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Melissa Stylianou's "Silent Movie"
Melissa Stylianou's "Silent Movie"

Jazz singer returns to her Canadian roots

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Melissa Stylianou. a New York-based jazz singer with Ontario roots has been garnering lots of international praise since her latest CD, "Silent Movie" was released in April, and she's celebrating with a short tour of her native country. Joel Hurd tells us more.

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Stylianou was able to record her 4th album with the help of 152 financial supporters through Kickstarter.com. It earned four-and-a-half stars in Downbeat magazine, and she was ninth in the female vocalist “rising star” category in Downbeat’s annual critics poll. Post release, Stylianou has had several very successful gigs at some of Toronto and New York’s most well-known clubs. She also performed in Chile, and now she is expecting her first child.

However, being a jazz singer wasn’t her first artistic pursuit. She began her acting and singing education at Oakridge Secondary School in London, Ontario, under the direction of her drama teacher, Art Fidler. She says Fidler, ”really kind of set me off on the path of finding myself as a performer.” She was drawn toward theatre specifically, and that’s what led her to spend three years at Ryerson University’s Theatre School.

Becoming a jazz singer sort of happened by accident, said Stylianou. In the late nineties while at Ryerson, friends of her friends needed a jazz singer. "My first experience was so good that I just kept going back for more.”

“It didn’t feel like too much of a stretch” going from actress to jazz singer, said Stylianou. She had a lot of support all around her, but in the first couple of years didn’t really know how little she actual knew. “I was playing, and having a great time. And the realization that there was really a lot that I was sort of missing in terms of information, that I would have received if I had gone to school to study jazz, came a little later.”

She learned a lot on the job, and the “old-fashioned way”--through mentorship. Stylianou still tries to learn as much as she can about jazz, because she came at it from a different direction than most of her peers.

Stylianou moved to New York in November 2005, because she wanted to “immerse” herself in New York jazz scenes, and to give herself a period of study. She felt she was at a peek in Canada, as she had played at many top jazz clubs across the nation. What helped her make her decision to move was going to the Banff jazz workshop the two previous years, where she met a lot of international musicians, many from New York.

New York was the place to further her career. She could learn more, and be around people who were doing what she needed to hear. During what was originally supposed to be an eight-month study funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, led Stylianou to see that New York was where she wanted to stay. She “started putting down roots and hooking up with wonderful musicians, and that was almost 7 years ago.” She says New York is very special, but she also likes going back to Toronto and playing with her friends there.

Stylianou has many partners with her new album “crowd-funded” at Kickstarter. Though it is probably not for everybody, it was a natural fit for her. “It’s just really been very, very powerful, and gone far beyond actually funding the record-- helping me reconnect with these people that are going to be very important for the rest of my career, I hope.”

She funded her last three records independently, and being a fairly newly married woman, she said she needed to be a little more responsible with this project.

Stylianou’s “mini” Canadian tour has her in Kingston this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Chalmers United Church, 212 Barrie St. Kingston based singer, Melissa Hamilton, will open the show. For more information visit Stylianou’s website or call (613) 533-2558.

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