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What’s it like being a Jazz Musician?

What's it like being a Jazz Musician?

Written by Ellen Doty // @EllenDoty

Music has always been an integral part of the fabric of my life. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. My mother was a choir director at a church in my hometown (Okotoks, Alberta) and also played the organ. I think back fondly to sitting on the organ bench next to my mom singing from the “Hits of the 70s” compilation book- my favourite song being “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack.

My musical influences are incredibly varied: from soul music, to folk, to jazz, to pop, and many genres in between. A lot of people ask how a girl that grew up on an acreage and went to school in a small town in Alberta became so interested in jazz music.

My grandmother, on my father’s side, actually lived across the street from Nat King Cole in Los Angeles. My grandparents were on the scene during the hay day of jazz. They would go out swing dancing at the Hollywood Palladium to live performances by jazz greats like Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and many more. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, was a trumpet player, and was also one of the early hosts for CKUA Radio when it was located on the University of Alberta campus. So I’d say jazz was passed down to me through both sides of the family.

Me and my mom, Jennifer Doty

Even though music has always been part of my life, at first, I was afraid to take the jump into doing it full time. I thought that I needed a more stable backup plan, so I studied biology and geology at university. Over the years, I tried to put music on the back burner and every time I felt this longing to be writing or performing, and it was something I couldn’t escape. In 2012, I made the decision to leave the University of Calgary in my final year of the Honors Geology Program. I don’t think my parents were very pleased at the time because I quit so close to the finish line, but, in the end, I am so glad I chose music.

Music is such a powerful art, and getting to share my own music with people on a regular basis is an incredibly rewarding experience. I wake up every day with purpose and am so excited to do what I do. I think life’s too unpredictable to not choose to live every day doing something that brings you joy and happiness. I’ve lost a few dear friends far too soon, and it’s served as a reminder to me that we never know how much time we have, so why would we not spend it doing what we love? Of course, there are a lot of struggles and ups and downs that come with the artist life, but I am so glad I made the choice to pursue this as my career.

Photo Credit: Brendan Klem

So what is being a full-time musician really like you ask? Well, it’s more work than I could have ever imagined, to be honest. There are an unlimited number of hours you put into your projects and into promoting them, and you still never quite feel satisfied, but that’s all part of the journey.

I typically work upwards of about 100 hours per week. I recently finished recording my sophomore album in Toronto, which was a large investment, so I’m also working four other jobs to help make ends meet and fund the release of the project when it is complete. I teach voice lessons, work for Toronto-based artist Danny Michel, work 20 hours per week at a Pilates studio, and work as an arts consultant for cultural planning.

I’m usually exhausted, but in the best way possible. Being an artist is essentially being an entrepreneur. It requires a lot of investment and time, especially in the early years as you build up the business. I’m learning so much, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the support of many wonderful mentors over the past few years.

Josh Crowhurst, Ellen Doty, and Nate Waters at Jack Singer Concert Hall.

Photo Credit: Brendan Klem

As I mentioned previously, I am getting ready to release my sophomore album, and I’m beyond excited with how it turned out. For a while now, I have been experimenting with different sounds and ideas, but could never quite find the right thing. Part of being a musician is finding your own sound. Something that defines you, and only you; something that plays on your strengths, and helps to bring your words and songs to life in the most meaningful way. And of course, inevitably, your own sound will continue to change and shift over the course of your career as you push the boundaries of artistic creation.

I finally found what I was looking for late one evening in a Toronto studio. We’d been in sessions all day with a full band, and when everyone went home, my producers sat down at the piano and drums respectively, and we started to play, just the three of us. Some kind of indescribable magic happened.

Here I am, almost a year later, after having just finished the final recording of an album with solely voice, drums, and vocals. It’s a very unique sounding album, and I’m so honoured to have had the opportunity to work with the people that I did to help it come to life.  I started writing the music for this record nearly two years ago, and have written 50 songs to date, of which we chose 13 to be recorded. I had the pleasure of co-writing a few of the songs with some incredible writers including Juno-winner Justin Rutledge, Los Angeles writer Andy Stochansky, and The Dudes’ frontman/local celeb Danny Vacon.

The album is set for release next year…. stay tuned!

Photo from studio recording in Toronto January/February 2017

If there’s anything I can say from my own experience and journey so far, it’s that you should find what you’re passionate about, and pursue it to no end. Sometimes it will be very difficult and you may feel like giving up, but at the end of the day, my goodness you will be happy.

Photo Credit: Brendan Klem


Ellen Doty is a soulful Canadian vocalist and songwriter with a world-class voice. Her music is rooted in jazz, yet seamlessly incorporates elements of other genres including folk and pop. A true storyteller whose works are as intimate and as personal as their handwritten lyrics, Ellen’s immense talent for songwriting is only complemented by her stunning vocals. Rich, sultry, and sweet, Ellen’s voice draws listeners in and takes them on an unforgettable journey.

2014 was a huge success for Ellen as she released her much-anticipated album “Gold” in May, which broke the top ten on several jazz radio charts in Canada. After an overwhelming response to her crowd-funding campaign, Ellen embarked on a thirty city, fourty-six stop Canadian tour which kicked off in Sydney, Nova Scotia and ended in Victoria, BC.

In the past year, Doty has had the opportunity to open for two-time Grammy award-winner Gregory Porter, and was recently named one of the “Top Canadian Jazz Artists under 35” by CBC Music. Doty recorded her sophomore album in Toronto, which is set for release in early 2018.

With an honesty and warmth that sets her apart, Doty is an artist to watch for 2017 and beyond.

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