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When Life Gives You Lemons

Photo by Melanie Gillis

Diana Panton didn’t let the pandemic get in the way of making new music. The result is some pretty sweet sounding lemonade.

Diana Panton’s last album was called A Cheerful Little Earful. Her most recent musical gift – almost literally so, as it was released on Christmas Eve – is not exactly cheerful. Yet it comforts just the same.

Panton released a wonderfully melancholy interpretation of the Rogers & Hart composition “Nobody’s Heart” in the form of a new video on YouTube.  Having recorded a selection of upbeat children’s classics on Earful, this single sees Panton exploring a very different emotional palette. 

“They’ve alone done a fair bit of recent scientific research that shows these somewhat melancholy songs do have that power to soothe,” explains Panton over the phone from her Hamilton home. “A lot of the jazz standards came out of the wartime era, and it’s interesting, I find, to equate that a little bit, to today. It’s sometimes nice to feel something that echoes how [a person is] feeling rather than it be a complete disconnect from how they’re feeling.”

In other words, maybe having “Take The ‘A’ Train” on repeat isn’t necessarily always the best answer. Sometimes listeners want to escape, but sometimes they want to feel understood; to know that the uncertainty, the melancholy, and the pain we have felt over the course of the pandemic is part of a universal condition. Neither the song nor the video are sad sad; in the animation, a kettle boils and a turntable spins Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. We see ourselves in the isolation, but rather than being pained, we feel a softer sadness and a sense of recognition. “It’s a really good fit for the music,” she says of the video.

“It’s an interior, enclosed, it’s a girl and her cat, and she’s sort of looking out the window - which to me is a bit of a metaphor for this whole thing. Imagining what might be on the other side of that enclosed space that we’re in right now.”

On “Nobody’s Heart” Panton is once again joined by her long-time collaborator, guitarist Reg Schwager. The video features work from Toronto’s Leading Pictures, who created the animation from illustrations by artist Mariel Ashlinn Kelly. Panton – whose other career is that of visual arts teacher at Westdale – has a deep interest in illustration, and as soon as she saw the Toronto-based artist’s work, she knew that Kelly’s art would match the mood of her own music. 

“To me, the visuals on that music were a perfect match,” she says. “She said she doesn’t normally take on outside projects but she likes jazz – and you don’t always encounter people who say they really like jazz.”

As a secondary school teacher, Panton has to adhere to a fairly rigid schedule. Even if that schedule keeps changing due to COVID-related protocols, she is still only free on weekends, holidays and during the summer. It is no surprise, then, to learn Panton spent the recent holidays in the studio, working on new material with Schwager and her other long-time collaborator, Don Thompson. Her work with these two talented jazz artists has been fulfilling and, if awards mean anything, successful. She has, among many other awards and nominations, two JUNO wins, seven JUNO nominations, two Silver Disc Awards (Japan), nine Hamilton Music Awards and a host of National Jazz Award nods.

“I’m just not sure where it’s going to go,” she says. “I hope the venues I normally perform in, like soft-seat theatres, can make it. If they continue with the reduced capacity audiences, that also impacts what artists can get paid – and it’s never been particularly lucrative, I’ve found, in Canada.”

It isn’t all doom and gloom for Panton, though. Put the pandemic on a different timeline, and suddenly all avenues – retail, live performance – would be closed. Today, however, she is grateful that the progress in digital music technology means that artists are still able to reach audiences through the internet.

“You can imagine, if we didn’t have digital platforms, what would be available – especially during a pandemic,” says Panton. “So on that level, if we backed the pandemic up 20 years, that wouldn’t even have been there.”

“One could say that it’s like making lemonade in a time of lemons. We may not have had Diana Panton live in concert all this time, but we’ve had hermusic at our fingertips.” 

 For more information, visit www.dianapanton.com 

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