Like many jazz singers, Perth- raised Nerissa Campbell always wanted to try her luck in New York. She intended to stay just one year, but that has now extended to 11 years and, with a husband from Iowa in the bargain, she will probably stay on a lot longer.
Not that she doesn't enjoy coming home. She will mark her latest visit this week by showing off tracks from her latest album to her friends and other audience members at the Ellington Jazz Club.
Campbell took herself to New York with an adventurous desire to experience the famed world of jazz, meet a few musical friends who had trained with her at the WA Academy of Performing Arts, and then return home like so many others have done.
"I guess it was a musical pilgrimage," explains Campbell, who recently spent time in Iowa with her husband's parents. "I sold everything I had to get there, and it was two months before September 11, 2001, so you could say there was a lot going on in my first year. At the time there were not too many of my friends from the Australian jazz scene there, but now there are tons, including a bunch from Perth."
She wrote the songs for her first album Paint Me Orange in New York in 2002 but brought the material back to Perth because she wanted to record it with her friends. Her second album in 2009 was recorded in New York with musicians from all over the US.
Her latest album was recorded in New York with New York-based talent, including Perth musicians Matt Jodrell and Des White, who are studying at the Juilliard School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music respectively. "I always knew I wanted to be a musician - from the time our teacher took us to WAAPA when I was 14," Campbell says. "I said to myself at that age, some day I'm going to come here." She was able to keep that promise, but her first musical ambition was to play classical trumpet .
"While I was learning the trumpet I discovered I had a voice that was suitable for jazz," she says. "I knew I didn't want to continue with classical trumpet, and jazz vocal made more sense to me." The past decade has seen Campbell hone her skills as a composer of original material and as a jazz singer with a fondness for a bluesy, late-night, melancholic sound.
Her latest album Blue Shadows is described as a "neo-noir jazz soundscape of heartbreak and hope born in the gloom of a New York City winter's night."
It is also painted as a collection of songs celebrating the "underworld of emotions - the sadness and desperation, the loneliness and yearning of a world where joy is elusive and the hard luck of broken dreams and unfilled love falls to the majority."
It sounds rather gloomy and melancholic when you put it that way, but the advantage of a Skype interview is that you can literally see how happy the interviewee is - and Campbell seems contented and friendly in a way that is, well, quite normal.
The material is her exploration of a world of imagination, rather than the reality of her own life.
"I keep a notebook with me and always write down snippets of whatever comes to me. I always write at the piano, but I have to wait until the right mood strikes me and then I search through my notebooks. Once I've got the mood and atmosphere the rest comes more easily."
Campbell will play at Ellington's with former WAAPA colleagues, pianist Tom O'Halloran, drummer Danny Susjnar and bassist Pete Jeavons.
"I haven't been home for three years so I'm really looking forward to catching up with old friends."
The Big Hoo-Haa Comedy Death Match is on at His Majesty's Theatre on Friday. Book at BOCS.