Impressively, Katie Noonan knows Billy Strayhorn was gay. Who’s Billy Strayhorn? He was the pianist in the Duke Ellington band in the 1930s, a gay black man who was adored by the group and wrote Take The A Train and Lush Life.
Katie Noonan knows he’s gay and she sings Lush Life on her new album Two Of A Kind in tones as caramel smooth as her singing for the bands George and Elixir.
It’s very sad. When you read about where he was and the time he lived and being -˜young, gifted and black’, like the Nina Simone song, that was tough enough, but also being gay as well, Noonan said over a tea on Crown Street.
Straight white woman sings gay black man’s lament: Noonan is unintimidated by mixing it up. Her latest project is perhaps the most daring example -“ a new album and concert tour in collaboration with mother Maggie Noonan, an opera singer. On Two Of A Kind the pair sing opera and jazz, solo and duet, with a songlist including Autumn Leaves and Sous le d??is.
Noonan loves both, but prefers jazz.
The whole concept of jazz is it’s all about original thoughts and uniqueness, Noonan said. And opera is as well, but just in a different way. You have to sing the notes on the page, whereas with jazz it’s don’t sing the notes on the page. They’ve been done!
The album offers a yummy mix for the open-minded and something of a musicology lesson, with Puccini’s Un bel di from Madama Butterfly segueing into Poor Butterfly by Raymond Hubbell (the jazz Butterfly).
That it works as well as it does is surprising, as surprising as Noonan’s enthusiasm for the deeply uncool prospect of going on tour with her Mum.
It’s great to be on the road with a girl because I’m always the only girl among 30 men. And lovely men but -¦ men. And not ones that are into dressing up and frocks as much as I’d like! Noonan laughed.
But it’s just amazing to stand alongside the woman who made me as a person, but also helped make me the musician that I am -¦ it’s amazing to stand alongside her as a peer.
Katie Noonan appears with Maggie Noonan, jazz trio Redfish Blue and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, from 7 to 10 April. Phone 8256 2222 for bookings. The album Two Of A Kind is available now on ABC Classics.