Though it has not always been the primary focus in her life, jazz has been the common thread throughout Juliane Gardner’s creative career. She’s now a singer-songwriter, and the vocalist and guitarist for the Shades of Blue jazz trio, who will perform Jan. 16 at McCloud’s in Bucksport and Jan. 28 at Paddy Murphy’s in Bangor. Gardner has come full circle — but not before some interesting, ultimately very helpful detours.
Born in New York City, Gardner moved to Castine at the age of four. She grew up in a household full of music, with parents who were devoted fans of jazz.
“My Dad would take me to shows at a really young age. I had the chance to see some really amazing jazz musicians growing up, like Cab Calloway and Dizzy Gillespie,” said Gardner. “Both my parents were very encouraging when it came to my music. They really were excited about me being creative in any way.”
While Gardner learned piano at home, she learned to sing onstage, performing with the now-defunct Cold Comfort Productions in Castine from the age of five onward. While she was singing, dancing and acting in classic musicals such as “The Sound of Music” and “The Pirates of Penzance,” Gardner also was emulating great jazz vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald.
“I think musical theater and theater in general is a really great way to learn how to be comfortable on stage, and develop a kind of stage personae,” said Gardner. “I think a lot of musicians don’t learn those skills, so they aren’t as engaging on stage as they could be. I know it helped me a lot.”
Gardner moved onto college at the University of Maine at Augusta, where she studied voice and guitar in the school’s prestigious jazz program. While at school, she met her two bandmates in Shades of Blue, bassist Ezra Rugg and guitarist and flutist Chris Poulin, with whom she has played on and off for nearly 20 years.
Though she studied jazz in college, she didn’t perform only in jazz groups. And despite always having a deep love for it, she also wrote her own songs for many years — a laid-back, thoughtful blend of jazz and folk that can be heard on her two albums, “Packsaddle Road,” released in 2003, and “You’ll Find It When You’re Not Looking,” released last year. It’s the kind of music meant for listening while drinking coffee on Sunday morning — slightly groovy, easygoing and smart, like Norah Jones meets Jack Johnson.
“I did lots of things. I wrote my own songs and sang in coffeehouses. I sang in top 40 bands and cover bands. I was in a big band,” said Gardner. “Jazz may be my first love, but I definitely love all kinds of music. With Shades of Blue, we’ll often detour into some more funky stuff, or more reggae kinds of stuff. We’ll play some of my songs. We all have diverse interests.”
What ended up really bringing her back to jazz, however, was a gift from her brother last May. He arrived in Maine, on vacation from Florida, and presented Gardner with a hollow-body electric jazz guitar.
“It totally changed my thinking about playing guitar. It made me a lot more connected to the sound of the chords and everything that comes with this guitar,” said Gardner. “It’s so comfortable to play. It’s really what made me want to go back to playing jazz with Ezra and Chris.”
Shades of Blue formed last year, and the three musicians have a goal for 2010: to play out as much as possible. The group has regular gigs planned for McCloud’s in Bucksport, Paddy Murphy’s in Bangor and at the Hilton Garden Inn, off Hogan Road in Bangor, which just last week inaugurated a new Thursday jazz night.
“It’s so great to see business owners supporting local music of any kind, not just jazz,” said Gardner. “I think live music, regardless of the genre, is almost always fun. You might not go out to buy a jazz album, but seeing it live is just a really nice experience. It’s true of live music in general.”
Shades of Blue will play on Jan. 16 and 30 at McCloud’s in Bucksport, Jan. 28 at Paddy Murphy’s in Bangor, on Feb. 4 at the Hilton Garden Inn and on Feb. 17 at the Barncastle in Blue Hill. For more information, visit www.julianegardner.net and www.myspace.com/shadesofblue2010.