By Mike Drach
It’s hard work being the lead singer for two different bands, especially when you have to handle your own promotions, arrange your own gigs, and occasionally wipe the beer-glazed tables clean when the show is over.
But Melissa Stylianou does it all with a smile on her face and a lilt in her voice.
This Ryerson theatre acting graduate made waves in the Toronto swing scene with her band 8 To The Bar, ever since they started playing shows last October.
Now she’s been handling two new projects: being the “main canary” for her jump-jive outfit Slim’s Lucky Number, and furthering her career as a respected jazz singer by headlining clubs and bars with a small combo.
Whether she’s performing in front of an energetic audience of rug-cutting hep-cats, or a smoke-filled room populated by the local down-and-out alcoholics, Stylianou gives the music an uncommonly sentimental feel with her sweet and sultry voice.
Slim’s Lucky Number will be in full swing Wednesday at their CD release party for Slim’s Joint, the ensemble’s first mini-album.
Although their repertoire at live gigs includes swingin’ staples like “Sing, Sing, Sing,” Stylianou wanted a more original selection for the new album.
With John Coltrane playing the background, Stylianou explained how she spend hours digging through musical archives at both the library and the record store. She discovered some “very obscure tunes, tunes that not everybody else plays.” She ended up recording hidden treasures like “Blitzkrieg Baby,” which she found on a record that’s no longer in print.
She also cut a promotional album called It Never Entered My Mind, which is more geared towards her first love — jazz.
When she was in her second year of Ryerson’s acting program, Sylianou was given a chance to study jazz singing with vocal coach Carol Welsman. She received a scholarship, which funded private lessons and some promotional costs. With the help of fellow musicians, she managed to hook up a few gigs in smaller clubs.
In the last year, she’s gained a following by singing regularly with her jazz ensemble at The Rex, where she also works as a waitress.
Compared to swing, Stylianou said “jazz has more variety and a lot more depth of emotion, which can be trying sometimes.” But she attributes her ability to handle the intimate mood to her experience as an actor.
“You’re basically doing a monologue every time you sing a song,” she said. “That is, if you can do it well. It’s exactly the same feeling as acting.”