Tag Archives: Wilma Reading

Wilma Reading & Andrew Butt Trio – Jazz Up North

Australia’s Indigenous lady of song and local jazz legend Wilma Reading shares her famous voice with her home town on Friday 6th May at The Tanks, teaming with Andrew Butt for a Jazz Up North concert not to be missed. With one of most impressive musical resumes assembled, Wilma Reading has conquered New York and the West End having toured with Duke Ellington, performed with many top European Orchestras including the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, held a residency at New York’s Copacabana Nightclub and also made regular television appearances around Australia and the world.

Her journey has overlapped with the likes of the Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Liberace, Sarah Vaughan, Cleo Laine, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis and Dean Martin. Ably supported here by Andrew Butt, a stalwart himself of the jazz world with over 25 years of experience who has a proven skill for collaboration with classical and contemporary jazz productions. With established work as a sideman for James Morrison, David Campbell and Rhonda Burchmore, there are few established international performers with this much talent who can offer an intimate performance of this class.

The pair first performed last year together and will once again be teaming up at The Tanks on Friday 6th May with a local backing band for an unforgettable evening of Jazz.

“We did the international jazz festival in June last year in Brisbane and we also did the Women’s International Jazz Festival in Bennett’s Lane in Melbourne. So it’s really great to work with him again.” said Wilma Reading.

“Andrew will be doing the first half of the show, doing some of his own compositions. I’ll then come in the second half and have the same band. We’ve got Tommy See Poy on Piano and Joe Vizzone on Drums, so it’s going to be a really good night. This program has a good mixture for everyone”.

After starting her career at The Ritz in Brisbane, she continued to Sydney and Melbourne working on various television shows such as Band Stand and GTV9 with Graeme Kennedy and Bert Newton. Following that Reading ventured overseas with with an endless amount of amazing opportunities coming her way, eventually ending up in America where she would join the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Little did she know at the time how much the experience would push her to become a better performer.

“Duke Ellington asked me to be a part of a musical he had written and I thought that I wasn’t equipped vocally to perform it, as they were going to do the show without microphones. I really thought I wouldn’t have the projection. It was quite daunting. Therefore I went to an amazing classical singing teacher who taught me about breathing exercises and voice projection. I was really committed as I didn’t want to be overlooked for the part. So I went 7 days a week for 3 months solid. I had a pretty standard vocal range of 1 and half octaves which is everyone’s natural range at the beginning. At completion I had actually doubled my vocal range in 3 months.”

Reading was also very well known locally for her years teaching at Tropical North Queensland Tafe with students constantly raving about her classes. She always spoke so passionately about correct breathing and vocal projection that some students could be forgiven for being naïve of her stardom and experience. She credits that stint in New York for changing her life and a career.

“The hardest part was undoing the mistakes I had made when I started singing. I learnt I was doing myself damage. It took me several weeks before I could understand the principle, but I couldn’t perform it. There were several tears and it was very tough, but then finally one day it came. After all that time, I could finally relax and breathe. That’s what I loved teaching in my class at Tafe, showing the students how to breathe and being able to share the knowledge I had learned. Cause it really cuts so many corners. It’s a technique I still use today”.

Reading has also been working on her autobiography which has recently been picked up by a theatre company in Melbourne who are adapting it for the stage.

“I wrote my first draft and it sounded like a glorified travel log! (laughter) When you sit down to write it’s like ‘where do you start? The start is the hardest thing. But I’m now on my second draft and we’ve had our first presentation at The Power House in Brisbane which went very well. So we’re looking at doing another presentation at the end of May. But I have to finish the book and I’ve also got to focus on the play”.

Wilma Reading was also one of the first western performers to tour the then Communist nation of Russia back in the late 80’s. After performing at ‘The Talk Of The Town’ in London, Reading was approached by the Russian Embassy to follow in Elton John and BB King’s footsteps of touring the then Soviet Russia. This continued a long list of artists eventually touring the country as the government introduced western music to its youth, something which had been heavily censored in its media.

“They had an underground market for Beatles records and so forth, so the government was trying to slowly introduce the music gradually. I decided to do the tour covering all types of music such as Pop, Soul, Jazz and well known theatre songs. It was a one woman show with a 75 piece symphony behind me, with a swing band built in. Most shows were in big theatres to 5000 people and we were playing music they hadn’t been exposed to, which was very interesting and exciting”.

“It was a terrific experience, but they kept adding shows, I was meant to have a few days off, but they kept adding shows. Somebody made a lot of money out of that and it wasn’t me! (laughter). In the last weekend in Russia they had me do 5 x 2 hour shows and I thought I won’t make it through this. But only because I had done those classes for Duke Ellington in New York I made it through.”

Wilma Reading & Andrew Butt Trio perform at Tanks Arts Centre as part of the Jazz Up North Series on Friday 6th May. Doors open 6.30pm, show starts 7.30pm. Tickets from Ticketlink.

Mitch Sullivan

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