If you thought that arias were sung only in opera houses and on PBS; if you thought that Puccini and Mozart had cornered the market on passionate vocal expression . . . then I would ask you to consider the three performances below.

Recorded at my favorite Sunday-night hangout of all time, The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City), these three vocal – dramatic expressions are emotionally powerful.  They capture two singers: Tamar Korn and Jerron Paxton, alongside Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, bass; Mark Lopeman, tenor sax and clarinet, and Pete Martinez, clarinet (far left) — on the final number, clarinetist Bob Curtis can be seen and heard even more to the left. 

The three songs couldn’t be more familiar landmarks of twentieth-century American popular song, but listen to what these singers and players make of them! 

I had heard Tamar perform BODY AND SOUL once before (with the Cangelosi Cards at the Shambhala Meditation Center, on Feb. 27, 2010 — you can see that performance on this blog) but I do not think I have ever heard her or anyone else sing this song with such despairing power and intensity.  And, yes, I know it has been sung beautifully and strongly by Louis, Billie, Frank, and many others.  But listen — listen! — to Tamar and the band here, the musicians giving her their full love and support, as she stretches notes in some phrases, stating some plainly.  And her second chorus, where she suggests by her singing that some things are too deep for mere words: 

I am not alone in having some awkward feelings about this song: its somewhat syntactically-tortured lyrics; its inescapably masochistic air (much more self-immolating than UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG); it is more a song of voluntary indeiture than of simple fidelity.  And Tamar enters so wholly into the spirit of it that I hear her moving closer and closer to the flame, to the brink, in the manner of Piaf.  But a strange thing happens here.  You realize that as much as Tamar is apparently performing open-heart surgery in front of the crowd, saying, sobbing, “You want my heart?  Here!  Here it is!  Take it!” she is simultaneously the artist in full control, creating a dramatic (but not melodramatic) statement about love and art and passion.  In appearing to throw herself into the song, she is also the artist knowing how to create that spectacle which is so unsettling, so seismic.  And the gentlemen of the ensemble evoke Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Ed Hall, Charlie Christian, and Oscar Pettiford in the most singular ways!  Perhaps they’ve all been prisoners of love, too?

After that performance, I felt utterly satisfied and drained: in some way, I thought, “That’s it for me!  I don’t have to hear anything else tonight, tomorrow, next week . . . ”  But it was early — perhaps twenty minutes before the EarRegulars would call it a night — and they conferred on another song that Tamar might sing with them.  It took some time — choices were suggested and rejected — and since I am a born meddler and enjoy the friendly tolerance of everyone in that band, I leaned forward and said, “Sorry to intrude!  But what about WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS”?  And — my goodness! — Tamar and the Regulars thought it a good idea, and they took it up at a brisk tempo, everyone playing around with the written harmony to spark it up a bit (what I’ve heard called “the Crosby changes”) which you’ll notice.  Here, the mood was properly restorative, hopeful.  Yes, you sold my heart to the junkman, but I can always barter something and get it back in decent shape.  The clouds will soon roll by.  Your troubles can, in fact, be wrapped up in dreams and made to disappear.  Hokey Depression-era thoughts, not supported by evidence?  Perhaps.  But if I woke up in a gloomy mood every morning, which I fortunately do not, I would want to play this video — more than once — until I felt better.  See if it works for you, too:

The heroic Jerron Paxton had come in to The Ear Inn between the first and second sets, and I had hopes that he would sing.  When he shows up at a club, music happens!  And for the final performance of the night, he and the EarRegulars settled on a rocking SOME OF THESE DAYS, that anthem of “You left me and won’t you be sorry!” but sung with a grin rather than finger-waggling or real rancor.  Jerron is a sly poet, singing some phrases, elongating others, speaking some . . . and he gets his message across when he seems to be most casually leaning against the wall, just floating along: a true improvising dramatist:

Thank you, gentlemen and lady, for your passionate candor, your eloquence.

4 responses to “THREE ARIAS, THREE MOODS at THE EAR INN (Jan. 16, 2011)

  1. RE: Body and Soul
    Rather than operatic Tamar sounds more theatrical, uncannily close to Piaf. Perhaps she has done a show in that style. It makes me a little nervous. I would have expected a rendition a little more relaxed, perhaps showing more of her own leanings rather than this sort of showcase of her obvious talents in this particular role. Maybe it was an audition for her.
    “Crosby changes” is new to me, maybe describing a couple of chords in the bridge where there is a natural extension to a II minor seven going to a V seven. In my listening Art Tatum was the first to do this. That point in the tune has been extended in many directions, the most notable by John Coltrane which the bassist almost hints at but then reigns-in, in his beautiful solo. Also, very nice tenor solo.
    Operatic, no. The voice could not carry past the footlights. Showbiz – old movies, yes.

  2. Of course you are entitled to your perceptions, Win. But by “operatic” I didn’t mean the power of a Sutherland. Rather I meant the great passion of an aria. So I think we are speaking at cross purposes, perhaps? If you FELT the song, then it doesn’t matter how you or I might characterize her delivery of it, right? Cheers, Michael

  3. Something different – about technical matters:
    Something must have happened to the light. The musicians are not silhouettes anymore. Wonderful.
    I have an external microphone with spot effect on my video camera, which might have eliminated some of the noise from the audience. Do you have that possibility? (Maybe the audience was just too noisy. – Some may have been touched by Tamara’s first chorus, since there was a moment of silence after the applause.)
    I know scat song, but do you call her wonderful “muted trumpet” solo that?

    Thanks a lot

  4. Dear Erik,

    We are SO much creatures of our surroundings, for better or worse, and at the Ear someone put up a string of white lights behind the band, which makes a huge difference. Of course they didn’t design the place so that I could make the best videos, so it is all a matter of chance! I now have an external microphone on the camera — a Rode — which helps greatly, although when someone is standing right next to me and having a conversation, which people are allowed to do, there will be some leakage. I don’t know what I call Tamar’s beautiful “mouth trumpet” except I think of her as the previously-unknown Mills Sister. Cheers to you, Michael

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