee and recorded within two days in New York City (January 12-14 2004 to be exact). Only the first two songs were recorded in April 2005 (again in NYC, but co-produced by Carlos Henderson).

The album’s starter What About Me?, is a great haunting slow tune with fine acoustic guitar input by Carl Burnett. The subtle Lead Me Closer is of the same calibre.

The powerful Hooked provides a nice change with its rock influences. The heartfelt I Don’t Want You To Love Me is one of my favourite tracks, here we have a singer torn between one of the greatest emotion and the fear of getting hurt one day (”I don’t want you to love me no, no/ I can’t handle the thought that you would go/ It’s easier if we cut these ties that bind/ Ever tightening as days go by/ This may come as a surprise but/ I don’t want you to love me goodbye/ Don’t think of this as a fear to commit/ My therapist said there’d be days like this/ Though it seemed that our love would go stronger each day/ It did, but I fear this attachment to you/ I know I’m not meant to feel passion this was/ Just as I know that you won’t stay“)
But Kellylee’s lyrics can cut even deeper. On the Latin-tinged title Fight Or Flight? (Help Me, Help You) for example. “That song is all about seeing tragedy and people in need all around you, but not really wanting to get involved; not being sure how far you can get involved,” Kellylee says. “So many people of my generation, we feel apathetic. We feel like if we make a move we’re not gonna be able to effect any change.”
The album continues with the bluesy I Don’t Think I Want To Know, which adds further proof to Kellylee’s musical diversity. There’s even some reggae thrown into Let’s Call A Truce Tonight and Rapunzel impresses with a mixture of Spanish and French folk.

Finally there are more traditional jazz songs with How Can You Get Along Without Me? or Enough, which explores jazz in the vicinity of soul music.

With these different influences and styles it may seem that Kellylee tries everything not to get pigeonholed and this album may lack coherence. Quite the contrary, it’s her distinctive voice and her personal lyrics that make this a well-rounded album. To sum it up, Fight Or Flight? is an exceptional and musically diverse debut album.

Tracklisting of Fight Or Flight?: 1. What About Me?/ 2. Lead Me Closer/ 3. Hooked/ 4. I Don’t Want You To Love Me/ 5. Fight Or Flight? (Help Me, Help Me)/ 6. I Don’t Want To Know/ 7. Let’s Call A Truce Tonight/ 8. Rapunzel/ 9. How Can You Get Along Without Me?/ 10. Enough/ 11. Who Knows/ 12. What About Me (Bonus Track) | released May 2006 by Enliven! Media - Jazz-not-Jazz


Critics' Picks

THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR
Published: Thursday, November 23, 2006
Best Bets
Graham Rockingham

KELLYLEE EVANS: This Ottawa singer-songwriter is the real deal, combining an exquisitely soulful voice with a natural talent for rhythmic jazz composition. A jury that included Quincy Jones named her runnerup in the prestigious Thelonius Monk International Jazz Vocals competition. Hear her new CD, Fight Or Flight, and see her perform Saturday at the Pepper Jack Cafe (38 King William). 7 p.m. $20 at the door. $18 advance


THE OTTAWA CITIZEN
Published: Saturday, January 14, 2006
Jazz
Peter Hum

Since her strong showing at the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition, Ottawa's Kellylee Evans has kept a low profile -- being a mother to two young children has come first. But tonight, the huge-voiced, charismatic singer emerges to perform with her Ottawa band at the Mercury Lounge, 56 Byward Market Square, 789-5324. Evans' smooth, funk-jazz show begins at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10. Toronto-based world-music band Kobotown is also on the bill.


THE TORONTO STAR
Chapman's Jazz Picks
Published: Jan. 19, 2006
Geoff Chapman

Woefully under-promoted vocalist Kelly-Lee Evans has a marvellous voice. Her debut album, Fight Or Flight, is proof and there's a rare opportunity to hear her on Wednesday at Lula Lounge where she's on a double-bill with calypso specialists Kobo Town.
- Various Sources


Kellylee Evans | Fight or Flight? CD Release
May 5, 2006 • Lula Lounge • Toronto

The Real Deal
Report by Joyce Corbett | Photos by Roger Humbert
Kellylee Evans opened her show with “I Don’t Want You to Love Me” — but everyone did. As it turned out, the Arab-inspired vocal introduction to that first song was like a call to worship. At the end of her performance, “She is awesome”, “she’s so real”, “she’s just wonderful”, “what a smart woman” and “I’m in love with her” were common currents in the conversation flowing around the room.
What provoked such reaction? Many things. First and foremost, the smooth, strong voice of which she seems to have complete control. Kellylee Evans moves effortlessly from note to note, savouring the vibrations of those she chooses to hold onto. She revels in the sounds of the words and the mood of the lyrics. She loses herself in the singing, and in the performance, and she takes us along for the ride. It all seems so easy, so natural. Kellylee Evans is one polished performer. It is already two years since she won second place at the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition in New York and I’m sure that she has progressed since then or she surely would have won first. She is awesome.
On stage, with her voice, her passion and her expressive power, she is larger than life, yet as she talks between numbers, you feel she could be your next door neighbour or your best friend. With her talent, she inspires awe but also empathy. We have the illusion that she is just like us. Her songs and her stories are personal but they are about the stuff of life, to which we can all relate. She sings a song she wrote after trying to imagine what it would be like to have Alzheimer’s, a song titled “You Don’t Remember Our Love”. She tells us about her mother who passed away from cancer. She describes her as a 'super single mom' and sings a song about her, simply titled “You”. But she is no cheap peddler of melodrama. She is a communicator. She is Real.
She deals in the depths, in the complex and the paradoxical. But her lyric “your smile brings light to even the sunniest day” (from “I Don’t Want You To Love Me”) could be about herself, for she is also funny, spontaneous and glowing with energy. Her over-riding message is to be strong, don’t let go of your dreams, be yourself and live your own life. A Kellylee Evans performance is uplifting. Near the end of the set, she left the stage, grabbed the arm of the photographer at the front of the room and danced with him. She worked her way through the entire room in this way, playfully chiding the reticent, joking, talking and succeeding at getting people on their feet. You might imagine this as very show-biz but it felt like a spontaneous act of genuine good will. It was "s’wonderful".

Kellylee Evans wrote all of the eleven songs in her set. Style-wise they were a mix of urban jazz and R&B, with doses of hip hop and reggae and some Latin rhythms. The band she chose to accompany her did an excellent job with the material and we were treated to some lovely guitar work. But what is so remarkable about Kellylee’s songs is their beautifully-written, intelligent lyrics.
She avoids cliches, even ironically as in “Hooked” when she sings “these old cliches keep emerging from the state I’m in”.

She can be subtle,
“She was going to have a baby / And then they would get married / So he said / That’s what she heard”
(from “What About Me?")

straightforward,
“This may come as a surprise but I don’t want you to love me goodbye”
(from “I Don’t Want You to Love Me")

and clever,
“it’s not that bad here on this fence I’ve got the company of my friends”
(from "Fight or Flight").


Kellylee Evans’ songs are obviously the product of a strong intellect, she is a smart woman.
Finally, there was her story about seeing the kids in the World Vision commercials on television when she was twelve and pledging her paper route money to help them. She tells us she always felt guilty for not having continued with it, but now she is supporting them in a bigger way, lending her voice to fundraising events, encouraging people to get involved and to donate. She has a table set up at the back of the room with information about World Vision and she informs the audience that everyone who donates on this evening will receive her new CD free of charge.

Her encore was the only piece she sang that she did not write but she made it her own. It was her take on John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

How could you not love her?

The band for the evening was
Adam Bowman — drums
Kevin Ramessar — guitar, trumpet
Jerome Jeffrey — guitar
Matthew Lima — bass
Kellylee Evans — vocals
- The Live Music Report


JazzTimes
Christopher Loudon
March 2007

By her own account, Ottawa-based Kellylee Evans’ jazz infused blend of world-beat soul is “Sade meets Erykah Badu meets Sarah Vaughan meets Norah Jones – in the Caribbean.” It seems a rather boastful description, especially coming from a neophyte with a grand total of one album to her credit. Yes, Evans did place second in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition, as judged by such obviously credible arbiters as Quincy Jones, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jimmy Scott, Al Jarreau and Flora Purim. And yes, she did earn a scholarship to study with Christian McBride. But proof of Evans’ rather grandiose self-assessment must come from the music itself, and based on this album’s dozen self-penned tracks, there’s plenty proof that she can consider herself well on the way to becoming the equal of Jones or Jill Scott or Lizz Wright. Drawing from a deep well of suffering, heartache, tragedy, aimlessness and ultimately, perseverance that has led to personal and professional contentment – including her mother’s death from cancer, her own near-death experience, sour relationships, wrong career turns, marriage and young motherhood – Evans wisely writes of what she knows.

As powerfully heartfelt (and, because she is a good writer, universal in theme) as her lyrics are, their strength is fully matched by her performances as, armed with a diamond-bright voice of unblemished beauty, she glides effortlessly from the introspective pain of “What About Me?” to the cunning negotiation of “Let’s Call a Truce Tonight” and the sage journey to self-awareness and self-respect that is the mesmerizing “Enough”.
_____________________

Jazz and Blues
www.jazz-blues.com
March 2007

Toronto-born jazz singer Kellylee Evans has just released an exquisite debut CD. Her voice is captivating right off the bat, and her collection of 11 well-crafted originals fit her calming yet rich voice to a tee. This isn’t a set of swingers, but rather a nice mix of percussive slow to mid-tempo jazz (some
does gently swing), songs with a tango or Spanish flair, a reggae piece and some blues. Although labeled urban jazz, that would connotate hip hop beats...but much of this is rather more like a folk jazz blend not unlike what we’ve heard from Liz Wright and Cassandra Wilson. She recorded with a group of crack New York musicians, playing mostly acoustic instruments, who have recorded with people such as Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Wynton Marsalis, Manhattan Transfer and Roberta Flack. While their finesse can not be overlooked in terms of this album’s success, Kellylee’s voice and composing skills are certainly the main ingredients here. Kellylee became friends with veteran bassist Lonnie Plaxico some years ago, and he helped set up the NY sessions and plays on all but two songs. In 2004 she was awarded second place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition with such judges as Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Jimmy Scott and Flora Purim.
Kellylee was selected out of a worldwide group of 160 singers. They made a good choice. A very nice debut that will be quite a tough act to follow.

Bill Wahl
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From MusicMorselsOnline.com

Kellylee Evans - Fight or Flight?
Enliven! Media - ENLIV 001

Progressive jazz vocalist Kelly Lee Evans shows even more facets of her capabilities with her sophomore effort. With an atmospheric voice that has a touch of operatic inflection, her stylings mirror that of the smooth and delectable musical backdrops. Kelly Lee also adds World influences to tracks like “Rapunzel” and the title track. Her lyrical stories are gripping, allowing the listener to further experience this fine music. URL: http://www.kellyleeevans.com Email: info@kellyleeevans.com

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The Birth of a North Star: Kellylee Evans
Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Written by Eugene Holley, Jr.
Source: The Black World Today (www.tbwt.org)

By Eugene Holley, Jr.When one thinks of Black artists from North America, the United States immediately comes to mind. But that leaves out the superb Black, brown and beige artists from Canada. For decades, the brothers and sisters from the Great White North have made strong contributions to African-American music -- from the jazz piano virtuoso Oscar Peterson, to the dark and lovely divasTamia and Deborah Cox. Other artists like Kardinal Official and Denzal Sinclaire have not made the artistic jump to the States, but are well known in their country.

That American invisibility will soon end for the Toronto-born, Ottawa-based singer/songwriter Kellylee Evans when she
takes the stage for two shows at the Terrace Gallery in Washington, DC's Kennedy Center on Oct. 20. In an era where
Black singers are manufactured to be American Idol clones, this talented daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who burst on
the scene by taking second place at the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz, and recently opened for Tony Bennett, is an independent breath of fresh air, as evidenced by her stunning debut CD, Fight or Flight? (Enliven Media, www.kellyleeevans.com).

Co-produced by Evans and bassists Carlos Henderson and Lonnie Plaxico, who both worked with Common, Art Blakey,
and Wynton Marsalis, Evans is supported by an excellent cast of jazz-based musicians that includes keyboardists Jon Cowherd and George Colligan, guitarist Marvin Sewell, and percussionist Kahil Kwame Bell. Though she's often described as "Sade meets Erykah Badu meets Norah Jones," Evans exhibits a brilliant blend of Joni Mitchell's lyrical imagery, Nancy Wilson's peerless phrasing, and Dianne Reeves's powerful presence. The twelve Evans-penned tracks are well- built, but radio-friendly compositions about love, loss, and identity delivered in rich, sepia syncopated West Indian, Latin, ballad and straight-ahead stylings. The most powerful track is "Rapunzel," which evokes the ancient fairy tale of the long-haired girl, and delivers a devastating critique on race and female body issues that Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone would approve of. Evans's artistry is a phoenix raised from the ashes of her near-death experience from an allergic reaction to medication, and the recent death of her mother. Those two traumatic events inspired her to drop her pursuit of her masters in Legal Studies at Carleton University and concentrate on her music.

Growing up, she was a member of the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir, and sang in a jazz combo in college. She met Lonnie Plaxico in 2001 at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and jammed with him. After her second place finish at the Monk Competition, she appeared on a number of Canadian media outlets including CBC Radio, Rogers TV, Toronto's City TV, the sitcom, Whose Line Is It Anyway, and the Wayne Brady Show. She's also performed with saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett at the 4th Annual Global Divas concert in Toronto, and was awarded a scholarship to study with bassist Christian McBride at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Academy in Colorado.

Kellylee Evans's arrival is only bounded by her limitless potential.

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JazzTo.Ca
October 16, 2006.

Fight or Flight? is the debut recording from Ottawa based vocalist Kellylee Evans, and it would seem by all accounts that she has chosen to take flight delivering an excellent album of great music and fine vocals.

In 2004, Kellylee was awarded second place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, and we were famillier with her here having heard her performing with the Global Divas, so we were giddy with anticipation for this album to arrive. Let me tell you, this one doesn’t disappoint. Spanning jazz, soul, R & B, blues and world music rhythms Ms. Evans has brought together a brilliant group of musicians to support her soaring vocals, and delivers 11 original compositions that from start to finish both entertain and inspire.

From the great opener “What About Me?,” to the latin infused “Rapunzel” and the toe tapping “How Can You Get Along Without Me?” Kellylee’s vocals are superb and draws you into her world with her unique lyrics and story.

Currently on her “From the Capital to the Capital” tour, and having recently been asked to open for Tony Bennett at the Montreal stop of his tour it would seem that we will be hearing much more of Kellylee Evans in the future, and that certainly is a good thing.

Check out kellyleeevans.com.

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TheChickenFishSpeaks.com

Kelly Lee Evans - Fight Or Flight? - CD
(Enliven Media) Kelly Lee’s vocals are amazing. Her smooth as milk jazz vocal style set over a light rhythmic jazz rhythm is a mix that is so incredible that it just begs to be heard. Everything about this release is fantastic. The musicians are top notch, the mix is spot on and the song composition and lyrics are ideal. I just got lost in the melodies while listening to this release. I see great things in Kelly Lee’s future in the music biz. This is an artist to be on the lookout for.
-- Mite Mutant (2006)

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All Music Guide
Sept 2006

As the extraordinarily stark and emotional, crystal-clear voiced Toronto native emerges as the new standard of neo-soul/jazz in the early 2000s, much ado will be made of her greatest professional calling card -- winning second place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. But that's just window dressing to two powerful life events which inspired Kellylee Evans to share her gifts for crisp storytelling in multiple styles with the world: the death of her mother, and nearly dying herself from an allergic reaction. Ironically, her torment is the indie music world's gain, as she proves herself on par, and even at times, surpassing contemporaries like Lizz Wright, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and even India.Arie in the realm where the sterling voice glows amidst sensual and soulful atmospheres. The connection isn't just hype; Carlos Henderson, who produced the first two tracks on Fight or Flight, the seductive folk/soul gem "What About Me?" and the yearning and jazzy "Lead Me Closer," has previously worked with Wright and Badu. What sets Evans apart from some of these other young greats is the grand variety of rhythms she glides over effortlessly. There's the old-school soul meets reggae and African-flavored percussion of "I Don't Want You to Love Me"; the hypnotic Brazilian vibe of the title track; the romantic accordion and "castanet"-laced Latin vibe of the witty "Rapunzel"; and the simmering blues sear of "I Don't Think I Want to Know." The fascinating thing is that Evans could easily have done a whole collection of more straightforward trio jazz dates like "How Can You Get Along Without Me?" and still have won hearts everywhere. Evans herself likes to peg her vibe as "urban jazz" but no turn of phrase can do this work of extraordinary soul and depth proper justice. Jonathan Widran

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© Keith "MuzikMan" Hannaleck-http://www.muzikreviews.com

September 19, 2006

Kellylee Evans decides to take flight rather than fight on her new recording Fight or Flight? The title of the CD will have different interpretations by each individual listener no doubt. I see it as an artist deciding to do what comes natural-sing her heart out and record one fine album filled with jazz and emotion. Evans has a lovely warm delivery expressed through the twelve tracks on this CD.

Ms. Evans surrounds herself with a cache of excellent musicians and it becomes apparent rather promptly when “What About Me” begins, that this is the foundation of her ultimate success. Although the most important instrument on the album is her voice…what would any great set of pipes be without a backing band that can get the job done? Evans’ voice sounds like it was designed for jazz and there is no question about it once you hear the entire album. Kellylee sounds like she has the jazz vibe and groove running through every fiber of her being. This natural feeling and down to earth style comes through brilliantly on all twelve tracks.

My favorites are the opener “What About Me?,” which is so good you get to hear it again at end of the CD as a bonus track only this time it’s a saucier slow burner version. “Rapunzel” is a great showcase for Kellylee’s versatile vocal chords. The Latin beats suit her well and the way she controls the words and the inflection of her voice is just superb throughout the track. You will get right into the story instantly and start picturing what the fair maiden that drives all the men wild looks like. “How Can You Get Along Without Me?” is a classic. It is an original Evans track that I could see Sinatra or Bennett singing, snapping their fingers, and tapping their feet from start to finish.

This CD comes filled with great music accompanied by fine vocals, essentially everything that you would love about a favorite album. For all of the reasons mentioned above, this CD has become one of my favorite jazz vocal albums of 2006. Thank god, there are still people making great jazz albums these days, it gives me hope, it gives indie music as an entity hope, and that is a good thing.

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Ottawa Sun
Kellylee Evans

Fight or Flight?

Sun Rating: 4 out of 5

Kellylee Evans debut CD is a delectable slice of jazz-pop; Evans' pipes earned her a runner-up spot in the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, and her singing on Fight or Flight? is stellar.

The musical backing is also superb, courtesy of some of New York's finest musicians, among them Lonnie Plaxico (who has played with such luminaries as Chet Baker, Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie) and Marvin Sewell, a sideman to both jazz singer Cassandra Wilson and poetic performer Sekou Sundiata.

There's an intriguing variety to the songs; among the standout tracks, Hooked incorporates an earthy dancehall vibe, accordion gives Rapunzel a Left Bank feel and Enough swings like a smoky 1950s number.

While the sound shifts slightly from track to track, the personal lyrics give the album a cohesive feel.

Fight or Flight? is an excellent debut which should appeal to fans of vocal jazz and poppier performers like Feist and Sade.

-- Andrew Carver

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Le Soleil
June 22, 2006

An inspired voice
****
Urban Jazz
Fight or Flight?
Kellylee Evans

Jazz, which is wide-ranging, has just found itself another star. And, again, it’s a singer from Ontario who is coming out on top with an exceptional album, bringing together 12 of her own compositions, recorded lightning-fast but brilliantly in a New York studio. She’s named Kellylee Evans, this newcomer whom people will talk about for a long time. She was born in Toronto of Jamaican parents and lives in the Ottawa region. Her compositions are richly flavored with jazz, with many accents from groove and soul, her voice is warm, well served by an eclectic music played by inspired musicians. The first comparison that comes to mind is Cassandra Wilson. Kellylee doesn’t search to escape the comparison since, not only does she sing like the Mississipi alto, but she also played with two musicians who worked with Wilson.

----Michel Truchon
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Montreal Mirror
June 22, 2006

Kellylee Evans
Fight or Flight (Enliven!)
The debut album by this Toronto-born, Ottawa-based singer/songwriter is a breath of fresh air. Evans’s vocal style is reminiscent of another recent arrival on the contemporary jazz scene, Georgia-born Lizz Wright. Like Wright, Evans’s vocal style is strong and clear, and the topnotch musicians supporting her on this disc add flavour without being overpowering. Evans wrote all the songs here, a fact made apparent by the intimate energy she imbues into each one. Layering elements of soul (“Lead Me Closer”) and blues (“I Don’t Think I Want to Know”) on top of a solid jazz foundation, Evans sounds like a seasoned pro instead of the rising star that she certainly is. 9/10 (Gerard Dee)

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”vocal honey...Ms. Evans’ CD Fight or Flight is a soulful mix of rich, textured tunes that recall the greats of jazz and blues yet offer an original sound that is all her own.”

Carolyn Ciccoritti, The Humm. - Various Sources


Source: View Magazine (Hamilton)
Date: November 23, 2006.

When one is a contemporary female jazz singer, automatically
comparisons pop up labelling or pigeon holing the singer in
question against the greats because the genre’s reliance on
antiquity is extremely high. No fault in that, as Billie Holiday, Ella
Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and countless others sang some of the
most beautiful music of the century. Yet in every scene there has to be room for newcomers to expand the time–fashioned ideas of the past. In female jazz vocals, it seems more difficult than most other styles. Singing ‘standards’ is more common than writing originals, because paying homage to past greats is often seen as a more mainstream–friendly option than performing original material. Faced with this backdrop, some artists still succeed, but usually by incorporating a more modern approach that intermingle R&B, soul and other musical dialects.

The gorgeous Brit Corinne Bailey Rae and Molly Johnson are such examples. Yet despite unfavourable odds, there is still room for an expanded interpretation of the traditional in the contemporary scene, and Ottawa’s Kelly Lee Evans is proving such room not only exists, but can engender success.
“I like and love so many artists,” responds Evans. “I mean, I
have CDs from tons of people. Back when I was building my
standards collection, I bought as much as I could from as many
artists as I could, as long as I liked their music. I used to perform
only covers/standards, but the day I started writing my own music was the day that standards held a different focus for me. I love to be able to get my ideas and my feelings out. Sometimes, I feel like singing standards is like painting the great paintings of the past over and over again. Sometimes I enjoy finding new ways to sing the oldies but goodies, but as an artist that enjoys creating new things, I feel like life is too short to not get my creations out into the world.”

After receiving an impressive second place finish in the
Thelonius Monk Jazz Competition in 2004, Evans used an
extensive contact base garnered from the event and the
rigorous experience singing for greats like Quincy Jones and Kurt Elling to gather a bevy of Canadian jazz musicians and record Fight or Flight, released on the indie imprint Enliven last year. The disc, which has become a hit at Barnes & Noble in the US being placed in the Hear This section next to Gnarls Barkley and Corinne Bailey Rae, is a jazzy, but not–too–jazzy collection of originals that soar under the engine of Evans’ voice. Powerfully subtle, contagious and sexy, Evans’ pipes sing like they did in the old days, but with modern fervour and syrupy sensuality. A big, demanding voice, Evans wraps each song around her words, culling comparisons with the not only the greats of the past, but also the greats today like Erykah Badu and Indie Arie. Recorded with Lonnie Plaxico (Art Blakey/Chet Baker/Dexter Gordon), Martin Sewell (George Benson) and others in New York, Fight or Flight is a tour–de–force in contemporized jazz that flirts with the past whilst having one ear constantly tuned in the present. Filled with introspective lyricism as well, mostly culled from a near–death experience and the loss of her mother in 2002, Fight or Flight recalls relationships, how fucked up they can get and what, if anything can be done about it, both personally and
collectively.

“The music’s themes emerge more from a lyrical standpoint,
as opposed to mood,” Evans explains. “For the album, and even now, I seem to write about dysfunctional people in dysfunctional relationships, from feeling unable to live up to parental expectations in “Enough” to being unable to live up to false images of yourself in “I Don’t Want You To Love Me,” to illegitimacy in “What About Me” and spiritual disconnect in “Lead Me Closer.” Also, I think there is a mood to my voice, but I did not plan it that way. I can tell you what we ended up with, according to most listeners. They say it is calming yet energizing at the same time. I get that comment at live shows as well. It used to scare me at first. Being a hyper person most of the time, I thought calming was code for boring. Well, even if that is the case, I can recognize the need for calming in my life and in the lives of others and I love the fact that my CD or my voice or my music can provide that for someone.”

With more recording slated for this winter, and a steady
stream of originals emerging for either a new album or more
material on the road, the sultry chanteuse has proved that
modern jazz vocalists can succeed amidst the blanketing
influence of their epochal predecessors. With drive, determination and a great voice, it does not matter who did what in the past.

“There’s a new song that will be on the next CD that
we do in performance called “Tame You.” I think it
sums up my beliefs,” she states. “The chorus states “Say what you feel. Live what you love. Do what you do, nobody can tame you.””
[SHAIN SHAPIRO]

KELLY LEE EVANS
Saturday, November 25
PEPPER JACK CAFE
38 King William St
905.525.6666

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EARLIER FROM SHAIN SHAPIRO

Fertile Ground / Kellylee Evans
The Pepper Jack Café, Hamilton ON - January 28, 2006
By Shain Shapiro
Source: Exclaim!
March 02, 2006

Hamilton has no soul. This dirty, poverty-stricken steel town is depressed. It’s in need of soul, any soul, to brighten the darkness and inject some hope into its concrete jungle. Luckily, what’s lacking in the streets was in full force at Pepper Jack’s, as Baltimore-based travellers Fertile Ground and Kelly Lee Evans delivered the much needed goods. Both bands were fantastic, igniting the half-packed club in enough sugary soul and sensual funk to fix half the downtown core alone. Kellylee Evans finished second in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocalist Competition in 2004, and her 45-minute opening set proved why. Alongside sparse, groove-based jazz, Evans sang dominantly, filling each vocal belt with enough soothing, syrupy soul to conjure up comparisons to Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and a bevy of other jazzy heavyweights. Featuring songs off her highly anticipated debut, Fight or Flight, Evans is a budding talent in Canada’s jazz-urban scene, and is well worth a listen after a good dusting of old Billie Holiday LPs. After Evans, the rejuvenating soul continued with independent icons Fertile Ground. A band that does everything themselves, from promotion to booking, recording and publicity, Fertile Ground are a true indie success, and fresh off a packed two-night stint in Toronto amidst a week-long Canadian tour, the collective exemplified that if desired, one can do everything right on their own. From the onset, the sextet crafted lavishly sensual melodies that perfectly accentuated front-woman Navasha Daya’s sinful croon. Paying homage to the history of black music, alongside unique, original interpretations, Fertile Ground touched upon several focal points in black music history throughout 90 minutes of tight, sweaty original soul. Borrowing from the etched schemata of Barry White, Gil-Scott Heron, James Brown and Ms. Holiday, Daya and company cleverly crafted the teachings of each influence into a cohesive, highly climactic blend of unique Northern soul that kept the crowd lathered up well past last call. This was consistently fiery, politicized, stylised soul performed by some of the best in the business. - Shain Shapiro


Saturday, November 4, 2006
Page: J3
Section: Style Weekly
Byline: Julia Elliott
Source: The Ottawa Citizen

In the last month, Kellylee Evans has opened for Tony Bennett, and performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Wednesday she headlines the Ottawa Jazz Festival's fundraiser.

She's excited, she's on a roll, but mostly she's grateful for her chance at happiness.

Local singer Kellylee Evans gets in her van and heads to the Ashton General Store with 19 packages to mail. As a woman who learned self-reliance at an early age, she takes responsibility for her own success.

Evans is sending off a box of CDs to a Montreal booking agent, a submission CD for the Juno Awards, some correspondence with an Oregon jazz festival CDs for radio stations in Poland and Australia, and five CDs to sell at the Ashton store. And as a woman who doesn't take success for granted, who wants
to recognize all those who've helped her make it, she's also mailing her band members some program souvenirs of their recent gig in Washington, D.C.

By the time she's through, she has spent about $75.

This errand might seem the antithesis of her other life -- hanging out with musical stars. Two years ago, judges Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau and other music greats awarded her second place in the hugely influential Thelonius Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center
for the Performing Arts. Last month, she opened for Tony Bennett at Place des Arts for a Montreal Jazz Festival concert. Major U.S. bookseller Barnes & Noble stocks her CD, and Wednesday Evans will sing at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival's ninth annual benefit concert and auction at the Metropolitain Brasserie.

Last month she performed in the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club series and at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage. At that show, Evans shielded her face with her long fingers, then threw her lush mezzo voice skyward, asking: "Who's she? Who's he? What about me?" The lyrics read like a typical love
triangle, but it's more than that. The song What About Me?, the lead track on Evans' first and only CD Fight or Flight?, is the true tale about her dysfunctional family -- how her father impregnated another woman while Evans was still in her mother's womb. Evans was born in February 1975; her half-brother arrived three months later.

Adina Christie, Evans' mother, thought the father of her child would marry her and settle down in Scarborough. That didn't happen. Instead, Christie raised her child alone, working as a nurse. With most of their family in England -- having emigrated there from Jamaica in the 1960s -- Christie and Evans, who was given her father's surname, learned how to make it on their
own.

At 31, Evans' goal is to sing for sell-out crowds in big venues like
Toronto's Air Canada Centre. She wants music lovers to leave with a glow like the ecstatic fans she saw after Barbra Streisand's recent show there.

"She has the desire," says Brooklyn bass player Lonnie Plaxico, who has worked with Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis. Plaxico assembled a band for the New York recording of Evans' CD after meeting her at Ottawa's jazz festival five years ago. "She's as good as anybody out there," he says. "She has all the skills, she has what it takes -- the charisma -- and she has the
voice." All she needs is the right promotion.

Since meeting Plaxico, Evans has jumped into the spotlight. Her most impressive calling card is the second-place finish in the Monk competition. "It pushed me from a person just singing in the shower to a new respected member of the jazz community," says Evans, who entered on Plaxico's advice. "That to me was an amazing jump. It's helped with my confidence and it's helped with getting gigs."

"It's been a launching pad for many jazz artists who've gone on to have an incredible career," says Michelle Day, director of operations at Washington's Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz. "It puts you front and centre (in the minds) of the jazz community. The New York Times and the Washington Post were there.

"A lot of artists who have come through the Monk competition have gone on and done extremely well. A lot of those people are people who didn't win first."

While her international music career unfolds, Evans lives a simple life with husband Raul Li and their children Maya, 6, and Nura, 3. She is expecting a third child in May.

Home is a large house, its floor-to-ceiling windows reminiscent of a greenhouse. It's on a dirt road lined with cedar and spruce near the village of Ashton.

"I have this dream of what the house will look like, but until we have money and invest in quality stuff, it's all our stuff from IKEA and what we've grown up with as students," Evans says.

Li, who met Evans in high school and married her in 1999, is her tour manager and right-hand man in the music business. Both share child care and domestic duties.

How can she manage a growing family and a growing music career? "I think I succeed and I fail daily. I remember the first time my daughter had the flu when I just had the one (child). I was up all night and I was trying to do school at the same time. I was trying to finish up my masters. I remember thinking, 'How did my mom do it?'

"I think that, growing up watching Leave It to Beaver, you think that you've got to do everything ... I noticed a lot of the women that were at play groups with me, we're all over-achieving mothers, somewhat judgmental about other peoples' parenting and we want to be perfect."

"Most people use (a husband and two kids) as an excuse not to do something," says Plaxico. "A lot of people are still waiting on the record company to give them a record deal. They won't invest in their own career. When you see a person spending their own money (as Evans did in covering the costs of her
CD), those are the people you know are really serious about what they're doing."

In the 1990s, Evans was piling up credits at Carleton University for undergraduate degrees in legal studies and English literature. She liked the lifestyle. "Write the papers, get your marks, graduate." In 1997, she enrolled in the master's degree program in legal studies, but the following year, her mother was diagnosed with cancer -- multiple myeloma, a bone cancer of the plasma cells.

"I didn't know what to do," says Evans, over a cup of ginger tea. "I was studying about ethnicity and minority rights in society and, as important as those things are on a large scale, when your parent is dying it doesn' matter."

After her mother died in 1999, Evans began thinking, "If there's a God and there's a heaven and my mom's there and she's looking down, then she must get that I'm not happy." As much as she enjoyed the academic life, Evan loved music more. Her mother could sing and her grandmother led a choir in England. Since kindergarten, Evans had sung solos at school assemblies.

She was sure her mother didn't grow up dreaming about being a nurse. But family responsibilities meant she needed a reliable job. "I remember thinking when she died: You need to do what you love. You don't have much time here."

So Evans left her master's program in 2001 to pursue music full time. But she hit a few roadblocks on the way.

"My voice would start to cut out," she recalls. "There'd be no sound. I was so freaked out 'cause that never happened before." She had been singing and speaking too low, straining her voice. She developed vocal nodules and doctors advised her not to speak for a year. She lasted six months and then
went to see a speech pathologist who helped her get her voice back.

Then she injured her ankle playing tennis. The pain relief medication caused her throat to seal up in an allergic reaction. Luckily she got to the hospital in time. After she recovered, her husband suggested she write a song rather than chase a tennis ball. Evans took him up on the challenge and wrote 11 songs that appear on Fight or Flight?

When she sang jazz standards, Evans was fearful that someone would notice a mistake. Today, she realizes people are listening to her own songs, not interpretations of classics, and it's less daunting.

Evans also had amazing success with Barnes & Noble in the U.S.

After she saw the booksellers' ad in music magazine Paste, she called their New York head office and asked for the person in charge of stocking CDs in stores. She sent a CD and eventually it landed on retail shelves. It was "that simple," she laughs. "It was just one of those days where I woke up and I'm like: Why don't I just call and see what happens? I was fully prepared for them to say no."

Choosing her own musical direction has encouraged Evans to allow her life experience to influence her music.

"I just don't follow other people's ideas on how things should be done," she says. "I can't really be a (jazz) purist because I don't even get the concept. We don't eat West Indian food every day. Everything about my life is an amalgam.

"The day that I gave myself permission not to be a jazz singer, this is when my whole life opened up and my writing ear opened up."

In the late 1990s, Evans sought musical advice from Jennifer Giles, a music teacher at Carleton University. Evans credits Giles with pushing her to write her own songs.

Giles says Evans is a "natural performer" with a knack for mobilizing people. "Anytime you go and see her perform, people are on their feet and just wild.

"She's very loyal, very faithful ... If you've been there for her, when she is out there in public, she'll thank you. She's not just taking everything for herself. She is acknowledging people who are helping her along the way and I find that a very, very attractive trait. She doesn't forget."

Not only does Evans keep in touch with special people via the mail station at the Ashton General Store, she also maintains a hefty thank you list on her website, kellyleeevans.com. Teachers, tech supporters and a slew of others with
"plain great advice" get credit for "getting Kellylee to the point where she is today."

"Nobody has to come to a show," she says. "Nobody has to do an interview. Nobody has to say 'yes,' but they do. And I feel such gratitude for that. So for me to make a thank-you card and say thank you -- is nothing."

Julia Elliott writes for Style Weekly.
- Ottawa Citizen


Discography

Fight or Flight? (ENLIVEN! Media)
Fight or Flight? Live (ENLIVEN! Media)

Upcoming Release:
The Good Girl (ENLIVEN! Media)

Available at record stores across Canada
Available at Barnes and Noble stores and on BN.com.

Fight or Flight? Live (ENLIVEN! Media)

Available via www.KellyleeEvans.com

Photos

Bio

"One of the '5 Must See Concerts of the Summer'" - Avril Benoit, CBC Radio (July 2006)
2009 Canadian Smooth Jazz Award Nominee
2007 Canadian Smooth Jazz Award Winner
2007 Gemini Nominee
2007 Juno Nominee
2006 Toronto Independent Music Awards Nominee

KELLYLEE EVANS BIO

Ottawa singer-songwriter Kellylee Evans is entering the next phase of her music career with her sophomore album, Good Girl.

The alt.-soul pop recording follows her 2006 critically acclaimed urban-jazz debut, Fight or Flight, which helped garner the Toronto native Juno and Gemini award nominations in 2007 and a win for best female artist at the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards.

Good Girl was written and produced by Kellylee at Audio Valley Recording Studio in Perth, Ontario, with the help of engineer and co-producer Steve Foley and her trusty touring band since 2005.

“With my last CD, which I did back in 2004, I felt that I didn’t get a chance to get a lot of my ideas out. I wanted that opportunity this time to see where the songs would go on my own,” she says. “The song ‘Good Girl’ is about not wanting to live up to anybody else’s expectations. The whole album is about being true to yourself and the idea of trying to please everybody around you. It’s just this desire to not be anybody’s good girl.”

From the reflective “Questioning My Path” about searching for one’s identity to the aforementioned inspirational groove “Good Girl,” and playful eye-opener “Tonight” about not wanting to fall in love with someone, many of the new songs deal with obsession of one kind or another and an ever-evolving stance on things big and small.

“If I just look at simple things, like a month ago I didn’t wear make up and now I do everyday. A few years ago I was told I was allergic to fragrances and so I didn’t use anything that was scented and now, everywhere I go, I’m looking for a perfect scent to wear,” she chuckles. “And there are still people in my life who I haven’t seen in a while who are like, ‘Oh Kellylee, you’re eating meat. You were the biggest vegan!’”

As for her trademark bald pate, she says, “I’m pretty sure that’s going to stay for a while, but I have no plans.”

Kellylee just lets her career unfold, never knowing where it might lead. Her first batch of original songs — which ended up on Fight or Flight — was more jazz oriented simply because she was singing standards at the time with jazz musicians.

“When I started writing my own stuff, I was always thinking that it wasn’t jazz, but everybody thought it was, and when I looked for musicians to make Fight or Flight, everybody that I knew was in the jazz world, so it sounded like jazz,” Kellylee explains. She even took second place in the prestigious Thelonius Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, whose judges included Quincy Jones and Al Jarreau.

But Good Girl is different.

While “Questioning My Path” has a jazzy-pop vibe she can’t escape, “Tonight” is as poppy as she gets and “Is It Love” and “Lost” have a reggae/dub feel that’s entrenched in her culture. “It’s a very vibey album,” she says. “It’s more atmospheric than Fight or Flight.”

“Good Girl” sums up the album more than any of the other songs, but “Questioning My Path” does come close. “It’s about constantly trying to figure out the right way to go and who I should be and who I should listen to and realizing that I should just listen to myself,” she concludes.

Good Girl is just that — Kellylee Evans listening to herself, and now it is yours to listen to.

QUOTES from Promoters/Presenters

"Kellylee is totally a star. She is going to touch many
hearts with her voice and her lyrics for a very, very long time. I look forward to watching her become a force."

Christian McBride
Bassist (Sting, Diana Krall, Pat Metheny)
Artistic Director, Jazz Aspen Snowmass Academy

"Kellylee is a real original...she dazzled an audience in Aspen accustomed to hearing stars year in and year out. Her combination of a rich voice and soulful delivery and backing from a super band with intelligent arrangements made for a wonderful evening that kept the audience spellbound. A truly memorable debut!"

Jim Horowitz, Executive Director
Jazz Aspen Snowmass

"Kellylee Evans is one of the most unique vocalists I have heard. She has it all together: an exceptional singer, excellent composer, great stage presence, good looks and the ability to move her audience. She also knows how to select superior musicians to accompany her. Outstanding!"

Jacques Emond, Programming Director
Ottawa International Jazz Festival

"It's always a great treat to have Kellylee and her band to Lula Lounge. They are truly professional musicians who put the quality of the show above all other concerns. Through her compelling lyrics and soulful delivery Kellylee builds a rapport with the audience that makes everyone wish the performance would never end."

Tracy Jenkins, General Manager
Lula Lounge

"I was mesmerized