Jenner Hughes has a stunning voice and classically handsome looks that could convert any Michael Bublé fan.
The young Ottawa jazz musician has been surrounded by music his entire life, but it was only in the summer of 2011 that he formed a jazz band with father-daughter team Julia Karrandjas (piano) and Phil Comeau (bass). They became the Jenner Hughes Jazz Trio.
Hughes, who has a gramophone tattooed on one arm and an image of Billie Holiday on the other, is an old soul music fan living in the wrong era. “I love nostalgia,” he says.
Yet the trio’s reimagined jazz renditions give classic tunes a modernized twist. “I grew up around my grandparents, and they always had Ella Fitzgerald playing,” he says, noting they instilled a love of the classics from a young age.
Hughes got his first taste of performing fame in 2005.
“My mom had me try out for Canadian Idol,” he says, adding that he wasn’t initially interested but then found fans he had never expected. “The judges told me they expected me to be the biggest of the season.
“At the time I hadn’t ever done group work, and that’s what got me kicked out,” he says.
Disappointed, Hughes returned to vocal classes and has since enhanced his alluringly smooth vocal stylings and found a perfect fit with his new band mates.
He says he feels “something” for the 1920s era, but his favourite singer remains Billie Holiday. “She taught me you have to feel in your music.”
He has applied this to his live performances, hoping that after a show his audience leaves feeling “like they know me a little, almost as if we’ve had an intimate conversation.”
He especially loves sad ballads. “I do a Jerome Kern song, ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’; that one is about a younger person who’s fallen in love, but their friends are saying that it’s doomed. And he ends up devastated and alone.”
“The jazz standards hold something that you don’t hear often today,” he says, noting that the band’s repertoire also includes some jazzed-up Adele, The Kinks and even a Van Morrison tune.
Hughes, who dressed as a goth in high school and showed up to his Idol audition sporting a pompadour, says fashion remains important to his performance.
“We try to give it that romantic, more formal feel in appearance,” he says.
As for his audience, he says it’s a mix. “I’m surprised to see hipsters in with the older middle-aged couples and seniors.”
Laughing, Hughes says, “The question remains, is the Ottawa jazz scene ready for me?”
Jenner Hughes Trio
Fri, Feb 10 & Thurs, Feb 16
Avant Garde Bar
135 1/2 Bessier St