ENTERTAINMENT – A sweet gig: Keli Vale’s career-spanning Sundays at Dog and Bull



Singer Keli Vale has never been one to rest on her laurels.

The jazz vocalist returned to school years into her already successful career for a degree in vocal performance. Then, nearly two decades in, she learned to play piano as well.

Late last year, she took another big leap: Of the 14 songs on her second release, last September’s “Sweetness,” all but three are original compositions.

“It’s such an amazing feeling, to have these creations. I have never really written songs before,” said Vale, whose repertoire otherwise is filled with jazz standards and singer-songwriter fare from Carly Simon to Alicia Keys.

“Now I have these things that live and breathe, and fit with all these other popular songs.”

The album, a soft, intimate affair, is a collaboration with guitarist Nick Bucci, who co-wrote and is the only other player on the album.

It’s technically not her first foray into writing. Vale wrote the title track to her 2013 debut, “Whose Life is This?” In this case, however, she penned the lyrics and handed them off to someone else for the music.

In the case of her latest release, she and Bucci worked closer together. Vale again provided all the lyrics, and also worked with the guitarist on the melodies.

“I’d come up with these poetic, bordering on nauseating, lyrics, and email them to Nick,” Vale said, laughing.

“Then, he’d come up with these beautiful chord changes, and he would have a main idea for a melody and we’d meet in the middle on it.”

It was stage-tested mostly at the Dog and Bull in Croydon, where Vale has performed weekly for years. Since late 2013, Bucci has joined her every fourth Sunday of the month.

The two already performed regularly together, but added this steady gig to help craft their new songs.

“We wanted to present these mostly-finished songs, and polish them in a live setting with as many gigs as we could,” she explained.

“When you write something, you don’t know quite what you’re going to do with it until you’re in front of an audience. You react differently in that live setting.”

It helped that their own work fit well with Vale’s repertoire.

The idea for the album came mostly from conversations Vale had with people at other shows on the her full calendar of solo, duo, combo and full band engagements. Often, she’d hear people react to American Songbook standards by wondering why people don’t write songs like that anymore.

So, she decided she would write her own. Judging by the reaction to them, Vale achieved what she set out to do.

“We’ll do these old standards and popular love songs, and plug one of ours in. it’s amazing how well they blend in,” she said.

Sometimes, they’ll get “zero reaction” to them — a good thing, she noted, since they’re meant to fit well alongside songs people have been performing for decades.

Other times, people notice them and realize it’s a song they haven’t heard before.

“Sometimes, when they ask what it was, they get excited when I tell them it’s an original,” said Vale.

It’s exciting for Vale, too. She’s come a long way over the years, from a singer who, she says, would occasionally be “that crazy person running around with a wireless microphone” who was was occasionally “accidentally” photographed singing while standing on a bar, to a more static performer playing her own accompaniment, to the co-writer of some of the songs she’s singing.

Now, at Dog and Bull once a month, people can get up close and personal with the latest phase of Vale’s career.

“I used to love having a full band, but I’ve become very partial to the duo I do with Nick,” she said.

“We have these songs we’ve written together, and I could put the charts in front of anyone, but no one’s going to play them like he does.” ••

Keli Vale performs at the Dog and Bull, 810 Bristol Pike in Croydon, on Feb. 26 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For information, visit kelivale.com.

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