Growing up the daughter of musicians, jazz singer Barbra Lica was constantly surrounded by music. She spent her childhood in the company of a multitude of records and took piano lessons for years. Despite this musical upbringing, it wasn’t until the moment she heard Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” that she fell in love with jazz.
“I just fell backwards,” she says of the moment she first heard the song. “It was one of those things — they sounded so happy. I wanted to be in the room with them.”
As a musician, Lica strives to share a similar feeling with her audience. She attempts to create a positive, laughter-filled experience while creating connections between herself and her listeners. “I just want to hang out (and) relate to people,” Lica says.
Lica’s music is easy to relate to. Her lyrics are straightforward and chart many universal human experiences. In “The Food Song,” she sings about eating her feelings and how sadness tastes like French fries. Despite these morose lyrics, the song is bubbly and upbeat. While Lica’s voice is comparable to Norah Jones, it’s a long way from Jones’ moody blues. It’s a unique blend of quirkiness (“Fishies”), bubbly pop, and modern jazz. Like most jazz musicians, Lica incorporates various genres of music, including folk, bluegrass, and 50s jazz-pop.
“I like to take elements from those (genres) and mix them in because I think that’s the beauty of jazz,” she says.
When it comes to the process of songwriting, Lica finds her best ideas come out of just sitting down and having a conversation. It can be especially helpful when she’s lacking inspiration, and so she sits down with a guitarist and talks things out.
“I find that’s kind of a magical process,” she says. “On my own, I haven’t found the same inspiration twice. But sitting down with a guitarist and having a conversation is almost 100 per cent effective.”
This conversational element is easily heard in her songs, which could easily be a phone call to an old lover or a funny conversation with a friend.
It’s her unique brand of jazz that got her album I’m Still Learning nominated for the Vocal Jazz Album of the Year Juno for 2017. It was the first time she had been nominated for the award.
“It was so crazy. I didn’t expect it. It was really cool,” Lica says.
The experience was also a great way to meet other jazz musicians, including Bria Skonberg, who won the category. The duo’s friendship culminated in their playing together at Birdland, a New York City venue known for hosting performances by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Skonberg, who plays trumpet, joined Lica in a duet mirroring the iconic duo.
“It was a geeky cool thing for me,” Lica says. “I’d always wanted to play at Birdland, and then I had someone come and be Louis, so it was really neat for me.”
Currently, Lica is touring across the country and experimenting with Paul Simon inspired tracks and country jazz. She also recently wowed audiences during her stop at Edmonton’s Jazz Festival on Canada Day.