Singer, actress Berryman’s sweet embrace of the moment
It’s become a mid-winter ritual—Dorothée Berryman performing ballads in the intimate setting of Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill on Valentine’s Day. It’s a reminder that Montreal’s cycle of seasons is proceeding toward sunnier days.
This year’s weekend of shows featured a relaxed, confident and resplendent Berryman delivering a new set of songs and arrangements with her personal touch.
Her way of connecting with every listener is the key to her success in everything she does in film, TV, radio and as a jazz vocalist.
Last year, she won a Jutra Award for best actress in a supporting role, for her performance in Cabotins, or Comeback, the wonderfully warm, funny and beautifully Québécois film in which she plays the vaudeville comic Lucie.
Berryman was among the leading cast members of Denys Arcand’s Invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions), which won an Oscar for best foreign-language film in 2005. It was the sequel to le Déclin de l’empire américain (The Decline of the American Empire).
On stage, in a cabaret or in front of the camera, Berryman has a unique ability to portray characters with credibility and depth. Audiences identify and connect with her.
Not too shabby for the daughter of a Loretteville, Que., dairy farmer Wilfred Berryman and schoolteacher mother, Gertrude Trépanier. Speaking English to her father and French to her mother set the stage for her being comfortable in both languages and cultures.
Her voice is the product of music Berryman heard as a youngster, from her father’s record collection and on the radio.
“I heard Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, Rosemary Clooney, on TV I could see Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong. I really grew up with the music.
“My mother played piano and my father had a beautiful singing voice. He sang all those Irish songs.”
On this latest—her third CD, the eponymous Dorothée Berryman—the backing of a string quartet, with arrangements by pianist/musical director Vincent Réhel, make for a delightfully cohesive package.
Berryman dedicates the CD to her good friend Len Dobbin, the broadcaster and “friend of jazz” who died in 2009 after collapsing at Upstairs while waiting for a show to begin.
At the time, Dobbin was the researcher on her popular weekly jazz show on Espace Musique, which Radio Canada cancelled in June after seven successful years.
Of Dobbin, Berryman writes in her liner notes: “His vast knowledge and fervent passion were my constant nourishment.”
As she prepared to tour a string of Quebec cities with the new material, Berryman reflected on the elements that went into her latest project, her first disc since 2003.
The songs are drawn from a variety of sources, from Piazzola to Portishead with such classics as Blue Moon, I’m In the Mood for Love, the risqué Les nuits d’une demoiselle and the evocative Killing Time.
Time is a theme of this collection: “Time that flies by, that we kill and then mourn, and the sweet embrace of the moment.”
Berryman had that magnetic connection at the set we caught at Upstairs, and it is a quality she has developed and is a key to her popularity and success as an entertainer.
The clarity and precision of her singing matched with the artful way she carries herself and tells stories about the music is totally Berryman. It is not something that just happened, she confessed. “I learn as I work.”
But she also has had some coaching since shortly after she made her stunning singing debut in front of a huge audience at an outdoor stage at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in the summer of 1999.
Berryman has been taking master classes with vocal coach Lucette Tremblay, and it shows.
“What I’ve been working on is the instrument. I’ve gained clarity and precision and what you hear is my real voice.”