Finding catharsis through song and drag
Jazz singer, music teacher, drag queen and viral video creator Georgie Darvidis doesn't take herself seriously. We do
When she talks about her projects, Georgie Darvidis sprinkles her words with frequent, brief bursts of laughter. Which is odd, given that she talks about singing some of the saddest songs she knows, in a project aptly called Inconsolable. That's her way of saying that she tries not to take herself too seriously, but don't be deceived by her attitude: she's definitely one to watch.
An extremely talented musician, Georgie has made a name for herself as a jazz vocalist, mostly performing with swinging vocal trio The Furbelows, but also with a whole series of other bands. She also writes music of her own, outside the jazz spectrum, which she describes as 'experimental electronic-acoustic audio collage'. But describing her art is not her strong point.
"When I think to myself 'what do I do', I say 'I'm an artist and a lecturer'; when I introduce myself, I say 'I'm a vocalist, a composer and a teacher' and then it gets confusing, because I have to explain what I mean and I usually just run away", she laughs.
One thing she doesn't run away from is a chance to be onstage and sing her stories, which she will do next Saturday 15 October, at one of Melbourne's most beautiful, intimate venues, Paris Cat Jazz Club. One tricky thing. She will perform twice, with two different bands, first playing with her Inconsolable Quartet and then with the Furbelows, one of the most laid-back, up-tempo live acts in Melbourne, sharing the stage with Kelsey James and Miriam Crellin.
Their performances are a delight, as their intricate vocal harmonies are presented in a low-key, fun way.
"This is all we think about, what we do every day, for a living. We're writing harmonies, and working as a tiny little vocal trio, that's what we love to do. It doesn't feel like work, it's just fun," she says. The two gigs will take place on different stages of the club and they could not be more different in mood.
"With Inconsolable, we just play really, really sad, melancholy music. [Guitarist] John Delaney and I have been friends for a couple of years and we both just really love tear-jerkers. So we made a band, which is in its infancy at the moment; we're just getting really exciting about different repertoire and working slowly, gaining momentum, performance-wise. A lot of the time when people sing things like this, it's done in a bit of a careless way and it is sung, it is not really performed, it is sung, because these songs usually have really big, epic melodies and it is a little insensitive. Tragedy doesn't have to be an outward gesture, it can be a really introverted conversation, and having the players in the band supporting that, it can be really cathartic to perform.
"As a singer, performing tragedy is a very personal thing to have to call on in front of people and I think that, if done in sincerity, it can be really intimate."
As for how she will manage to shift mood and head upstairs to sing with the uplifting Furbelows, "it's scarily easy", she laughs. "It's all from joy, anyway, even the sad singing, so it's not that hard."
What may be harder is the next task she has ahead, featuring in the new project of the Chamber Made Opera, Permission to Speak, to be performed at the Arts House, in North Melbourne from 23 to 27 November. Composed by Kate Neal and directed by Tamara Saulwick, this original new opera explores the dynamic relationship of parent, featuring Georgie, along with three of the most adventurous vocalists in Melbourne − Gian Slater, Josh Kyle and Edward Fairlie.
"At the moment we're just trying to learn all the notes," she says, offering a glimpse of the creative process. "It's all very abstract and amazing. A lot of the development was us putting headphones on and listening to audio grabs from interviews and reciting them immediately after. Much of the show will be of us speaking alongside audio clips. A lot of the subject of the interviews were about conversations with parents or things you've always wanted to discuss with your parents but you couldn't or didn't feel safe, or things like that. It's pretty intimate subject matter. It's extremely personal."
Her own family background comes up a couple of times during our discussion. First, when she remembers her Greek grandfather and his influence on her work.
"My pappou sings at the Greek church and also traditional Greek songs and for my second year recital at the Victorian College of the Arts, I wrote a piece based on those forms and that style of singing. It is an influence that definitely works its way into my free vocal improvising, and also I love working with odd time signatures which are prominent in Greek dance music."
The other family memory that comes up is of herself as a child, following her mother on tour. "My mom is a singer and actress and she used to do pantomime. I'd stay in her dressing room and put on all the makeup and the big skirts," she remembers, explaining how this fascination evolved into her love for drag show.
"I've always been obsessed with drag queens, since I was really, really young and I was frustrated that I couldn't do it because I'm a girl, and then I said 'that's messed up. I can't do something because I'm a girl? That doesn't sound like me', so I did it anyway." That's how Edie Centric was born. Her lip-synching alter-ego, featuring in a series of hilarious videos (that can be found online).
"So, yes, traditionally, a drag queen is a man dressed as a woman, but we live in an age where you can be whatever you want. Drag doesn't have to be female impersonation, it is about transformation, you can transform into anything. It's so much fun, I highly recommend anyone to give it a go," she says.
Fun is a word that doesn't even come close to describe her recent viral videos Bjork at Wjork, in which she impersonates pop genius Bjork taking jobs as a barista and a real estate agent.
"I hope if she ever sees it she won't be offended by it because I'd like to be her best friend one day," she laughs.
Add to this a series of visual art projects and you get a picture of an artist who is nothing like what is normally perceived as a traditional jazz singer.
"Everyone in the jazz scene at the moment is realising that you can kind of do whatever you want," she says. "There is this prestige about jazz music where everything is very serious, but they realise that it is not 'disrespectful to the craft' to wear a wig onstage or do country tunes, or whatever you loved as a kid. If it's done with the same passion, it is okay to incorporate it in an improvised context, and people won't crucify you for it. So there are a lot of exciting projects emerging at the moment."
In the end, it is all about the cathartic function of performance. "If I'm watching someone being very true on stage, if they make themselves vulnerable, then I'm more likely to listen and to have an experience, although they're on a stage with a microphone, which automatically gives them authority," she says, and her analysis is a great reminder of her day job as a teacher at the Australian Institute of Music.
"I love being a teacher, I adore it. Two days a week I get to think about music and talk about music and get paid for it − and judge people, which is also really fun," she laughs.
"A music teacher has a big responsibility to challenge students. I have a great time doing that." Which takes us back to the concept of authority. "You have to have a certain authority as a vocalist on stage to get people to trust you, to trust the weird decisions you're making sound-wise. You're saying: 'Trust me; come with me, right now, it's going to be a bit confusing but it's going to be fun'. When that authority is kind of cemented, you can break it down and be more vulnerable and put yourself on the line in front of these people who now trust you."
Why should anyone trust her with this kind of emotional journey? "I don't know, but I guess it's like falling in love, it's the same thing," she says. That shouldn't be too hard.
* Inconsolable will play at the Paris Cat Jazz Club (6 Goldie Place, Melbourne) on Saturday 15 October at 7.00 pm. For more information and tickets, visit www.rollerdigital.com/pariscat/#/event/1039/81390/20161015
* The Furbelows will play at the Paris Cat Jazz Club (6 Goldie Place, Melbourne) on Saturday 15 October at 9.30pm. For more information and tickets, visit www.rollerdigital.com/pariscat/#/event/1039/81421/20161015
* Permission to Speak by the Chamber Made Orchestra will be performed at the Arts House from 23 to 27 November. For more information and tickets, visit www.chambermadeopera.com/works/permission-to-speak/
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