Alex Pangman‘s dedication to her music goes far beyond was might be called a passionate pursuit – it’s more like a life-long obsession which began in her teens upon first discovering Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden along with amazing singers like Mildred Bailey, Julia Lee and Maxine Sullivan. “An exciting new world with this immense songbook opened up to me.”
Alex quickly began delving deeper into the sophisticated shellac of the 20s and 30s which eventually led to a fortuitous connection with guitar great Jeff Healey who knew a rare talent when he heard it. In very short order, Healey produced her impressive 1999 debut They Say (Sensation Records) as well as the 2001 follow-up, You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming. While facets of Ella Fitzgerald, Connie Boswell and Ruth Etting could be discerned in Alex’s zesty delivery, that crisp clear voice was unequivocally her own.
After getting a Songwriter of the Year nomination from the National Jazz Awards for her tune Melancholy Lullaby for the 2001 film Torso: The Evelyn Dick Story, Alex received two more nominations in the Vocalist Of The Year category and then a Ken Whiteley number she sang over the opening scene of the 2003 feature film Falling Angels won a Genie for Best Original Song.
While the gorgeously filmed videos for the aforementioned Melancholy Lullaby and One Night In Monte Carlo shot to the top of the Bravo! Countdown, Alex was busily scheduling collaborations with everyone from Grammy-nominated trumpeter Kevin Clark and the dashing Denzal Sinclaire to pianist Tyler Yarema and even Jim Galloway’s All-Stars. But Alex was never keen on being anyone’s “chick singer” and to underscore that point, she selected the repertoire, assembled her band and co-produced 2005’s Live In Montreal (Real Gone Gal) album which stands among her finest recorded performances.
The blessing of more frequent bookings would also prove to be a curse. Smoke-filled venues were definitely not the place for someone battling lung disease and Alex reluctantly slowed down to recoup. All the while, her interest in singing and playing music never waned. In fact, it was during her self-imposed exile that she stumbled onto the city’s bluegrass and string-band underground. Alex fit right in with the scrappy Cameron House crowd who shared her excitement for the enriching sound of a bygone era when the lines between jazz, blues and country were still blurry enough to ignore.
A hook-up with the Backstabbers’ frontman Colonel Tom Parker gave rise to the rollicking roots country combo Lickin’ Good Fried. But following the release of the group’s Say Uncle! debut, Alex’s physical condition worsened and a double-lung transplant was deemed essential. Fortunately a donor was found and the surgery was a complete success.
Alex roared back with a new recording project, 33 for the prestigious Montreal jazz label Justin Time. Released in April 2011 to wide critical acclaim, the title “33” refers both to Pangman’s age at the time of recording as well as to the fact that the carefully selected repertoire was popular in North America during 1933. Pangman’s cross-Canada tour which followed in the summer of 2011 – with support from the Canada Council for the Arts – helped to broaden her reach beyond the traditional jazz audience. Along the way, she has made the most of her heightened profile to be a strong advocate for organ and tissue donation.
As soon as Pangman returned home to Toronto, she was back at work on her next recording adventure: a session pairing her well-drilled Alleycats backing group with jazz guitar great Bucky Pizzarelli who famously traded fours with Les Paul and Stephane Grappelli. The fabulous Have A Little Fun album, issued in 2013, beautifully showcases Pangman’s impeccable taste in material and impressive growth as an interpretive stylist.
Just as word came that she would be sharing a Toronto Jazz Festival bill with Willie Nelson at Massey Hall, the state of Pangman’s health began to decline. A double-lung re-transplant was required and thankfully another donor was found. Good news from the surgeon is that it was an excellent match this time. While making a remarkably quick recovery, Pangman dreamed up her most ambitious project to date. Rather than play it safe, she decided to use those newly-acquired lungs to cut an album of entirely fresh material, with a cast of musicians she’d never met, at a studio she’d never seen in that wild ‘n’ wonderful city of New Orleans where jazz was born.
It was well worth the risk. Suitably enough, the Juno Nominated album was called “New” (2014 Justin Time) and features a totally rejuvenated Pangman belting out Ella Fitzgerald and Annette Hanshaw gems with gusto accompanied by the sweetly swinging members of the New Orleans Cotton Mouth Kings. Everything flows together with such an easy grace, you’d think Pangman had been throwing down with those house-rockin’ Crescent City cats for years. Her music video for “It’s Never Enough” hit over 1000 views in the first tewelve hours.
Following this effort, the next logical step for the purist was to record direct to 78rpm acetate disc. On her 2017 EP for Justin Time “Alex Pangman’s Hot Three”, she goes further backwards in time to discover why early jazz recordings have the special sound and energy that they do. In this artistic journey, and with 3 minutes to cut a tune while the groove was cut in real-time before the musician’s eyes live, the singer came to understand both the inspiration behind the hot recordings of early jazz, and also some of the mindset of early recording pioneers, and the energy it produced. “There’s no studio trickery, no safety net. Just three mintues to do your thing.” It lead to “some of the most spontaneous experiences” Pangman has ever experienced in the recording studio.