Janet Siedel: 28 May 1955 – 8 August 2017
Janet Siedel – By John Shand
The Australian vocalist/pianist Janet Seidel has died. She recorded 18 albums in Australia, coving stylistic ground from easy listening to lounge, cabaret and jazz. Many were also successful and acclaimed overseas, including in Japan, UK, Taiwan and Singapore. The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD 2006 (UK) described her as “Australia’s first lady of jazz singing”. She was also adored by cabaret aficionados, including in New York’s Cabaret Hotline, and she was compared with Britain’s exceptional Barb Jungr.
Janet performed jazz-oriented material from the Great American Songbook from her high school and university days in South Australia in the 1970s. Her brother, David worked as bassist and guitarist with a great variety of local and world renowned artists in his own right before forming Janet’s first trio with Adelaide’s legendary drummer Billy Ross in the early 1980s. They subsequently worked with some great Australian jazz musicians, her early 1990s CDs featuring such exceptional collaborators as Tom Baker, Ian Date, Paul Williams, Bobby Gebert, Kevin Hunt and Col Nolan.
While enjoying a variety of line-ups, Janet mostly toured with her trio, completed by the brilliant guitarist Chuck Morgan and David on double bass. Together they launched her first forays into cabaret in 2000 with a tribute show (and CD) to Doris Day called Doris and Me, which played in countless venues around Australia, while the album was a finalist in the ARIA Awards. Other cabaret shows and albums included Delovely (a selection of Cole Porter songs recorded live at Sydney’s Woodfire Cabaret).
Several of her albums were nominated for awards, and all were well reviewed around the world. Janet’s groups toured Australia several times and played at the country’s most important jazz festivals. She also toured to the UK, USA, Europe, the Middle East and many South East Asian countries. Japan was the scene of particular success, with 12 of her albums being released there and Janet completing many national tours there this century. She was consistently named in the top 10 jazz vocalists in Japan’s jazz polls, and on two occasions her trio toured Japan for Fujitsu Jazz Elite, sharing the bill with jazz diva Helen Merrill and the George Mraz Quartet, and again with Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin, the Idea of North and Roberta Gamberini. These prestigious tours included major concerts in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, plus several jazz club engagements all over Japan.
On Moon Of Manakoora Janet’s soft, sensuous vocals were framed by Chuck Morgan’s superlative work on ukulele as well as guitar. The CD shot to No. 1 on the jazz vocal charts in Japan for three months in 2005, while in Australia it won the Bell Award for Best Jazz Vocal CD of 2006 at the National Jazz Awards in Melbourne.
The last album, Far Away Places (2013) was recorded in minimalist fashion, with some Australian jazz greats adding atmospheric touches, resulting in a quite unusual and distinguished audiophile sound. Following the album’s release in Japan the trio toured there for two weeks, and the album reached No 1 on Amazon jazz vocals chart.
Janet’s other favoured format was doing luxurious concerts with orchestras, such as the Sydney Symphony, Adelaide Symphony and Canberra Pops Orchestra.
Much of 2011-2012 was spent living the UK, touring there as well as Europe, including sell-out shows at such well-known venues as Ronnie Scott’s. Back in Australia several seasons in Melbourne ensued at Melbourne Recital Centre and Hamer Hall, including her Blossom Dearie tribute Dear Blossom, and her new Johnny Mercer cabaret show That Old Black Magic.
US writer David Nathan made a fitting summary on All About Jazz: “With her intimate style, great feel for the lyrics of songs she sings, Seidel is one of those vocalists who is as much a story teller as she is a singer. The way she goes about handling the music comes off as a fortuitous blend of Blossom Dearie and Doris Day with an occasional nod to Julie London, although she is somewhat jazzier than the latter two. Like Diana Krall, she doubles on piano. Seidel has an exquisite, gentle, and agile voice and honours each tune she sings, irrespective of whether it’s a classic standard, pop, or novelty song.”
We are sad beyond measure, to announce that Janet passed away in her sleep yesterday with family by her side.
She had bounced back from physically demanding treatment following a shock diagnosis late in 2016, swimming daily and still performing at a high standard until only very recently, when her condition was declared terminal.
A private family funeral will be held. Then later in the month a special memorial tribute will be held in Sydney.