Young singer shows flair for old-timey music

Local singer Brooke Van Ryssel earned a spot among international acts in Winnipeg's Jazz Festival.
Local singer Brooke Van Ryssel earned a spot among international acts in Winnipeg’s Jazz Festival.

Brooke Van Ryssel is a 21-year-old chanteuse with an old soul.
The singer listens relatively strictly to her music of choice: jazz.
“I heard a recording of Ella Fitzgerald… and I was just kind of blown away,” says Van Ryssel. “I had never really heard a lot of it (jazz) before.”
Van Ryssel has been singing since she could talk and something clicked when she heard the legendary Fitzgerald.
She knew she wanted to pursue music as a career, and on a whim, she attended the University of Manitoba jazz camp one summer in her high school years.
At the camp, she got to sing with vocal ensembles and receive some vocal training from U of M jazz vocal instructor Anna-Lisa Kirby – and she was hooked.
The young singer has since powered through a four-year bachelor of jazz studies at the University of Manitoba with a major in jazz voice.
In order to get into the program, students write a music theory entrance exam and singers perform three songs in a vocal audition, one of them with live accompaniment.
Van Ryssel passed with flying colours and the rest is history.
She is now a regular performer at Rudy’s Eat & Drink, performing every Saturday night in the summer beginning in June, and Van Ryssel is scheduled to perform a solo show as part of the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival.
Though the singer has 14 songs recorded on her Reverbnation site, many of them originals, Van Ryssel has planned an Amy Winehouse tribute for her show.
She pitched the concept to Jazz Fest and it impressed the bookers.
“I was very excited; I was freaking out,” says Van Ryssel of being accepted as a first-time performer.
As a jazz enthusiast, Van Ryssel is excited to see Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist Gregory Porter in the lineup, and she was disappointed to learn – as many were – that John Legend tickets had sold out. Even though he’s not stringent jazz.
Van Ryssel has played at a number of venues in Winnipeg that invited her jazz vocals to set the ambience, including spots at Mona Lisa Ristorante Italiano, Inferno’s on Academy, The Current Restaurant & Lounge and the Centre culturel franco-manitobain.
Van Ryssel credits her high school education at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate for bestowing her with musical knowledge and training, and her parents for supporting her pursuit of music. “They’ve always been supportive of ‘whatever you want to do, whatever makes you happy,’” says Van Ryssel.
Though formal education isn’t the common path for many music hopefuls, Van Ryssel doesn’t just want to perform onstage. She’s interested in another form of music expression – music therapy.
“I did a lot of volunteering at nursing homes and some hospitals… singing and playing the saxophone.
“I always found it really rewarding,” says Van Ryssel.
She says she wouldn’t claim to be a professional saxophone player, but she still knows how to carry a tune. She also plays enough piano to help her compose her original songs.
Van Ryssel has recently teamed up with a Initiatives for Just Communities program, Open Circle, where prisoners are matched up with volunteer visitors.
She visited the Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley and got to singing for them. She found the response was positive and hopes to make it a regular practice.
Van Ryssel’s ultimate goal is to travel to New York to take a master in music therapy.
Before that, though, she hopes to put out an album.
“I definitely want to record an album,” says Van Ryssel.
“I want to stay here and probably work for a year or two and then I want to do my masters.”
Brooke Van Ryssel performs in the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café on Tuesday, June 17 at 8 p.m. You can listen to her music at Jazz Fest runs June 12 to 22 with various events in the Exchange District. Visit for the full schedule.

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