With her tentative first album, So Nice released in May 2021 Wilma Baan caused quite a sensation. The only thing tentative about the release was Wilma’s hesitation in waiting so long to make an album, but once it was out there the plaudits came flooding in.
Indicating the arrival of a musician that was wholly in command of her instrument, Baan demonstrated that she was not only a fine interpreter of the Great American Songbook, but was able to bring her own unique take on her chosen repertoire.
Now, two years later she is poised to release the follow up, Look At Me Now! Another stunning collection of songs from the standard repertoire all beautifully arranged and performed, and catching Wilma singing with a new found confidence that raises the bar still higher.
This is all the more impressive and indeed inspirational, as Wilma reveals that for nearly forty years she has been living with a hearing impairment, and at one point considered giving up singing altogether.
Thankfully she didn’t, and her courage and determination have produced some truly marvellous music.
It was therefore a real pleasure to have the opportunity to talk to Wilma about her new album and how she has been able to overcome her hearing impairment to carry on doing what she loves.
Firstly, let’s talk about your new album, Look At Me Now! There is a confidence and assurance about the music performed that suggests that the timing was perfect to record a new album, but I guess that the album has been planned for some time?
It was my 2022 New Year’s resolution to record a second album. I had enough material to choose from and was itching to give it another, better and more confident go.
Thankfully, Claire Martin totally supported the idea and offered to be my producer again, so I started planning.
You have retained the services of Graham Harvey as pianist and arranger which ensures a continuity between your debut album and this new recording. You have a love of the Great American Songbook and have once again chosen your repertoire from this source. How did you go about selecting the tunes to record?
I grew up with the Great American Songbook and the Great Classical Composers – the love for both deeply engrained in my being. However, in my early twenties I decided I wanted to sing Jazz.
For Look At Me Now! I chose another 12 from many cherished compositions and hope to have blended them into a balanced album.
I once again turned to Graham Harvey to be my pianist and arranger because I feel he’s simply the best. And in that I’m not alone, seen the numerous tours and recordings Stacey Kent and Jim Tomlinson have involved him in over the years.
Apart from Graham, the rest of the band are new. Was this a conscious decision to present a new group?
There are many hugely talented musicians out there, who, thankfully, have a very busy schedule and are therefore not always available for the full five days that a recording can take.
I’m chuffed to have found this group ready to share my enthusiasm over my new project.
They did a wonderful job, and I am very happy with the sound they created.
The trio of Graham, Jeremy Brown on bass and drummer Sebastiaan de Krom have very quickly established a group sound, along with yourself. You have also elected to bring in some guests for the recording too. Can you tell us a little about this decision of your choice of guest musicians?
Back in the Netherlands I’ve worked with a guitar player and a vibraphonist for many years and have always loved the versatility and warmth of both. When I first heard Nigel Price (g) and Nat Steele (v), I fell head over heels.
I simply HAD to ask them to do a guest appearance on my new album. To which, thankfully, they agreed. I think the result speaks for itself – I love these guys!
The fact that James McMillan (owner of Quiet Money Music, where we recorded) contributed on flugelhorn and trumpet is a super bonus and the subtle percussion added by Tristan Banks made the album complete. How lucky can a girl be?
How do you feel the music has evolved from your debut album So Nice?
I think I’ve gained more confidence in ‘owning’ the songs and, hopefully, voice depth.
It’s a work in progress!
I’d like to talk to you if I may about living with a hearing impairment. This is a devastating thing to happen to any musician but through your determination you have overcome such difficulties to continue to perform and record. How did you first become aware that there was a problem?
At some point in the eighties, I realised I no longer registered high pitched tones. Birds singing, bells ringing, the sound of keys dropping had all become lost on me.
An audiogram demonstrated a gradually developed inability to hear anything above 1000Hz and I was diagnosed with perceptive (sensorineural) deafness, caused by defects in or harm to the auditory nerve or inner ear. Both ears, in my case. Cause: unclear.
Prognosis: gradually worsening hearing loss, nothing to be done. Analogue hearing aids would have been useless, since they could only provide overall amplification – VERY annoying since I could (and still can) hear everything below 1000Hz perfectly well. My band at the time started remarking on my `challenged` vocal pitching – an inevitable consequence of my ears tricking me into incorrect (lower) interpretation of the tones that were fed to me.
You must have thought at one time or another that this would mean the end of your singing career, and it has taken tremendous courage to overcome such a blow. What gave you the motivation to continue singing?
Actually, I decided to stop singing and hoped for the invention of something that would help me hear true tones again so I could pick up where I left. Meanwhile, dinner table conversation, speeches, tv, radio & theatre were a bit challenging.
A word only makes sense when you can hear the sharp consonants that define it. Without this ability you’re lost, which I was most of the time. But I’ve become an expert lip reader!
I understand that there have been huge advances in audio technology in recent years that you have been able to utilise in live performance and in the recording studio. How do you deal with these two very different environments as a recording artist and performer?
I had to wait for the first digital hearing aids to be introduced in Europe in 1996.
Technique evolved, but it took many years and different makes & types to arrive at something that was comfortable to wear, not too visible and amplifying enough of what I lost to finally give singing with a trio a go again. And it worked!
Onstage I do need a good sound monitor at either side, though. No matter how sophisticated the latest hearing aids are, they can’t yet restore everything that’s lost. But it’s a good start!
A bonus in the ones I wear is the Bluetooth feature. I can stream music and telephone conversations directly into my hearing aids, thus enjoying full, undisturbed benefit of the correction they provide.
Wearing headphones in a recording studio was tricky. Chris Traves, owner of Kenilworth Studios (where So Nice was recorded) introduced me to Sennheiser HD 660s open-back headphones that prevent my hearing aids from emitting the dreaded `feedback` whistle that traditional headphones trigger due to their seal.
The hearing aids are microphones, after all… Open back headphones are a life saver!
What advice would you give to any aspiring singer with hearing impairment?
Based on what I described above, I would encourage any singer who grew up able to hear perfectly and therefore having their favourite music engraved in their souls, to do as I did.
Except, you don’t have to wait as long as I did. If you’d be unfortunate and suffer hearing loss, just don’t give up – technology can only improve!
For aspiring musicians who want to start doing what they’ve always dreamed of: it may be a little more challenging, but if you make sure you have the hearing aids that work for you, go for it!
And for yourself, with the release of Look At Me Now!, what is next on your musical agenda?
I hope to develop more as a vocalist, to perform live more often and am already eying up material for album #3…
Look At Me Now! Is released on 28 July and you can order your copy here.
The album launch concert is at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho and you can book your tickets click here.
For more information, visit Wilma’s website.