I had the great good fortune to enjoy and witness a delightful evening of Johnny Mercer songs — as performed by Barbara Rosene and Ehud Asherie at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street in New York City on April 14, 2015.
Before you savor this delightful interlude, some words about the duo. If you’ve been following JAZZ LIVES, you know that Ehud is one of the most swinging, most alertly intuitive players ever. When he’s around, the music pulses; lyrical surprising melodies spring into bloom.
I do not think that I’ve ever had such a glorious opportunity to hear and record Barbara before, even though I’ve known and admired her for a decade (starting with the hallowed evenings at the Cajun, Jacques-Imo’s, and a dozen other places, including churches). When I first met Barbara, she had a spectacularly beautiful voice: I remember taking a friend who was a deep opera aficionado, didn’t particularly like jazz or improvisation, who couldn’t stop talking about the marvels of sound that Barbara created. But it isn’t just her voice. Many singers have lovely voices, but Barbara knows how to construct a small compelling drama (or comedy) from a song’s particulars.
When I first heard her, Barbara was much more a brightly-plumaged Twenties songbird, flitting from branch to branch, now naughty, now sweet, now coy. I am sure she could easily inhabit those worlds now, but her feeling and mastery have deepened, and she exhibits a deep emotional understanding and range. I don’t mean “acting”; I mean “being,” put into song.
Here she and Ehud explore a song that everyone knows, that usually is performed at a much faster tempo — to the edge of self-parody. Listen to the transformations they effect on YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY:
That’s a performance I have not been able to listen to without going back and playing it again.
Before Barbara purls her way into the song, she talks a bit about “marvelous,” a meditation stimulated by her thoughts on TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS. And magically she asks a deep plaintive question —
“Is nothing a marvel?”
which could, for the properly attuned, be the only text for a lifelong course in gratitude and deep reverent awe.
I marvel at Barbara Rosene. And there will be more marvelous Mercer performances with Ehud Asherie (himself a marvel) to come.
May your happiness increase!