Black Gardenia quintet
Photo: Christopher Edmonstone

An interview with Daphne Roubini of Black Gardenia

Interviewer John Jane

Vocalist, musician, school owner and teacher Daphne Roubini enjoys a hectic schedule and active lifestyle. Generally known has 'Ruby' by her students (myself included), she moved to Vancouver from her native London, England in 2004. Nine years ago she started up her own Ukulele school with only a dozen students. Now, Ruby’s Ukes Ukulele School, on Seymour Street in Vancouver, boasts around three hundred students per term.

Daphne’s own musical journey started when she was just a child singing around the house, but her formal training at The City Lit Institute in London, along with private lessons and mentoring with exalted British Jazz Singer Ian Shaw.

Already regarded as a promising vocalist, she then went on to perform at local jazz venues in London including the famed National Theatre Foyer jazz sessions on the South Bank, and Daphne now regularly plays at The Vancouver Jazz Festival, and Frankie’s Jazz club to sold out shows.

I talked with Daphne by telephone this week ahead of her band, vintage jazz quintet Black Gardenia's Vancouver Jazz Festival concert on Canada Day on Granville Island. She will be highlighting tunes from her latest release “Lucky Star” a collection of classic standards and vintage inspired originals (#2 in the NACC Jazz charts). She is busily preparing for the honour singing ‘O Canada’ in English and French, new for this British songstress.

I asked Daphne about her songwriting style “How much do you draw on your own experiences in your song-writing” I asked.“I have 2 bands Ruby & Smith and Black Gardenia. I find with Ruby & Smith I draw from my internal world more, and with Black Gardenia it is more about the style of the music, I love visual songs that paint a picture, 'Melancholy Moon' on the album was one of those songs, that really creates the atmosphere of two lovers enjoying missing each other.”

Music festivals are nothing new for the busy musician who has previously performed at the Winnipeg Folk Festival and annually organizes the Prestigious Vancouver Ukulele Festival of which she is founder and artistic director. The festival is a weekend event that includes ukulele workshops and concerts.

I asked her if she was from a musical family and if there were any musicians that have influenced her. “Well, my grandmother did play the mandolin.” “There was always music in the home. I would listen to my parent’s jazz recordings of Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, Anita O’Day, and Sarah Vaughn as well as Duke Ellington, Ahmad Jamal, and other Jazz greats of the 40s and 50s”

Asked if she found any personal similarities between teaching and performing in public, she replied “I find the two very different. Singing and performing come from an internal place where I express myself naturally with the music and teaching is more about being aware of the class and how each student is responding to the information I am imparting. As a teacher, one has to be aware of the energy in the room” she continued.

In response to a question about ever getting nervous before a performance and if there was any advice to beginners who did, she was surprisingly emphatic. “No, never. I find it a very enjoyable experience and don’t get nervous, For any amateur who gets nervous before performing, I would suggest keeping the performance simple and choose something easy they are very comfortable with, and EFT (emotional freedom technique) might be helpful too."

Daphne has a low key, informal way of conducting her classes and is careful to never put a student ‘on the spot’. She is an exponent of the Kodály concept, which promotes “unconscious learning” and offers an effective approach to music education. She attributes the success of her Ukulele School (based downtown) to “always taking care of people enjoying the lessons and having fun as well as learning.”

You can find out more about Daphne Roubini and her bands Black Gardenia and Ruby & Smith on her websites: ( ( ( To see and hear Daphne Roubini watch her video channel

© 2018 John Jane