Mira Choquette Brings the Cool

When jazz singer Mira Choquette opens her mouth and lets out a sweet, velvety melody, time slows down just a little bit.

Last Friday, Choquette graced Ottawa’s Alpha Art Gallery with an quiet, intimate performance. The venue was alit with candles, the walls decorated with art, the music complemented with wine and cheese. Choquette performed selections off her debut album, Something Cool, which was released back in 2015.

The arrangements were minimalist and stripped-back, with her only backing instrumentation coming in the form of Montreal guitarist, Adam Goulet. Goulet’s Spanish-classical guitar stylings added an extra dimension to Choquette’s traditional jazz, a collision of two talented artists drawing inspiration from two traditions to create a distinct, different sound.

While the cover art and title for Choquette’s debut album suggests something along the lines of John Coltrane’s smooth trumpet, it is in reality an exercise in slow, exceptionally expressive vocal jazz. Something Cool’s selections vary from francophone chansons, such as such as chanteuse Edith Piaf’s “Adieu Mon Coeur,” to American standards, such as Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” to forgotten treasures, like June Christie’s swanky “Something Cool.” It’s a celebration of jazz’s century-long history, and Choquette makes this balancing act seem effortless, as the best of vocal jazz should sound.

Choquette hails from Montreal, and has seen her career blossom in the city over the past two decades. She recalls first singing as a child, watching The Wizard of Oz and singing along with “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” trying to imitate Judy Garland’s honey-sweet notes and vocal flutters. As she became more serious about jazz singing, she started digging deeper into the genre’s history. She became indebted to the greats of the forties and fifties: Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter.

Over time, she has become a versatile figure in the Montreal music community. She has been a part of the Claremont Standards Band for well over a decade, and has contributed vocals to its three conceptual albums that weave stories out of some of jazz’s greatest numbers. Choquette has also crossed over into other genres, including R&B with the United Tribulation Choir, and blues rock with the Rocket Alarms. Most notably, Choquette lent her voice to indie rocker Patrick Watson’s 2001 debut collection Waterproof9, a conceptual album in which each track is inspired by and meant to accompany a photograph in Montreal artist Brigette Henry’s photography collection, Waterproof. Choquette now performs weekly at Montreal’s Honey Martin jazz club, duetting with pianist Andres Vial.

Having developed her talent for nearly her entire life, Choquette’s performance at the Alpha Art Gallery was unforgettable, full of romanticism and old, storied songs. It served as the perfect reminder as to why jazz isn’t dead, but has merely found a home among a group of skilled, passionate artists who are devoted to carrying the torch of the genre’s spirit.