Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Hamilton’s Diana Panton. Together we discussed their creative process, usage of colors throughout their discography, teaching, their latest album “Blue”, and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have you join them at Music Shelf. How are you doing today?
Great! Thanks for taking an interest in our music.
2. You were first introduced to jazz when your father played an Ella Fitzgerald album. Can you recall this moment? Do you remember the album? What were your initial thoughts?
The album was Pure Ella. I was immediately struck by the tonal quality of her voice and the seemingly effortless mastery of her notes. She reminded me of a bird singing. She was accompanied by pianist Ellis Larkins and I love the intimacy of that recording. I was hooked on jazz from that moment onwards.
3. When your voice teacher approached you about auditioning for the Hamilton All-Star Jazz Band how did you feel? What was the audition process like?
I was nervous and excited, then also disappointed when I didn’t get selected. I actually tried out three times before finally being chosen (by then, I had resolved to sing jazz, with or without the band, so the audition process helped make me more determined about what I wanted to do). In the end, I was fortunate to be selected and stay with that group for about a decade. We performed in large theatres and at major festivals, such as Montreux, so lots of fun and great experience. We also opened a show for Don Thompson and that was how he and I first met which later led to us recording together.
4. Who would you consider some of your influences?
As mentioned, Ella was my first influence and gateway into jazz. The purity of her voice and the facility of her instrument was inspiring! Next it was Billie Holiday. Her singing taught me the importance feeling and that the voice itself was secondary to the emotion it communicated. Also, Billie didn’t scat, but was able to improvise subtly around the melody. Sarah was my third significant influence. Her sassiness added dimension to the lyrics. She knew how to have fun with words and melody. I named one of my cats Sassy after her – that cat also liked to play.
5. You have both your undergraduate and graduate degree in French literature from McMaster University. What is some French literature you recommend humans read? What first attracted you to French literature?
As with visual artists, the French produced some of the greatest writers of all time, such as Emile Zola, Moliere, Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (to name a few). I also am a fan of Guadeloupean writer, Maryse Conde. Stanley Pean (who also happens to be a jazz radio host) and Dany Laferriere are two writers publishing in Canada worth checking out. As for favourite novels, Zola’s Germinal and Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu are among my top picks.
6. A human gets to visit Hamilton Ontario. Where do you recommend they visit? Can you share any fun Hamilton facts?
Though Hamilton sometimes gets a bad rap for its industrial history (and more recent sewage leaks), it actually has a lot of green space and protected Greenbelt (hopefully, the proposed land development will not destroy these areas). Whenever I have guests that come to Hamilton for the first time, I like to take them to Webster’s Falls (Hamilton is also known as the City of Waterfalls) and through the trails at Churchill Park. Hamilton is also well-known for its diverse music scene: true facts – the group Monster Truck were my neighbours at one time and the Arkells lived a few blocks away when attending their courses at university.
7. In addition to being a musician you are also an educator. How long have you been an educator for? Would you say there is a similarity between crafting lesson plans and songs? Is there a lesson you like to impart with your students?
I’ve been teaching at various levels of education (secondary and university) for about 20 years now. A good lesson and a good song usually have a good hook – something to draw you in so that you listen more carefully. I like to promote a growth mindset to my students – to strive for progress rather than perfection. I also hope I can serve as a role model that life doesn’t just have to be one singular path, but can include all your interests and gifts.
8. What is your creative process?
My album ideas often just pop into my head from nowhere in particular. Several have come to me in dreams which wake me up as I scramble for a pad of paper to write them down before they evaporate back into my subconscious. Once the themes are in my book, I will flesh them out over several years adding songs as they come to me and eventually, eliminating them back down to the final songlists that appear on our recordings.
9. You consider the studio your happy place. What sets the studio apart from other places you’ve been?
The studio is definitely my happy place. Here I can immerse myself fully into the feeling and the story of a song with no distractions. I can hear every note and really focus on the tone and the emotion. These things are very artistically fulfilling to me.
10. Mustard loves the theme of colors throughout your discography. Do you think of these colors when crafting an album? How do these colors help elevate your narrative?
Thank you! Yes, absolutely! Pink makes me think of spring blossoms and new love and the songs selected for this album all follow that theme (however, within that theme there are the mixed emotions of new love, such as joy, trepidation, anticipation, excitement – all different shades of pink). Similarly, RED represents passionate love in all of its facets. blue explores the wave of emotions that accompanies a lost love in all its shades. These colours help craft the storyline to these albums and make them cohesive works.
11. Your companion album to Pink, RED, garnered you your first Juno Award win. How did it feel to win this award?
I was proud to take home this award when the ceremony was hosted in my hometown of Hamilton. I had been previously nominated, but this was my first win, so it was extra special. I was grateful that this album, in particular, was recognized, as it was our most ambitious recording up until that point (with fantastic string quartet arrangments by the great Don Thompson) and it was an honour to share this distinction with all the musicians involved in that project, as well as engineer Chad Irschick who brought all the parts together.
12. You have been nominated again for Juno’s “Best Vocal Jazz Album” for this year. Is there a specific process nominees must follow?
You submit your work for consideration. A jury determines the top 5 nominees from all of the submissions. The jury then votes again to determine a winner.
13. How would you describe your live performance? Do you have a favorite venue or city to play in?
Our performances are intimate. More like sharing a secret rather than trying to wow you. All the performers play an equal role in adding to the atmosphere. I like any room with excellent acoustics and an attentive audience. Travelling and playing in different countries is always fun! We’ve had some great times in Russia, Japan, Taiwan etc.
14. What is next for Diana Panton?
Already working on two new albums
15. Where can readers listen to your music?
You can find our music on Amazon, iTunes and most major digital platforms.