When you listen to Laura Fygi singing, you are struck by her fine intonation, her excellent phrasing, her relaxed sense of swing, her clear diction, mellow voice and her sophisticated choice of repertoire. But what impresses most of all is the abundant joy she clearly derives from performing - a joy which she unfailingly communicates to her audience.
Listen to her Verve album, Live at Ronnie Scott's, recorded in March 2002, which features such imperishable standards from the Great American Songbook as Lady Day's "Good Morning Heartache," Sammy Fain's "That Old Feeling," Cole Porter's "Just One Of Those Things" and Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness Of You" and note how she breathes new, vibrant life into these immortal classics.
She says, "I absolutely love this timeless music. In my opinion it will always be around. The great bonus provided by the songs on that album is that, over the last ten years, they have grown and become a part of me."
Considering her impressive attributes as a vocalist, plus her natural vitality and engaging personality, Laura Fygi, whose career as a professional singer spans 18 years, remains a largely undiscovered talent outside her native Holland. However, she enjoys great popularity in China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan and makes two Asian tours every year.
Ask her what it is about her music that makes it so appealing to Asian audiences and she says, "The Asian people love music which is full of feeling and emotion - maybe it appeals because it is so different from the music they are used to hearing."
The one-week engagement at Ronnie Scott's Club in 2002 was Laura's first-ever appearance in the UK and she was the very first Dutch artist to appear at the club.
She recalls, "I loved it at Ronnie's. Most of the people didn't know me - but the response was really encouraging."
Amsterdam-born Laura Fygi (pronounced Feejee) has a curriculum vitae which is nothing if not cosmopolitan. Described, rather whimsically, in a Universal press release as ìthe affectionate co-production of an Egyptian belly dancer and a Dutch director of Philips', Laura spent much of her youth in Spanish- and French-speaking Uruguay.
When her father died in the late 1960s, Laura and her mother returned from Montevideo to Holland. At this time, she was in the care of a French-speaking governess, because her mother apparently had neither the will nor the capacity to discharge her parental responsibilities effectively. So Laura was adopted by the principal of her school. By this time she was demonstrating natural musical and terpsichorean gifts, playing piano, singing and dancing in school productions.
After leaving school, she began her show business career as a limbo dancer, touring around with a steel band. Her talent then came to the notice of producers/songwriters Richard Debois and Peter van Asten, who invited her to join Terra, a multi-racial band consisting of one Dutchman and three girls from Surinam, China and Saudi Arabia. But after their first two singles flopped, Terra broke up.
Then, in 1984, Debois and van Asten put together Centerfold, a vocal trio featuring Laura and two other sexy young girl singers. A photograph of the group on the cover of the Dutch edition of Playboy magazine brought Centerfold a great deal of public attention. Between 1987 and 1991, the trio recorded an impressive sequence of hit singles in Holland and toured Europe and Japan, performing a mixture of soul, funk and ballads.
Not only were the three girls easy on the eye, but they were also highly accomplished vocalists. As Laura recalls, "Sometimes we would reduce the volume and sing a cappella - to show that we were not just pretty faces!"
Centerfold came to an unhappy and untimely end in 1991when one of the girls died and Laura, now married, decided to settle for a quiet home life. But it was not long before the show business itch began to re-assert itself and, with her former Centerfold colleague, she formed a short-lived group called Backlot, which made just one album for the Mercury label.
It was a disco gig that Backlot played in Switzerland that ultimately led to Laura Fygi pursuing a solo career.
Says Laura, "After the gig, I returned to the hotel with Herman van der Zwan, our manager, and we went into the bar for a nightcap. There was a piano trio playing in the lobby and, after a while, I went over to the pianist and asked him if I could sing a number. I sang "All Of Me" and, when I went back to the bar, Herman said to me, "I didn't know you liked Jazz." I told him that I really loved Jazz and he said, "OK - then we have to make an album."
When Backlot folded, Laura remembered that conversation, called van der Zwan and suggested that now was the time to do the album. Thus it was that Introducing Laura Fygi was released by Mercury in 1991. Produced by bassist Ruud Jacobs, as have been all of Laura's subsequent recordings, it featured many of her beloved standards, including "Willow Weep For Me," "Girl Talk," "Guess Who I Saw Today," "My Foolish Heart," "Good Morning Heartache" and "Just One Of Those Things." Special guests on the date included Toots Thielemans and Philip Cathérine and the album won an Edison Award, the Dutch equivalent of a Grammy.
The following year saw the release of Bewitched, on which Laura gives distinctive interpretations of some of her favourite ballads - including the title song, "Close Enough For Love," "You've Changed," "Les Feuilles Mortes" and "I Wish You Love." Recorded at C.T.S Studios in Wembley with the London Studio Orchestra, assembled by Nat Peck and including Malcolm Creese, Phil Lee, Harold Fisher, the album also features as special guests Johnny Griffin and Clark Terry.
Laura Fygi's third album, released in 1994, was The Lady Wants To Know, with Toots Thielemans and Clark Terry once again on board, along with Roy Willox, Ferdinand Povel and Bart van Lier. This recording, which was nominated for an Edison Awards, reflected Laura's love of Latin-American repertoire, such as "Corcovado," "Dindi," "Triste" and "How Insensitive."
In 1995, Laura recorded Turn Out The Lamplight, a collection of fine standards, some familiar and others not so familiar, but worthy of wider appreciation, such as "Still Crazy," "She's No Lady" and "For Once In My Life."
In 1997, Laura teamed up with Michel Legrand for a concert at the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague which yielded her fifth album, with the snappy title Watch What Happens When Laura Fygi Meets Michel Legrand, comprising some of Legrand's most notable originals which she interpreted with her own inimitable flair.
Legrand, who has a very high regard for Laura, was also a special guest on the follow-up album, the 1998 release Laura Fygi Live, on which she was backed by the superb Metropole Orchestra. Recorded at the Royal Theatre Carré in Amsterdam, the album included a Jobim medley, the Charles Aznavour hit, "For Me, Formidable," the Bobby Troup/Neal Hefti song, "Girl Talk" plus four Legrand pieces. Recorded on video, the concert was shown to millions of American television viewers in the spring of 1999.
It was back to South American repertoire for The Latin Touch (2000) and the following year she recorded Change, a personal album with Jazz and easy listening popular songs associated with her personal memories. Then came the Laura Fygi At Ronnie Scott's album, on which Laura was accompanied by her faithful group, "my family" as she calls them, with whom she has worked for 12 years - musical director Hans Vroomans, piano; Jan Menu, saxophones; Maarten van der Grinten, guitar; Koos Serierse, bass; Marcel Serierse, drums; and Mirjam van Dam, keyboards, percussion.
Laura Fyji has drawn her musical inspiration from a wide variety of sources, with Julie London one of her great heroines. She also cites, among the singers for whom she has a high regard, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and Barbra Streisand and. perhaps more improbably, Gilbert Bécaud, Charles Aznavour and Al Jarreau. When it comes to instrumental Jazz, she is a big fan of Scott Hamilton.
Says Laura: "I like soft Jazz - and I like melodic music. If there is no melody in the music, then forget it. Life is hectic, so I like my music to be relaxing."
Her great interest outside of music is gardening. She lives with her husband and three children - two sons aged 13 and 11 and a girl aged eight - in a house located in the middle of a wood near Hilversum and spends much of her spare time in the garden. She is a great admirer of BBC gardening expert, Alan Titchmarsh.
However, the garden will have to fend for itself in the immediate future because Laura Fyji has up-coming dates in Holland, Portugal, Hong Kong, Brazil and China. She has just finished recording her tenth album, due for international pre-Christmas release on the Verve label and called The Very Best Time Of Year. Described as "a Christmas album with a Brazilian twist," it has arrangements by the highly experienced and imaginative Rob Pronk and includes some well-known Christmas songs, such as Mel Tormé's "The Christmas Song," plus some which are relatively little-known.
By Mike Hennessey
Jazz Now Interactive January 2005 Vol 14 No. 9 - Table of Contents
Copyright Jazz Now, January 2005 edition, all rights reserved.