About Renée

Renée Yoxon is a twenty-something jazz vocalist, composer, and lyricist from Canada's capital. Her second album, Here We Go Again, will be available December 2012.

there’s no secret to improvising (or what I took away from Ingrid Jensen’s masterclass)

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Yesterday Ingrid Jensen came to McGill and gave a masterclass. I’ll admit, I’m often wary when it comes to masterclasses run my horn players. I know how amazing Ingrid Jensen is but I didn’t know if what she had to say about playing would resonate with a singer.

I definitely had no reason to be wary.

She didn’t say in so many words that there is no secret to improvising but I left the class with a whole new lease on practicing. We played a tune by Kenny Wheeler called Heyoke:

Someone asked how to start learning to improvise on a tune like this one. Ingrid said to find the thread of consistency, the strongest modal choice, and start weaving lines around that. But what really hit home with me was when she said “If you hadn’t worked on your Lydian going up in major thirds – you’re screwed!”

And that’s when it dawned on me that I will never magically unlock something in my brain and instantly become a good improvisor. What Ingrid said really said to me that all music is made up of discreet sonic cells and you just have to work through whichever ones are important to you. If that is ii-V-I then you go sit with ii-V-I for a week. If that is Lydian scales ascending in major thirds, then sit with that for a week.

After her class I went home and I put on a Lydian dominant drone and I did what she calls “sacred interval study.” I just sat with all the intervals over the drone and felt what each one felt like. Then I started combining them into patterns and shapes. At the end of the session I wasn’t a much better improvisor but I had one more sonic cell in my bag.

Somehow this actually makes me a lot more excited about practice. I feel uplifted and grounded at the same time.

Can’t get to Montreal tonight? Catch the concert live stream!

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Tonight marks the beginning of my three-city mini-tour! Hooray! If you live in Montreal you should definitely join me, Chad Linsley, and Joel Kerr at Upstairs Jazz Club. If you live in Ottawa or Toronto you should definitely come to our shows at the Tiny House Mansion or Musideum.

If you can’t make it to any of these places then fear not! You are in luck! Tonight’s concert will be live streamed at upstairsjazz.com. Just tune in at 8:30pm, 10:15pm, and 12am to catch all the action.

See you tonight!

lovely lyrics: my ship

My ship has sails that are made of silk
The decks are trimmed with gold
And of jam and spice there’s a paradise
In the hold

My ship’s aglow with a million pearls
And rubies fill each bin
The sun sits high in a sapphire sky
When my ship comes in

I can wait the years ’til it appears
One fine day one spring
But the pearls and such they won’t mean much
If there’s missing just one thing

I do not care if that day arrives
That dream need never be
If the ship I sing doesn’t also bring
My one true love to me

- lyrics by Ira Gershwin, music by Kurt Weill, from Lady In The Dark (1941)

upcoming concerts: montreal // ottawa // toronto

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Hooray! I’m happy to announce three amazing concert dates in three amazing cities. I’ll be playing with Chad Linsley in Montreal on September 26th, Ottawa on October 4th, and Toronto on October 11th. Full details can be found on my concerts page.

For the last few months Chad and I have been working on music that reflects on childhood. We collected tunes from film adaptations of children’s stories and songs about magic, dreaming, and the urge to run away. The music is imaginative, intimate, vulnerable, carefree, questioning, and melancholy. I’m so excited to share this project with you.

Here is a recording of Chad and I playing Little Prince, the title theme from the musical adaptation of the book Let Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.


All three venues have limited seating so please reserve your seat early. If you have any questions about any of these dates please leave them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you right away.

highlights: first week of school

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I’m a student! I kind of can’t believe it. I spent the whole first day of classes floating around the halls of the Schulich School of Music completely flabbergasted by my surroundings and my life. I have a very vivid memory of myself from two years ago saying “Fall of 2014 is when I’m going to be at McGill. That is the plan.” and now I have executed the plan and all that’s left is three years of follow through.

The thing is, I didn’t really know what that follow through was going to look like until now. I’ll be taking three or four classes per semester, things like Jazz Materials, Ear Training, Jazz History, Arranging; I’ll be in ensembles, mostly classical choir; and I’ll have a jazz combo every semester. I’m happy to inform you that all these combos and ensembles will have regular performances that will be open to the public – very exciting!

I had my first private lesson with Ranee Lee which was very illuminating. She gave me that binder full of stuff you see in the photo above. So much to work through! It’s great.

And as if I didn’t have enough newness in my life, I started working at a music school in the West Island on Saturdays. I’m teaching all ages and I get my own little room with a piano, mirror, and metronome! The photos below were pulled from my instagram. On the left is me getting ready to teach and on the right is the jam session meet and greet that happened at McGill on Wednesday.

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I’m happy to be reviving my highlights column. I won’t be posting every week, instead I’ll likely post whenever I have highlights to share.

reminder to unwind

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Yesterday was kind of a stressful day. I had to find and photocopy every performance and student contract I’ve collected over the last five years to prove my self-employment on my student loan application. They also need my university transcript, my high school transcript, my notices of assessment from the last five years, and a notarized statement saying I am self-employed.

It’s like they don’t believe me or something…

I was getting all wound up and worried that my application would never be accepted… and then the light from the fading sun outside my window made everything soft and beautiful and my mind became softer with it.

The image I captured during this moment is my reminder to soften and unwind when things start to feel like a hopeless tangled web. Classes start in two weeks so this reminder is a timely one for me.

thoughts and fears about starting school and moving forward

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I got my McGill student ID card the other day. Now that I have something to hold in my hand it feels real. I’m really going to school less than four weeks. I’m really going to be commuting and packing lunch and attending classes and doing homework and practicing all the time. A lot of people have asked if I’m nervous about the time commitment or the workload but I’m really not worried about those things. I’m at my best when I’m busy and I know how to work hard.

What I’m nervous about is taking such a concrete step towards music. If I was going to change direction in my life, now would be a good time. I’ve already been working in marketing and communications recently so I could study those and try and pursue a career with some job security.

Taking a step in this particular direction is making a commitment to a life of a lot of beauty, really hard work, and sacrifice. And that is really scary.  But even though I’m scared I can’t seem to turn away from music. Even though I’m broke I don’t feel desperate enough to abandon my dreams. Maybe that’s foolish and risky but maybe these risks I take now will pay off later.

Anyway studying jazz performance at McGill is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 15 years old and I would be remiss if I didn’t honour my adolescent aspirations while I have the chance.

website update, new photos, and a partial return to blogging

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So far this summer I have spent a lot of time helping other artists with their brands, social media accounts and websites, while mine have gone completely untended. It’s not that I specifically decided to take time off from the internet, it’s just that I didn’t have much to talk about when it came to music, creativity, and my career. I spent the last six months looking inwards and taking care of life stuff. I’m proud to say that I know my way around the kitchen much better than before (although I’m still averaging about one dessert disaster per week.)

With school starting in a month I wanted my website and my blog to feel like a place I could come to tell you about whatever is on my mind (new artists, theory concepts, combo recordings) whenever I have the time to write about it – this was my main inspiration for updating the website.

The main difference between the old site and the update is that I moved the blog off the front page. I did this so that it would be less of eyesore if school becomes too busy for me to update. The other amazing difference is I got all new promo photos! These photos were taken by the incomparable Claude Brazeau.

All this to say, I’m not coming back to blogging the way I was doing it before, but I do want to find a way to include blogging in my regular routine. I may be experimenting for a bit while I figure it out. What do you think of the site update? Please leave your feedback in the comments.

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