Featured Musician - August 2012  

Linda Lee Michelet
Linda Lee Michelet

Name: Linda Lee Michelet

Instrument: voice

Early Years/Education: I have always been a singer. In high school and college I was in groups. I always say, when I got married, I put my records and music on the shelf, because I had other things to do: working full-time, raising kids. My daughter has always been very musical from the start, and she was very instrumental in getting me back into performing. When she was 14, she said, “Hey Mom, want to be in a dance competition with me?”

One thing leads to another, you know. After I was divorced, I met Del Goldfarb [founder of the Waterfront Blues Festival], and I started off as his back-up singer, and pretty soon it was called Linda and Del, and we made an album of that name. And I got a chance to write lyrics a little bit with Del, and I really took off with it, and we were in the Blues Festival for a couple years, then after we broke up, I got into the Festival under my own name for a couple years.

I started all this in my 50s. So my life has just taken off from that point on.

My start [in jazz] was approaching Terry Currier at Music Millennium when Peggy Lee died in 2001, asking if I could do a tribute to Peggy Lee at his store in NW Portland. I kept waiting for one of the singers in town to do a tribute to Peggy Lee, because to me it was such a big deal, and nobody did.

So I set out to put together a half-hour show. I went around and listened to the top musicians in town, and I got Randy Porter -- he did the arrangements -- Dan Davis and Neil Masson. When I walked in to do the show, there were 150 people there. They didn’t know who I was, it was all about Peggy Lee. From that show, Terry asked me to do a tribute to Julie London, and I did -- once again, another packed performance, and it was all about Julie London, not me. Andy Gilbert of Pacific Talent saw me and gave me one slot at the Heathman Hotel; I’ve been there ever since.

Musical Influences: All the songs on my CD, “One Kiss,” are arrangements of Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day and Nancy Wilson that we lifted right off the records from my father’s collection. This stuff was in my home every day. These folks were like audio relatives, they were in my life every day. And my brother played those records constantly when he was in 8th grade; I’d lay in bed and listen to them through the wall. I learned so much about phrasing from Peggy Lee records.

I never realized what an influence these big band records really were until I progressed to a point in my life where I could really sing things and put together my own group. Julie London, Lena Horne, Edie Gormet, My father and mother were into Dixieland as well. And Broadway shows … I grew up in Ontario California. My mother and father took us to the Greek Theater, the Hollywood Bowl, to New York to see Broadway shows. I’m very grateful to have seen these people live. In the 1960s, I was a Motown freak. I got to be pretty knowledgeable about the blues, and I met a lot of people who have opened doors for me later on through Del Goldfarb.

Most Satisfying Experience: Putting together a big band for the first time with Joe Millward, who does all my arranging, and performing with it for Sunday Jazz at the Old Church. [That performance was filmed for a DVD that accompanies the CD, “Big Band Peggy Lee.”]

Favorite Recordings: “Beauty and the Beat” - George Shearing and Peggy Lee; “Chet Baker and Strings” - Chet Baker; “The Lady and Her Music” - Lena Horne; “Lonely Girl” - Julie London; and “Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley” - Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley.

Discography: “Live at the Heathman”; “Big Band Peggy Lee - Live from the Old Church” (DVD and CD); and “One Kiss.”

Gigs: August 18, Camellia Lounge; August 21, O’Connor’s Vault, Multnomah Village, with Lee Wuthenow, Joe Millward and Tim Rap; August 24, Wilf’s, “Tribute to Icons: The Music of Peggy Lee and George Shearing,” with Mike Horsfall, Joe Millward, Dennis Caiazza, Chris Woitach and Carlton Jackson; August 25, Heathman Hotel; August 26, “Live at the Shrine” with The John Bennett Dance Band, 4 pm, Wilsonville.

Future Plans: I’m putting together a show with my kids called “A Tribute to Burt Bacharach and his music,” scheduled for September 22 at Wilf’s. Lindsay, my daughter, is a three-time Drammy winner for her work in musical theater. She and I also starred in “Fiddler on the Roof” 10 years ago, and with my son, Erik, we also wrote, directed, produced and starred in another show. When I started doing research for it, I realized what a big part his music has played in my life. He has such memorable melodies but the music is difficult because he has these shifting time signatures and difficult chord changes. this will be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.

Other: I feel very fortunate that I’ve had a chance to do as much as I have after starting out in my 50s. Sometimes I think, “What am I doing?” But I just push ahead and surprise myself. And it’s thrilling to be in the company of these wonderful musicians, like Mike Horsfall -- he’s in the JSO Hall of Fame! And Terry Currier, he’s been wonderful to me. I’m thrilled to get a chance to get up and do what I love! Thank everyone who gave me an opportunity.

Note: Photo of Michelet with cat was posed to recreate a Peggy Lee album cover.

-- by Lynn Darroch