Swinging into Nehalem

Jazz singer Rebecca Kilgore & Her Band bring the Great American Songbook -- and a few holiday tunes -- to the Oregon Coast

She’s been inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, the Jazz Society of Oregon’s Hall of Fame, and honored as a Jazz Legend at the San Diego Jazz Party. She’s played famed American jazz venues from New York to L.A., as well as performing in Holland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Norway – not to mention on jazz cruises around the world.

And now, Rebecca Kilgore is coming to the Oregon Coast. On Saturday, Rebecca Kilgore & Her Band will take the stage at the NCRD Performing Arts Center in Nehalem to present a night of the music that’s earned Kilgore countless accolades, including “one of America’s leading song stylists … of the Great American Songbook.” Her discography numbers more than 50 recordings, her repertoire more than 1,000 songs.

Portland singer Rebecca Kilgore says she loves small venues for the intimacy they create with the audience.

In a phone interview days before her performance, Kilgore and I talked about music, performing and the highlights of her career. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nehalem — I’m guessing this is a relatively small venue for you?

Rebecca Kilgore: Yes, and I love small venues. It’s intimate and you can really create a relationship with the audience. I am not one of those singers that emotes a lot. I really like to just have fun with the music because I love it so and I want to impart that to my audience.

What can audience members who haven’t seen you perform expect?

RK: If they’ve heard of Ella Fitzgerald or Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, or any of the singers of the classic Great American Songbook, that is kind of my wheelhouse. I learned from them. Those are the people I was inspired by. I do a lot of jazz standards. I also tend to sing less-well-known things. That’s good in some ways and bad in some ways. If people are unfamiliar with the genre, they will be really unfamiliar with what I sing. I won’t do a lot, but I will throw in a few holiday songs.

You’ve also done shows performing songs from Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland.

RK: Yes, but I don’t imitate them and I don’t dress up like them. I pick things from their repertoire and borrow their arrangements.

Does the size of the audience affect your performance?

RK: I’m planning my program this week. Sometimes when you are in a venue like that, you can tell what people are responding to. If they like a particular type of song, I may change things on the spot.

You’ve been performing for nearly four decades. In a 2011 interview, you said you had no intention of slowing down. Seven years later, that still seems to be true, with performances set this month for Oregon, Washington, California, and Germany. How do you keep up the pace?

RK: I sort of have to. It’s how I make my living. There are fallow times, as well. I’m not always running around. The other half of the time, I am trying to find gigs. It does certainly get more difficult to travel these days on airplanes, waiting in line, but that said, I still enjoy the music I perform and I love the collaboration of playing with different musicians.

What’s the coming year look like?

RK: I try to get one really good gig a month and then I can survive. Phoenix in January. San Diego in February. L.A. in March. New York in April. That’s fun. I’ve been invited to teach at a camp for adults in Greenwich Village.

Do you still look for new material and is it difficult to find?

RK: Absolutely, I look for new material. This Germany trip I am doing is a lot of off the beaten path. We wanted it not Christmasy, but wintery. I found some unusual songs. My German friends wrote some material. They took some poems and wrote music to it. I have a stack of sheet music that I want to learn. I’ll never get around to all of it, I’m sure.

You’re known as a jazz singer, but you also lead a western swing band. What do you see as the crossover of the two musical styles?

RK: It’s Becky and the Cowhands and we perform once a month at a swing dance at the Secret Society ballroom. The crossover is I like older music. I don’t do contemporary country music because it’s more pop now. I like Bob Wills, he was one of the people who started western swing in the ‘30s. I just like the whole timeframe of older music. The ‘30’s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. Whether it is jazz or western swing. Western swing came about because Bob Wills was a player from Texas who wanted his people who danced to be able to dance to the swing music of the day. He made it western swing by playing with those instruments — pedal steel guitar, electric guitar. It was a crossover by definition.

You’ve been honored in so many different ways. What is your proudest accomplishment?

RK: I guess that I’m still able to do it, because it’s a lifestyle that is not easy. You have to keep growing, keep learning. You can’t just keep playing the same old things. It requires constantly reinventing yourself. My proudest accomplishment is that I am still able to do that and I will be very unhappy when I can’t.

What about the highlights of your career?

RK: There are a lot of little and big moments. I remember one time, I got to do a gig with the great jazz singer Nancy King in Pioneer Square with Dave Frishberg and Phil Baker, I was just thrilled to share the stage with them. I’ve done several gigs in New York City which were really fun; Feinstein’s at the Regency.…

It’s not about what I like. It’s not about me. It’s that I get to collaborate with great musicians. It’s always such a learning experience.

Joining me on stage Saturday is Randy Porter on keyboard. He is just a great, great pianist; a Steinway Artist. He has played with symphonies and can play many styles of music. I can’t believe I get to play with him. Tom Wakeling is on bass. He’s played with many jazz legends. We did a live recording at the Teutonic Wine Company. That will be out sometime soon. And Brent Follis is on drums. We are borrowing him from Pink Martini. I consider myself lucky to work with these great musicians.

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Rebecca Kilgore & Her Band perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, in the North County Recreation District Performing Arts Center, 36155 Ninth St., Nehalem. Tickets are $18 to $23, and available online or at the door.

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