Article by Sarah McNiell
International jazz singer Chris McNulty wants to call Perth home.
She is now in residence at Gallop House in Dalkeith for the year, having won a Bundanon Trust Prelude composer residency award.
She admitted that moving back to Melbourne after living in New York for 28 years had been a shock.
Australia had changed but not progressed; politics had become more right-wing; the attitude to mature women in the arts had not advanced, and the gender bias was, she said, “profound”.
But she said she had been “powerfully healed by the kindness of Perth” since leaving Melbourne to take up the Perth residency in January.
“There is such a generosity of spirit here,” she said. “Perth is the closest thing to what I believe jazz should be – a soulful community.”
Sitting on the balcony of Gallop House gazing out across the river on a cool, sunny morning, Chris said: “I have toured to all four corners of the globe, but the beauty of this river and the ocean is healing.”
Chris is still slowly healing her heart, shattered at the sudden death of her 30-year-old son, Sam (aka hip hop artist Chap One), in Melbourne in 2011.
It was his death that brought her back to her home town of Melbourne, where her singing career had begun almost 50 years ago.
“At 16, I was singing six or seven nights a week and on tour around the country,” she recalled.
“Mostly it was a boys’ club of horror but it did prepare me for the trenches of New York.”
She quickly became a ﬁxture on the New York jazz scene, acclaimed for her emotive vocal interpretations and her touching compositions. She regularly toured Europe and often came to perform in Perth at the behest of ,her friend, the late Graham Wood, performing at The Ellington Jazz Club and the Perth Jazz Festival.
Her most recent album, Eternal (2015), was a poignant tribute to her son through her own profoundly beautiful songs.
She continues to honour Sam’s legacy as she plans the next stage of her career.
Sam had left the US to take his music out to Australia’s Indigenous communities, and through her own devised teaching method, published as a book, Vocalist as Complete Musician, Chris wants to teach jazz improvisation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the hope that they can carve out careers in music.
“I have to come back and make a difference,” Chris said.
Her residency project is about creating a soundscape for the disenfranchised – marginalised migrants – through music, vocals and spoken word.
“I have been an immigrant and I know something of isolation, grief and sorrow of missing home, and of ﬁnding your own community,” Chris said.
“ I want to explore how we use the creative process to heal.”
At 65, Chris is very much mid-career as a jazz singer and continues to perform around WA.
She will sing at the Duke of George in East Fremantle on May 30 and then goes down south for Jazz by the Bay (May 30 to June 3).
There she will sing in Yallingup’s Ngilgi Cave – just as Dame Nellie Melba did 100 years ago. Melba reportedly had a piano lowered into the cave, but Chris will take guitarist Jeremy Thomson.
“I’ve been everywhere but I’ve never sung in a cave before,” she exclaimed.
On June 15, Chris will return to the Ellington Jazz Club.
She then plans to go back to Melbourne to pack up and get rid of her apartment so she can call Perth home.