Growing up in a family of musicians and surrounded by music, jazz singer Sharny Russell has always been passionate about using her God-given talent in music and she has just released a new album, Comes a Time, Julie Houghton writes.
At what point did you decide on singing as a career?
I attended a music conservatorium straight after school and studied piano, and thought I would be an accompanist and repetiteur. Music was always ‘it’ for me.
What made you veer from classical to jazz?
It was pretty easy as my ears had been infused with jazz at home. Mum was a jazz pianist and Dad played sax and clarinet in jazz dance bands and trios. After graduation I got a job playing ‘cocktail jazz’ with bass and drums. I tend to sing while I play and my fellow players finally convinced me to get a microphone and sing as well as play piano. It just grew from there.
What’s the story of your personal faith journey?
I was at our Lutheran Church every Sunday, and attended a Christian school. At 16 I lost a friend to cancer and watching her mother journey through her grief with tremendous faith was an inspiration. Then I was gobsmacked at the joy and passion of a visiting Christian group of singers and I wanted to be just like them. I think that was when God became very real for me. Attendance at church was important to me, and I began teaching Sunday school after university. In 1977 I was involved in a horrific car accident resulting in extreme cranio facial injuries, and my husband had a head injury. This event had a great impact on our lives, but the presence of God was very strong during this time, and my trust was complete. My life was changed forever and I have never lost that sense of God being very near, like a loving father.
What impact does faith have on your life and work today?
It is behind everything I do. I have made some mistakes, like everyone else, but I continue stronger and stronger in my sense of calling as each year passes. Most of my original music is about Jesus, whether obvious or slightly veiled. Most people I work and do life with know that I am a Christian and am committed to my faith, but I don’t talk about it unless they ask.
Generations of kids have loved Here’s Humphrey TV show, so what was it like being the show’s musical director?
It was a very interesting job. Quick rehearsal with the presenters, then tape a show. Part of the job was to improvise something on the piano while they showed a film of Humphrey in the park, or shopping, or hanging out the washing. Sometimes I would scat (freestyle jazz singing) as well. People used to ring Channel 9 and ask if they could buy the recording of “that woman who sings without words on the Humphrey show”. We’d tape up between two and five shows in a day.
You have had some pretty big names in your corner—Judy Bailey, Judith Durham—who have believed in you, haven’t you?
Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to meet and spend time with some amazing people, including James Morrison and Vince Jones, who endorsed me to record with ABC Classics in 2003.
There is a very powerful track on your album called ‘Crossing The Line’—what’s the story behind that?
I read an article about global violence against women a few years ago and the idea just came to me after reading it. My daughter and a friend encouraged me to finish ‘Crossing the Line’ and put it on the album. I’m hoping that the song will be heard all over the world, and that the perpetrators of violence will hear and be moved to make changes.
Comes a Time is reviewed on Warcry's mini reviews page