Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth. ~Alan Watts
I have a magnificently intense aversion to being put into a box and labelled. So as you can imagine, I have been very challenged by this weeks exercise in Music Success In 9 Weeks : THE PITCH . In chapter two, author Ariel Hyatt gives multiple sensible marketing reasons why defining my musical style in a 15 second “elevator pitch” is a must should I ever bump into Clive Davis on the way up. So with gusto I threw myself into this challenging exercise.
For starters I listed off some early influences that shaped me to become the singer I am today. Like watching my talented Father , John McCullough sing his killer version of “ INK SPOTS at his many gigs with the “ by theRoy Coran Orchestra. Or the first time I ever heard Ella Fitzgerald swing “Paper Moon” on a ’78 on my grandfather’s gramophone , and Nelly Lutcher ‘s R+B version of “Fine Brown Frame” that lit me up. Then the turning point was “The Juliette Show”. Every Sat. night after the hockey game, I was enthralled watching Juliette descend a flight of stairs in some glittery figure hugging gown. She was our very own Canadian female crooner. “A star”. I recall my young 10 yr self vowing to myself, ” I want to be a singer like Juliette”. At school on the playground, I drove my friends crazy with my imitations of her! Imagine my thrill when twelve years ago, just before releasing my début cd, I spotted Juliette in the audience at the Centennial Theatre in . I took the chance to introduce myself and we had the best talk. In fact she introduced me to the late Arni May, who owned two Jazz club’s called Rossini’s in Kitsilano and Gastown. Thanks to Juliette, the Gastown Rossini’s venue became my first Vancouver Jazz Club for the cd release : LATE BLOOMER. Later, Kits Rossini’s provided many opportunities to play with Lynton Garner. I can’t tell you how important it was to tell Juliet directly, what a positive, powerful influence she had been to me. Other influences…were my charismatic Mother Kay McCullough . She was a tall, striking brunette who loved to sing and although she was not a performer per se, in our household, she rivaled Juliet …AND Elizabeth Taylor. Seeing Diana Ross & the Supremes live at Expo 67 . Diana was unforgettable. She was the coolest singer around… until I heard Joni Mitchell at the Mariposa Folk Festival . What a total contrast she was with her confessional writing style, long blonde hair, guitar and dulcimer. Thanks to Joni I turned within and discovered the writer .
After daydreaming over the early days, I decided to focus more on the present and who I am now and to ask for some help from my friends as I went along. Brian Fraser creator of “Jazzthink”, kindly took the time to suggest describing myself “like the taste of a fine wine – hints of this and that blending into something unique.” I loved this approach. Then I asked my astute hairdresser Kristy Davies to suggest essences of myself. “What’s an essence ?” says she. “Aspects of my personality” that you think set me apart from your other clients.” says I.”Statuesque comes to mind… sparkly , and yet weathered…mmm in a nice way,…to describe how you integrate your life experiences and always land on your feet”. Smiling, I added her descriptions to my long list of “self” definitions.
Once home I shared more ideas with my sage 17 yr old daughter who knows me very well and excels at metaphorical writing. We both dove into scribbling ideas and within ten minutes she had descriptions that made my heart pound with excitement: “tuned to a vision whilst in the key of reality”. We acknowledged they weren’t “it” for this exercise, yet Ashley provided the focus of what I wanted to say. I felt elated and stayed up till 3:45 a.m. writing like a fool and then sent my mini drafts to the wonderful Spider Robinson sci-fi novelist extraordinaire and musician. Later that day he generously offered helpful feedback and editing ideas : I’d even recommend tightening it a bit further, so it can be read slowly, languorously.”
Have I come up with the perfect pitch for me? Well, you can be the judge. All I can say is, it’s as true to who I am that I can muster – this week. What I’ve learned from the process is this. That by defining myself I am not limiting my options, but actually expanding them. And, by comparing myself to other artists I am not trying to be something I am not, but simply painting a verbal hors d’oeuvre for a total stranger that could open a window between us…or not, for I certainly cannot be all things to all people. And distilling a weeks worth of notes into a 15 sec pitch really affirmed to me once again, that simplicity of thought in this cluttered cyber world, is indeed potent. As my hero Leonardo da Vinci once said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
So if I miss that elevator ride with Clive and instead get hit by his limo … and we happen to find ourselves in an ambulance together, it will be great because I’ll be ready and primed for when he asks :” what kind of music do you play Christie “? And I’ll be able to confidently yet nonchalantly say :
Christie Grace – An ambrosia of Ella, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell & Bacharach déjà vu with a twist of Audrey Hepburn.
…then , I’ll sue him!