Jake Dennis is determined to make the most of his chances to become a jazz singer in Perth. A year ago he formed the Mint Jazz Band with a trio of more experienced musicians and has spent the past 12 months learning his craft through gigs at pubs, clubs, restaurants, bars and suburban festivals.
Late last year his band landed a gig at The Ellington Jazz Club in Northbridge and on April 14 they will return, having impressed the management with their style and audience appeal.
"Our first gig was all jazz but we've been working on some contemporary songs to add to our repertoire," says the 23-year-old.They include Maroon 5's Moves Like Jagger, Adele's Someone Like You, Valerie (the Zutons' song made famous by Amy Winehouse) and Bob Marley's reggae anthem Is This Love, reinterpreted with a "jazzy twist".
Asked to nominate his influences as a singer, Dennis immediately opts for Judy Garland, perhaps surprising for a young singer raised in Perth. "What inspires me about her is her stage performance, the way she can sell a song and engage an audience," he says. "That's what I like best, getting on stage and performing."
His other influences also tend to be female - Whitney Houston, Billie Holiday. But male singers do count as inspiration: Jamie Cullum, for instance, Nat King Cole, Michael Jackson.
Dennis comes from a musical family. Unlike many young musicians in Perth, Dennis did not enrol in the jazz studies course at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. Instead he studied literature at Curtin University and has had his poetry published in Australia.
A friend introduced him to Chris Marquand, a drummer recently arrived from the island of Guernsey. Marquand comes from a background in classical percussion but studied jazz at Leeds Music School and has played with jazz ensembles and orchestras in England.
The pair then teamed up with Perth pianist Mark Cunniffe, who spent 10 years based in England, including four years on cruise liners, and Singapore bassist Malcolm Mah, who came to study music at WAAPA in 2008.
"It all seemed to work when we got together," says Dennis, who says the band's foundations are the classics of singers such as Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Holiday and other creators of the Great American Songbook.
Dennis says he wants to take his music as far as possible in Perth, and ultimately would like to record his own album.
"But to do that I'll have to get a bit more famous," he says modestly.
Jake Dennis and the Mint Jazz Band perform at The Ellington Jazz Club, 191 Beaufort Street, on April 14 at 6pm.