Don't mess with a soprano  

A singer and her song

Smokey, dark, dense. An Okanagan summer fire?

No. The beautiful voice of Anna Jacyszn. 

She is a jazz singer to be envied, a promoter, songwriter and wife. Her life reads like a Hollywood movie. A very interesting one.

Little Anna was born fatherless in Warsaw, Poland. Her father, a preacher man, was killed in a motorcycle accident two months before her birth. 

Eventually, her mother married another preacher man/carpenter who took them to Ontario.

“This combined family was definitely like The Brady Bunch,” Anna said with a laugh. “There were 10 of us.”

Just like a movie, tragedy struck on a family vacation. They was heading to a friend’s in B.C. when the van hit black ice and they went over a cliff. 

Anna’s face was smashed, but her father sustained serious enough injuries that he had to remain in Kelowna General Hospital for a long time, so they found a home here.

They loved it and, after his release, they stayed.

Anna listened to her dad's short wave radio whenever she could and was drawn to England by the lure of the songs she heard.

While her friends were having fun, she was working many jobs, saving money to move to England the first chance she got. 

“My fondest memory of high school was the Grad Talent Show, KSS 1984,” Anna said. 

“Airband was really popular and I sang It’s Raining Men. They thought I was air banding. They couldn’t believe I had sung it.”

The movie changes location. 

We find Anna on her 19th birthday in London, England. Her first job is at the private-member jazz club Zanzibar. She was a membership secretary by day and, believe it or not, a coat check girl by night. 

“I was seriously star struck in those days,” she said. 

This club not only introduced her to jazz, but it was also a who’s who of the biggest names in the music business and social register of England. 

“I’d scream into the phone to my friend in Canada and say, ‘Annie Lennox is here tonight. Duran Duran are here.’ I’d then turn around and so nonchalantly take their coats.” 

She soon started singing and getting the odd gig.

While she was honing her singing skills, she began to work for the David Harper Management Company, and Wasted Talent Media touring company. 

These two agencies booked all the current stars. One of Anna’s jobs was to make sure the riders (special concessions the stars demand) were fulfilled. 

“Mariah Carey always wanted puppies in her dressing rooms,” Anna told me. “Van Morrison always wanted Colt cigars and whiskey.”

Singing lessons were expensive, so promoter Anna was always looking for ways to increase her earnings.

“I had a friend who was a fantastic chef. If we needed to make some money, we would go to a small town and see a restaurant that was under performing.  

“My friend would remake the menu and I would promote and bring in people to their establishment for a percentage of their take. 

“Who knew it would be a very successful TV show in the future? We were just having fun.”

Movie location changes over 20 years include the cities and places her voice took her.

  • Singapore
  • Monaco
  • Beijing
  • Brazil
  • Shanghai
  • Japan
  • Kelowna.

What’s a great movie without more tragedy and happiness? 

Anna returned to Kelowna in the early 2000s to help her mom care for her father, who had Alzheimer’s disease. She also fell in love and married “a lovely English gentleman, Andrew.”

In 2009, she founded The Jazz Café, a band that performs to sold-out audiences in the Black Box. 

She soon scooped up many civic awards in the intervening years:?

  • Civic Award: The honour of the Arts
  • The Okanagan Arts award for music
  • The Spirit of Kelowna Award
  • A Proclamation Citation from the Okanagan Institute for Raising the Bar in musical quality and standard in the Okanagan to name a few.

Since we were just two singers talking on a summer’s day, I had to ask how she feels about jazz as a performing platform. 

“Singing jazz is an art in deconstruction of the music. The words are the inspiration. You need to ingest them and then let them form the music not the other way around.”

She sings a bit from Summertime, Porgy and Bess to demonstrate how the melody is internalized and then given back. 

The final note came from her toes I’m sure. Wow! No one could ever doubt her ability to sing after hearing that.

The movie is on temporary hold due to COVID-19. 

Anna, the songwriter, is dusting off the many books she has of music-song ideas from her past. 

She will be presenting these in 2021 at the Black Box. Her most exciting project is the two-woman show, Always Patsy Cline, which she will be singing and performing with Janet Anderson, 2020 Kelowna Actor of the Year, in November, 2021.

I will be buying a ticket to hear that sensuous, velvety voice. Her smile isn’t bad either.

The movie, I hope, will continue for many, many years.


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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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