Will the real Ellen ten Damme please stand up?

The Dutch vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and chief cook and bottle washer is next up in the current Hot Jazz season.

(photo credit: KLEUR ZWARTWIT)
Ellen ten Damme is quite an act. Of course, that should be the case with anyone who engages in the performing arts, in order to keep the wolves – and more – at bay. But Ten Damme ups the entertainment ante a few notches and spreads her seasoned professional wares across quite a few disciplinary fields.
The 51-year-old Dutch vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and chief cook and bottle washer is next up in the current Hot Jazz season, with eight gigs lined up across the country between March 30 and April 5. The declared theme of the shows is Ten Damme’s personal take on a bunch of numbers popularized by late iconic French songstress Edith Piaf. But no doubt Ten Damme will probably have quite a few other avenues of entertaining expression up her capable sleeve.
She is coming over with her quartet of pianist Thijs Cuppen, bassist Mark Haanstra and drummer Arthur Lijten, but I wouldn’t put it past her to recruit the services of additional sidemen, on all manner of instrument, or in fact to take off any which way as the mood grabs her.
Over the past three or so decades, Ten Damme’s long and meandering career path has taken her along a plethora of creative pursuits. She started out, as a youngster, on classical violin, and thereafter explored the sonic possibilities of piano and guitar, as well as developing her vocal gifts. And, if you consider that she has, on several occasions, incorporated dance and even circus turns in her shows, you have yourself one well-rounded entertainer. Oh, and she has put in her pennyworth on the thespian front too over the years.
Variegated bread-winning activities notwithstanding, Ten Damme says she is pretty focused. “Basically, I have the feeling that I always do the same thing my whole life, because it is performing. It is being on a stage, and that is something you do alone, or you can do it with an orchestra, you can do all kinds of music, you can dance to it or, in my case, I am an acrobat as well.”
Besides her other gifts, Ten Damme is probably one of the fittest artists in the Hot Jazz series’ 20-plus year history. “I worked at a circus,” she says. “I joined the acrobats while singing,” she adds with a laugh. That, she says, presents its own difficulty factor. “For singing, it is best if you are fit. If you are not fit you really notice it. The voice gets less flexible.”
Over the years, Ten Damme has performed all over the world, at all sorts of venues. Three years ago she sang and played at probably one of the most chilling locations in her bulging resume, the site of the Westerbork transit camp in northeast Holland. Between July 1942 and September 1944, close to 100,000 Jews were sent from there to Auschwitz, Sobibor, Theresienstadt and Bergen-Belsen. In May 2016, Ten Damme performed a song of her own, called Ik Lach, Maar Jij Bent er Niet (“I Laugh but You are Not There”). “It was on the Holocaust Day we have in Holland every year,” she explains. “It was a very special occasion, of course.”
Ten Damme tries to provide the emotive, and entertaining, goods wherever she performs. She also keeps herself on her toes. With a discography that, to date, includes 11 titles, she sings in Dutch, English, German and French. The latter, of course, comes in handy when she’s doing Piaf material.
After high school, she spent a year studying jazz at a music conservatory, but moved onto musical pastures anew after one year. She sang in a hard-hitting new-wave band called Soviet Sex, and has done her fair share of cabaret-oriented shows. She says she now moves more in classic jazz circles, but is not averse to incorporating influences from a wide range of cultures in her work, including from nearer this part of the world. “Now I add some exotic elements. I always had violins and string quartets, and that sort of things, and now I add, for example, oud and darbouka. I might do some of that when I come to Israel. We’ll see.”
Ten Damme sounds like one well-rounded performer. “I try to be fun and entertaining, but also serious,” she notes. “I can also be serious – singing ballads, and that sort of thing. But it should never be boring.” Fat chance.
For tickets and more information: 03-573-3001 and hotjazz.co.il.