Singer, Songwriter, pianist, bandleader, educator
Once upon a time, a long time ago, a little girl wanted to take piano lessons. She felt she needed to do everything her older sister did, and her sister was smart, fast and talented — great at all kinds of things. The teacher said the girl was too young and her hands too small. She was nothing if not determined, and persuaded her mother to go back to the teacher... beg if necessary... and somehow convince her to take her on as a student. The girl had ‘something', I suppose, because a few years later this same teacher was known to say “If I could afford to, I would teach Simone for free”. Innate musicality seemed to be evident at a very early age.
Possessing mature technical and interpretive abilities, I expanded my musical horizons to include additional instruments, like the French Horn. “Good news!”, I said one day in Grade 5, lugging a giant black case into the front hall (well, giant in the hands of a small-for-her-age Simone), “I made the school band and look what I get to play!”. Shy and reluctant to sing for people until well into my teens, pre-adolescent Simone would (reluctantly) perform at the piano often - recitals, impromptu command performances by family members, teachers, friends, festival competitions (Piano & French Horn). I was selected for the All City Band after less than a year of playing the horn and soon began taking private lessons with Rick Cohen - a member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra - in addition to weekly piano lessons. Before graduating high school, I had received an array of opportunities to perform and direct: as the 'go-to' accompanist for all my high school's music teachers and theatre organizers (word travels fast in communities, and of course, I worked for free at the time), piano competitions (frequently placing Top 3 and often youngest in my groups), concert & stage bands, musical theatre (leading the pit band), accompanist for choirs and instrumental Royal Conservatory exams (my first paying gig!), and as Musical Director in musical theatre during summer breaks.
Auditioning for York University's music program was the scariest thing I ever did. I had never been inside a University building before, and thought “this place is for serious musicians…stars even…am I good enough to do this?” The hallway where the audition room was situated triggered sensory memories of the anxiety and dread I experienced going for piano examinations at The Royal Conservatory of Music. I kept thinking "what if I don't get in?", and then, "what if I DO get in?".
My 4 years at York were a life-changing experience. My academic peers were super-talents, and went on to become Juno award-winners, CBC Radio hosts, internationally-acclaimed touring musicians, highly-regarded players, composers, producers, thinkers and teachers. My Professors were some of the very best in their field. In first year all I knew was western classical piano and theory, but I became inspired by all that the University had to offer so I challenged myself to learn as much as I possibly could about all music. I considered myself a decent interpreter of others’ compositions, but had never sought to understand what original and new music could live inside me. I dove into an intensive study of piano improvisation in contemporary styles, with internationally-acclaimed improvisor, Casey Sokol. Upon reflection, I was honing what turned out to be the very best life skill -- learning to grow comfortable being uncomfortable. Professor Sokol’s mastery of the piano, coupled with an utterly unique approach to musical innovation, expression, freedom and creativity, shaped the way I make music, the way I work and relate to strengths and weakness — my own, and those of others. Embracing his teachings changed my life and made me a better all-round musician.
I further studied composition, Indian solkattu, world music, and did performances-a-plenty, ultimately graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts - Music (Honours, Piano Performance).
While at York one day, I happened by a performance by the University's A Cappella Jazz Choir. They were students just like me, making the most stunning harmonies. They made my ears ‘dance’, I was profoundly moved, and I made a mental note to muster the courage to audition for it next season. I needed to sing with them. As a member of and soloist in the Choir (aptly named “Wibijazz’n’”) for 3 years after, the joy of singing caused me to re-focus, hone my vocal chops even further, and begin a lifelong path as a performing professional singer.
After singing standards on the Toronto Jazz circuit for many years, with firm resolve I made my songwriting debut, and released my first album in 2018 called “SETTLING UP” which features all original works and Juno-award winning instrumentalists. "Settling Up" exploded onto the scene at #1 on the iTunes Canada Jazz Chart to wide-acclaim, extensive radio airplay, interviews and reviews like this one…
“…a pop of delicious and sultry goodness in an otherwise dull and dreary day... each piece offering a new stylistic experience that perfectly showcases her unique timbre and exceptionally varied musical background... with an intriguing touch of spunk, she has succeeded in creating a captivating modern yet timeless quality within her music… will delight jazz aficionados and newcomers alike.” — Kati Killaspea (THE WHOLENOTE MAGAZINE)
Known for soulful takes on life and love, when I sing I am reminded of my earliest obsessions with singers such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, & Joni Mitchell, but it is in Jazz that I feel at home. My Dad's jazz records were always echoing through the family home, accompanied by detailed stories about the musicians. He was quite a storyteller. Jazz Voices -- specifically Jazz Women -- became of particular interest and I lovingly immersed myself in the smallest details of my favourites: Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, Nina Simone...hard to keep this list short.
My musical experiences are vast and varied. They are the current beneath a fresh approach to singing & writing jazz.
I am told I exude music -- with a deep connection to melody, harmony and words, technique that serves the lyrics not the ego, maturity in feeling & restraint, and a healthy dash of spunk that keeps audiences hanging on every word..delicately wrapped in velvet and poetic charm.
A 2nd album is in the works...which should be recorded and released in 2023.
I perform and I teach…and I always will…because sharing my passion for music is sharing the best parts of myself.
You'll find me all over the GTA and beyond sharing stages with some of the best and most inspiring musicians in the country, like Adrean Farrugia (piano), Ross MacIntyre (bass), Geoff Hlibka (guitar), Chris Adriaanse (bass), Max Senitt (drums), Mike Freedman (guitar)... and the list goes on.
Music will meet you where you are, and take you further than you can imagine.
There's me in a nutshell. (Thanks for reading this!)