Betty Ann Bryanton Serves Up a Little Sweet and Smooth Jazz with Your Monday Night Coffee

All photos by Andre Gagne.

West end Monday nights have never been smoother (or sweeter) than when Betty Ann Bryanton serves up a little jazz with your “Black Coffee” and cookies at the Nestle Toll House Café.  The Prince Edward Islander, now Ottawa resident, doubles as an IT Architect when not singing velvety renditions of the standards. Although the IT job may be her current daily gig, she’s been singing nearly all her life.

“I grew up in a small town of about 1,500 people,” says Bryanton of her PEI Youth. “My family was involved in pretty well all aspects of church life, so at age seven, when you’re old enough to read, I joined the Junior Choir. At that point, I had more fun making paper airplanes out of my music than singing it, but eventually I settled down and started singing solos in church.”

Following her other career in business took her away from the East Coast snow storms and tobogganing off rooftops to land her in Ottawa back in 1997. It only took her about six months before the songs inside her needed to break out.

“It was May and I was at the Great Glebe Garage Sale when I heard voices singing beautiful music. I followed the sound and found the Ottawa Choral Society, whom I soon joined. That was my start here,” she says, also paying thanks to Donna Klimoska, who gave her classical voice lessons. It didn’t take her long to start getting established as a new, fresh voice on the local scene.“I performed in musical arts clubs, recitals, and music festivals. I also got involved in the local musical theatre community, singing in shows with Orpheus, Savoy, and the Tara Players.”

With the music of Debussy, Fauré and Brahms to feast upon, Bryanton set her sights on Jazz until relatively late. Perhaps it was fate that a fellow singer in the OCS took a maternity leave and freed up a spot for a vocalist in a local jazz quartet. Bryanton, though admitting she knew nothing about jazz, was up for the challenge.

“When I went to the first rehearsal with the band, I realized I knew many of the jazz standards already,” she says, also recalling the arduous task of having to transition her classical vocals into the jazz style. “Pretty well all the classical songs I sang were in a foreign language – French, Italian, German, Czech even – so it was appealing to me to be able to sing songs that people could understand and relate to from their past in some way. I was thrilled with singing with a live band, hearing these wonderful melodies come to life, and the idea of being able to tell your own story with each song.”

Betty Ann-2wJazz even has a way of finding itself inside her usual everyday work. One might wonder how designing IT systems and jazz combine. but for Bryanton the connection isn’t that much of a reach.

“I read and write a lot of large documents, and attend a lot of meetings, but mainly from a support / expertise role. It requires collaborating with a lot of different people and learning new things – not unlike jazz!”

The support of her husband as she balances both careers, she says, makes all the difference. He often takes care of household duties, meals and usual daily stresses, allowing her more time for rehearsing her music and her gigs around town. Her most memorable performances have been singing the national anthem with Councillor David Chernushenko and the Mayor to open the City of Ottawa’s May meeting, crooning along  with Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas Latin quartet and belting it out with big bands like Davina Pearl’s Georgian House Orchestra where, to Bryanton, the sound of all that instrumentation really makes the music come alive.

Catch her tonight at the Nestle Toll House (111 Richmond Road) from 7-9 p.m. where her guest will be last year’s Mike Tremblay Award recipient Jacob Clarke on guitar.

“Jazz used to be in coffee shops years ago and now it is coming back — which is great for musicians because it’s a lovely, intimate, quiet space to perform to a listening audience,” says Byranton, who has come to enjoy dedicating the standard “Black Coffee” to the shop.

You can enjoy one yourself, and even if you don’t add a little sugar to your java, songs like “Willow Weep For Me”, “Dindi” and “Georgia on my Mind”, as sung by Byranton, are sure to sweeten your night nevertheless.