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State of Bliss (A profile of Karin Plato)

The Jazz Report, summer 2004

Interview with Kris King

Jazz vocalist, musician, songwriter and arranger Karin Plato grew up in the small farming community of Alsask, Saskatchewan. Plato's passion for music began with childhood piano lessons which she maintained throughout high school, eventually going on to earn a Bachelor of Music Degree in piano and voice from the University of Saskatchewan before moving to Vancouver in 1985 to study jazz and arranging at Capilano College.

Plato discovered her voice and talents for songwriting while helping her father in the wheat fields of their farm. "When I was 16 or 17 years old, I would help my dad with the farm work. I was given the secondary tractor without the cab and without headphones or music. It turned out this was a good thing because during those hours on the tractor when I was trying to harrow straight lines and curve the corners properly, I sang to myself and began composing songs, melodies and lyrics which I would later work out at the piano. It's a good thing my dad didn't give me the tractor with radio and headphones because then I wouldn't have found out that I could write songs."

After spending her formative years studying classical music and theory. Plato was turned on to jazz at university. "Jazz, which is now my greatest passion came to me later in life. When I was 18, and first going to university in Saskatoon, a roommate played me a couple of jazz records. I know one of them was a Pat Metheny record and I can't remember the second one that she chose. I do know that I didn't really like it much at the time. I remember thinking that the musicians didn't appear to be listening to each other. Everyone was playing at once and it seemed as though they were just playing whatever they wanted to play without it connecting to anything. it was such a free-for-all. Where was the melody?"

"Over time, I went with friends to Saskatoon's jazz club (The Bassment) and listened to jazz ensembles at university. Not until much later when I moved to Vancouver in 1985 and was exposed to jazz more extensively did I begin to truly enjoy the improvisational element of the music. I began to listen to jazz vocalists and to go and see instrumental groups in clubs."

"It still wasn't for several years that I realized how much I truly loved jazz music. It wasn't until my first opportunity to study with Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton in Banff Centre for the Arts did I truly get the jazz bug for life. That was 1996, so it took a long time for it to become the passion that it is today."

Plato has five CDs to her credit. Her debut Pastiche in 1996 blends musical styles and genres, while the most recent State of Bliss, released in 2003, showcases three different rhythm sections. Plato's sensibilities in combining original songs with uniquely arranged standards makes each CD an enjoyable journey that highlights the multiple talents for which she has earned numerous accolades and nominations including a Juno nomination in 2000 for her sophomore CD There's Beauty In The Rain, followed by National Jazz Award nominations for Canadian Jazz Vocalist of The Year in 2003 and 2004.

"One of my favorite things is finding a standard that I have not heard before. Once in awhile, I will not have a heard a particular rendition of a particular tune and I can then have a completely open mind when trying a song for the first time. This is how it was for me with Cast Your Fate To The Wind for example. "

"Perhaps it is a good things that I came to jazz later in life because I am still discovering recordings that many other people have heard already. A song such as (Let's Take) An Old Fashioned Walk was one that I had never heard recorded before (although now I have heard other versions). I like reading the words of the song and then playing the music at the piano and developing it from there; deciding whether it might be a ballad, a waltz, a fast swing tune, etc."

"Sometimes it is fun to take a song and try a completely different tempo or groove.  This happened to me with Pennies From Heaven.  I had always heard it played as a swing tune. I thought the beautiful lyric suggested a ballad-like approach where every word could have a deeper meaning and where the plaintive melody would have a chance to take shape more carefully it it were taken at a slow tempo."

State Of Bliss features duets with fellow Vancouver singer Denzal Sinclaire on a truly beautiful rendition of Irving Berlin's (Let's Take) An Old Fashioned Walk, and I Hear Music. "I loved singing with the ever calm, cool and collected Denzal Sinclaire. He is the absolute opposite of me. I am rarely calm or otherwise cool and collected. I love Denzal's beautiful voice as much as I love his gentle personality. Standing on the same stage with him makes you feel wonderful. It's as though his energy envelopes you and makes you feel safe and in control."

Plato is spending her time composing new songs and learning new standards while continuing to improve her musicianship more before making another recording. "I need to develop my skills as an improvising artist and I look forward to working with other jazz musicians in Canada. While I enjoy playing with some really great musicians in Vancouver, there are musicians in Toronto and Seattle and other places that I look forward to singing and recording with as well. That's part of the thrill of jazz for me, making music with many different musicians. Everyone brings something different to the table, musically speaking, and thereby bring something different out of you as well."

Plato is currently setting up a tour for the fall and another in the spring of 2005.

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