How did you get started?
I started singing when I was five years old a Baptist church in Los Angeles. I started singing classical and opera in college. This was really great for control and discipline. I also learned to sight read and proper breathing technique. I was invited by my vocal coach to perform on Sunday’s at her Catholic church: I was a little apprehensive of singing this style of music as a career, which in my later years as a singer I think this would’ve been better.
You sing mostly jazz and R&B now right?
The transition from classical to R&B and soul was an easy one because I sang a lot of R&B music as a child and gospel and jazz comes from the same style of music. It’s all very emotional and all of this music is from our heritage.
How is it different from your classical training?
Absolutely it is very different! Opera is about posture, breathing, control, staying within the melody of the song, clean air environment, proper rest (at least 8-10 hours a day) extensive training and the list goes on and on.With Motown and soul music you’re just born with it. There’s not a lot of practice to be done. Of course you must take care of your voice as with classical music but it’s not as strict as with classical and opera. Also Motown music is a lot of spontaneous things that come from it and it’s not so structured.
So what’s your favourite piece to sing?
My favourite piece is “And I am telling you” from the musical Dream Girls. The emotion, the lyrics, the intensity of the arrangement. It starts out soft and builds to a powerful ending.
You’ve done so much: Opera, musical theatre, jazz. What’s your favourite?
My favourite is theatre. I like the costume changes, and the different audience you get every night. Also there’s some acting as well, which I love. Theatre is very different from playing clubs because with theatre everything is timed and you pretty much do the same show every night. Whereas with clubs you can be free to do pretty much anything you want.
You do a lot of ‘classics’: songs many people know. Is seeing it live different than listening on our iPod?’
It is really good to see live music because you can be spontaneous and there’s no boundaries. Also you get a chance to connect with the audience. The experience is quite different because a studio recorded CD is very planned and timed and it’s hard to put a lot of emotion in the studio because it’s just you in the recording booth with nothing to feed off of.
You’ve performed with some of the greats of Motown. C’mon, who’s your favourite?
I don’t really have a favourite, they were all great. However Smokey Robinson was a really nice and down to earth. I performed with Mary Wilson of the Supremes. She was very professional and she taught me about how to hold my hands on stage, look, movement, and how to walk with gowns that had long trains: “just staying walking toward”. I also worked with the legendary Norman Connors who discovered a lot of great singers. He taught me about discipline, working hard, always networking and just being an overall nice person to work with.
Right, so what are you bringing to Dunes?
What people should expect from my show at the Dunes is an array of songs from Luther Vandross to Van Morrison. I sing all types of music jazz, R&B, pop and blues. So it’s a little bit of everything.
Avis Ellis performs at Dunes, Grand Hyatt Doha, Tues- Sat, 9pm-1am. For more information call 4448 1280.