Jazz it up with Emma Pask and with that voice, she’ll be “Livin’ La Vida Loca” in 2014

This woman CAN sing!  And oh, how Emma Pask has made a splendid career in the world of cool and classy jazz after being discovered by the Australian jazz maestro James Morrison at her Kirrawee High School fund-raiser in southern Sydney some 20 years ago.

As she belted out Mack the Knife, Morrison was mesmerised by the voice of the then 16-year-old and he’s helped her build her stellar career ever since.  If that’s the big time, it’s about to get bigger because the international star Ricky Martin also spotted the prodigious power of the voice on The Voice on Channel Nine in 2013 and he’s invited her to collaborate with him on his up-coming Brazilian album! Bravo, Emma – fingers crossed that all goes well.

Emma tells me in my AFR Enterprising Women column today, that while work is never assured for an artist, it’s all she ever wanted to do and slow and steady will win the race.  There is an adage that jazz singers don’t hit their prime until their 60s, so there’s a lot of upside to the Pask career.

To top off an “awesome” year in 2013, Emma signed with Universal Music and launched an album, Seasons of my Heart. Stay tuned and catch Emma at a corporate gig, or something like Twilight at Taronga Zoo – a Sydney summer concert series. Or, on the world stage, Livin’ La Vida Loca with Ricky Martin.

Here’s the story in full, as it appeared in the AFR:

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At a beachside campsite somewhere on the NSW coast, Emma Pask is taking a well-earned break, no doubt pausing to reflect on her year of living dangerously in 2013 and the portent of things to come as a result, in 2014.

For a professional artist, musician or jazz singer like Pask, where work is never assured, the highlight of the year ahead is a planned collaboration with international star, Ricky Martin. Pask has been invited to work on his next Brazilian album, which she admits is the opportunity of a lifetime “which could open up the world for me.” “I won’t believe it until I am behind the microphone and recording is underway,” she confides.

Martin, was the celebrated judge on the hugely successful season in 2013 of the Channel 9 show, “The Voice”, who implored viewers to go out and buy Pask’s CD “Some Other Spring”, which shot to number one on iTunes jazz charts and earned her about $20,000 in one night.

Auditioning for The Voice early in 2013, says Pask, was a risk that could have damaged her career and it reminded her of the early days: “I was so nervous. No amount of experience can prepare you for a competitive environment like that. It was dangerous and a huge risk.”

Melbourne teenager Harrison Craig won the 2013 title, but Pask won legions of new fans on what became one of the highest rating shows of the year.

“I never felt confident enough in my own talent until now and worried all the time that I was not good enough,” she muses. This from a polished performer who has sung all over the world in front of royalty, Prime Ministers, corporates, on television variety shows, jazz festivals, and at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” she says. “This has not been an overnight success, but I want to keep doing this for years to come.”

In fact, it will be 20 years this August since Pask, aged 16, was discovered by jazz maestro James Morrison at a fundraising event for her Kirrawee High School in southern Sydney, where she was singing jazz with the school band. Her music teacher, Antony Gullick, knew she had a talent and introduced her to Morrison who, as she sang Mac The Knife, apparently was struck by “the sound of a voice that you don’t expect out of a 16-year-old’s mouth.”

Pask has sung with Morrison’s band ever since, aside from her own solo work, and credits his mentorship with setting her on a career in music. Her first gig paid $150, she toured on weekends with the band, and studied at the same time to “somehow get through my HSC in 1995.”

“The Voice” has given her impetus to move out from “under the wing” of Morrison: “He has taught me so much and I adore working with him, but at some point I felt I had to stand on my own two feet and make my own way.”

To top off her “awesome” 2013 year, she launched her Christmas album, “Seasons of My Heart”, her first with Universal music as part of her contract with “The Voice”. She also married her long-time partner, Uruguayan-born Rodrigo Ocano – “he’s not a musician” – in late November, before winding down for Christmas.

The album recommended by Martin, was self-funded and produced by Pask in 2010 and had been released well before her appearance on The Voice.
She booked the musicians, studio and sound engineer and released it through the American digital distribution company “Tune Core”, which takes an annual fee of $50 per release. Pask owns the recording and takes 100% of sales. Itunes, says Pask, takes a cut of about 30% of sales. Universal owns the recording of “Seasons of My Heart”, although Pask acknowledges the benefits of a world-wide brand: “Better marketing, better promotion and access to a bigger market.”

Pask learned to love jazz through her parents who played Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, among others, but never dreamed she could make money out of singing. Her father worked for Qantas at Sydney Airport: “I thought I’d follow in his footsteps and get into travel.”

Guided by Morrison, Pask established herself as a business about 1999, she manages herself, has no agent and engages a friend to filter requests, inquiries and emails through her website. She pays herself a salary, which she says has yet to reach six figures. Pask could earn upwards of $5000 per corporate gig, depending on musicians and travel. An appearance in a jazz club could yield about $2000, depending on door sales, out of which she pays the band.

She issued about 65 invoices for the 2013 calendar year, but is reluctant to reveal revenues. “You are constantly wondering where the next gig will come from,” she says. “It’s challenging to get out there and generate work.”

An example of the havoc it plays on a personal life – two days after her wedding in Noosa, Pask was on a plane to Melbourne to sing for long-time clients, Linfox, at their Christmas party.

There is an old adage, says Pask, that jazz singers don’t hit their prime until their sixties, so she is conscious of keeping her voice in good working order. Good friend, singer Katie Noonan, recommended Brisbane physiotherapist Jim Bostock, who has developed a treatment technique for singers to keep their voice healthy and at its best: “Physically it has been amazing. My voice is better than ever.”

A resident in one of Sydney’s beachside suburbs, Pask says she has a mortgage and does not live a “rock star” life, preferring movies and theatre in her spare time.

And relaxation before the work begins again. Pask already has solid bookings for the first quarter of 2014: “A self-employed musician always has to have an eye on the future.”

Another highlight for her is the “Twilight at Taronga” summer concert series, where she will once again perform with James Morrison in late March to celebrate their 20-year collaboration.

Beyond that and the “most surprising year of my life” both personally and professionally, there is much to look forward to in 2014 when Pask may indeed be “Livin’ La Vida Loca”.

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