Classical to Jazz - My Singing Story  

inspiration singing stories Oct 19, 2021


When I was 17 and had won the Senior Vocal Champion at the Bundaberg Eisteddfod. The adjudicator asked me to perform at the Gala Concert at the Moncrieff Theatre to sing Handel’s Angels Ever Bright and Fair.

 Writing blog posts on a Sunday night is becoming ritual for me. My writing seems to pour out this time of the week.

I guess I’ve wrapped up all of my ‘to-dos,’ and my brain feels less clogged.

I want to tell you my singing story that lead me to jazz. I’ve alluded to it in other blog posts, but I haven’t dedicated an entire article to it.

I should add a disclaimer that this is not 100% chronological. I’ll do some fast-forwarding to spare you all the details. Otherwise, I’d be writing my memoirs.

So here goes.

I had my first singing lesson at 12 years old in an old Anglican hall in Bundaberg. My teacher, who is still teaching singing to this day, Robyn Edgar, was excited to hear a natural voice that could lend itself to classical singing.

As an eager to please kid, I fully committed to the classical path. My Aunty Cleo, after all, had a career overseas as an opera singer.


She, by the way, had a luscious voice, a mezzo-soprano. My darling cousin Theo, who is equally obsessed with her, created a playlist of one of her recordings in Switzerland. You can listen to it here.

My Aunty Cleo, God bless her, was unabashedly opinionated. We loved her for it! I remember her being disappointed when a young tenor she was championing decided to record a crooner album.

She thought it was embarrassing for opera singers to believe they could sing jazz suddenly.

When I questioned her, so you don’t like jazz? She replied that she loved it and had enormous respect for the genre. And she thought it was arrogant to sing jazz with classical sensibilities.

When she said this, I was 16 years old and convinced that I would be the next Maria Callas minus the tragic life story. And may have even felt a slight betrayal on Aunty Cleo’s behalf when this tenor turned his back on Puccini to mimic Frank Sinatra.

I had my career planned; I would go to the Conservatorium of Music and then find myself on stage at La Scala without any struggle. Not to mention, become good mates with Zeffirelli.

But the only problem was that even though I was learning and singing arias, I wasn’t listening to opera in my spare time. I was drawn to the glamour of it all, as opposed to the actual music.

Ever since I was a little girl, I had been infatuated with Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald. I had their cassette tapes that I would play religiously, along with my Kylie Minogue and Jason Donavon tape.

I also loved all of my Dad’s 60s and 70s rock music – Bob Dylan, the Beatles, James Taylor, the Rolling Stones. I even adored 80’s Greek music.

Another strong indicator that I wasn’t cut out for a career in opera was when my Mum bought me tickets to see La Boheme in Brisbane; I fell asleep during the show. I just want to quickly mention that I LOVE going to the opera and orchestra now as an adult and have never done this again.

But alas, as a teenager, I wasn’t very good at reading these signs and continued to plow ahead with these ambitions.

I auditioned for the Con at 17. I remember singing ‘Voi Che Sapete’ from the Marriage of Figaro and got an excellent response from the panel. I even got an ‘A’ on my audition, which meant you were a shoo-in.

So, you can understand my shock and dismay when I received the ‘rejection’ letter in the mail. My dreams came crashing down around me.

Fast forward to quite a few years to when I was doing my journalism degree. I was taking singing lessons with a lovely teacher, Berenice Auckland, but again I wasn’t a very invested student. A turning point came, however, when I found myself at a blues jam.

I may have had one or two alcoholic beverages that night when I found myself wailing into a microphone and improvising to a minor blues.

I had never felt so free and downright badass in my life. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences, one that I would not know again until years later when I was in a band called ‘The Warm Guns.’

I did this with my best friend Amy Dzufer, Kellie Lloyd, and awesome human Murray Paas who was our drummer. I played keys and sang harmonies.

However, I wrote a song called Mr. Sleaze and would come out from behind my keyboard and wail. I increasingly became addicted to this feeling.

I remember one night looking out into the audience as I was singing, and every single person was mirroring me, rocking side to side. I had never felt this connection before and knew that I wanted to make this a permanent fixture in my life.

You can watch me sing Mr. Sleaze at the 2007 Valley Fiesta. Or listen to the recording.

Fast forward to when I was in London a few years later. I was the keyboard player in a garage rock band called The Splinters. We played mainly in Camden. It was fun, but I wasn’t doing much singing and didn’t ever feel this same connection on stage as I did in Warm Guns. The lead singer ended up quitting the band, and I was able to fill in one night and live out one of my dreams, which was to sing at the Dirty Water Club. But this is a story for another day.

I increasingly felt lonely and lost in London until I discovered a young hip jazz piano teacher in Chiswick – Gabriel Latchin. He rekindled me with the sounds I loved from the Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald tapes I listened to as a kid. Then I started listening to Miles Davis. His Workin’ album became a real comfort for me during this time. On this album, his version of It Never Entered My Mind gave me a stronger dopamine hit than chocolate.

My jazz lessons set a fire in my belly that I could not ignore. Gabriel introduced me to so many great singers, taught me Thelonius Monk’s Blue Monk. I felt this strong connection again that I had on stage. But this time, it was a connection to an era of incredible songwriters and musicians. It humbled me, and I felt inspired again after being in a rather big rut.

I came home to Queensland and realized that I had no choice but to study jazz, despite my fears around being a mature-aged student. I was only 27, but of course, I thought this was straight out geriatric back then.

And thank God I did. I get to experience this exhilarating connectedness every time I sing on stage with my band. And I get to be a part of the incredible jazz community here in Brisbane and connect to all of the jazz greats in their recordings. I talk more about this in my blog post, The Magical Power of Jazz Singers.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to share all of this with you in The Fearless Singer Jazz Club – an 8-week course that will teach you a whole set of jazz songs (6 standards) along with online teaching sessions on the jazz style of singing, starting on Wednesday, November 10.

In the course, you will feel confident performing one of these standards (or all of them) and feel this same divine connection to the song and the audience. And I’m telling you, you will catch the jazz/performing bug too!

Remember, this is an open channel. If you have any questions about the Fearless Singer Jazz Club or any thoughts or revelations about the above, hit reply. I’d love to hear from you.


Mel X

P.S. We SOLD OUT both Amy Winehouse shows!!! We are so pumped and counting down the days to perform. If you were keen to come and missed out, come and join us over on our event page for some exciting updates.