THE REMARKABLE MS. GIBSON, BETTER KNOWN AS BANU: “BY MYSELF”

Banu Gibson, triumphant, by Elsa Hahne

Banu Gibson, triumphant, by Elsa Hahne

The ebullient woman shining her light in the photograph, Banu Gibson, is a superb singer who doesn’t get the credit she deserves as a singer.

If you have no idea of what she sounds like, here, take a taste:

Banu, Bucky, and Berlin — endearing adult music, no tricks.

I think Banu is undervalued because she is so powerfully distracting as an entertainer, and this is a compliment.  We hear the wicked comic ad-libs, we see the flashing eyes, we admire the dance steps, we are entranced by the Show she puts on (that, too, is a good thing) but I think we don’t always hear her fine voice as we should — her warm timbre, her dramatic expression, her phrasing, her intuitive good taste, her swing.

banu-by-myself

But with her new CD, we have a chance to hear her, deeply.  That CD, BY MYSELF, is delightfully swinging, at times poignant.  The song list is a perceptive assortment of songs that haven’t been overdone: BY MYSELF / MEET ME WHERE THEY PLAY THE BLUES / ILL WIND / THE MOON GOT IN MY EYES – MOONRAY / WAITIN’ FOR THE TRAIN TO COME IN / YOU LET ME DOWN / UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG / THEY SAY / STOP THE SUN, STOP THE MOON (MY MAN’S GONE) / MY BUDDY / NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS / OH! LOOK AT ME NOW / DAYTON, OHIO – 1903 / OUR LOVE ROLLS ON / LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES.  And Banu’s wonderfully empathic band is Larry Scala, guitar; Ed Wise, string bass; Rex Gregory, tenor sax and clarinet; Tom McDermott, piano on DAYTON and OUR LOVE.

Banu is a great connoisseur of songs, with a wide range of under-exposed great ones, as opposed to the two dozen that many singers favor.  I’ve only heard her in performance a few times, but when she announces the next song, I always think, “Wow!  How splendid!  She knows that one!” rather than thinking, “Not another MY FUNNY VALENTINE or GOD BLESS THE CHILD, please, please.”

Song-scholars will notice that a number of these songs have sad lyrics, but this is not a mopey or maudlin disc.  Every performance has its own sweet motion, an engaging bounce, as the musicians explore the great veldt of Medium Tempo.

Although a handful of songs on this disc are associated with other singers — Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, and Billie Holiday — BY MYSELF is not in a tribute to any of those great foremothers, nor is there any ill-starred attempt to recapture those recorded performances.  If Rex and Larry happen to sound a little like Pres and Charlie Christian on these sides, that is a wonderful side-effect, but no one’s been asked to pretend it’s 1937 and John Hammond is in the studio.  Everyone swings gently — the shared goal, with no artificial ingredients.

The disc is not narrow in its conception, either.  Banu and the band approach each song as a separate dramatic playlet with its own mood, tempo, and feeling. It’s one of those rare and delicious discs where the emotions are not only intense but fully realized.  I could not listen to it all in one sitting — not because it bored me, but because I felt full of sensations after a few tracks, and few CDs are so quietly arresting.  Each song is treated tenderly and attentively, and although I suspect the underlying theme of this disc is deeper than “Hey, I haven’t made a CD in a few years and here are some songs I like,” we’re not whacked over the head with one emotion.  Rather, it’s as if Banu wanted us to consider the whole spectrum of intimate personal relationships.  She and her band have deep true stories to tell, but you have to figure out what they are, performance by performance.

Incidentally, I am snobbish, narrow, hard to please (ask people who have heard me discuss what I do and don’t like) but I fell in love with this disc in the first twenty or so seconds of BY MYSELF, which is a rubato duet between Banu and Larry Scala.  (When is the world going to wake up about Scala?  Come ON, now! But I digress.)  Her diction is remarkable; her solo swing a model, and her voice is rich and full of feeling.  Her sweet vibrato is so warm: there’s nothing mechanical in her delivery and her superb phrasing: the second variation on the theme is never a clone of the first.  (Hear her variations on “He made a toy of romance!” in MOONRAY: nothing that a lesser artist could do or what have envisioned.)  By the way, the Gregory-Scala-Wise swing machine (with two interludes from McDermott) is perfectly lyrical and swinging — Basie plus Lester with Basie taking a smoke break in the hall, or perhaps Skeeter Best / Oscar Pettiford / Lucky Thompson if you prefer.  On many singer-plus-band sessions, the disparity between one and the other is sharp, so the listener waits through the instrumental interlude for the Singer to come back, or vice versa.  Here, every note seems right, and the result is very affecting.

In the ideal world, Banu and her band would be touring the world — giving concerts and clinics and workshops — and I would hear this music from other cars’ radios when we were at red lights.  But until this happens, I commend this splendidly-recorded disc to you: the emotional density of a great volume of short stories combined with the elation of a book of coupons to your favorite ice-cream shoppe.  BY MYSELF — after many listenings — seems a series of gems.  You can buy it here.  You will rejoice.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

9 responses to “THE REMARKABLE MS. GIBSON, BETTER KNOWN AS BANU: “BY MYSELF”

  1. Banu,I love her-a great performer a ,lovely no BS human being…Keep at it girl….At 85 I still love it as much as ever…Pug x

  2. Banu is all the things you mentioned plus she is a 100% nice person, her spirit is just as ebullient and delightful as her voice. She researches the music, the composers and the era. She loves the music and all that the poetry conveys. I have had the pleasure of being in her outer circles and I can tell you that she is the real deal. Her history as an entertainer (with Disney -among others) has stood her well and her unbridled joy in performing makes every listener hear every tune with new ears. I am told that Banu means Princess, she is surely more than that to me!

  3. Just plain pleasin”…van nuys…!

  4. Charlie Coleman

    Met her but once years ago. Forgot just how great she is. Will have to find her CD’s somewhere in my stash and get my groove back.

  5. I humbly suggest that you will want to add to your stash. Ms. Gibson is singing superbly now.

  6. Banu seems to know the verse to every entry in the Great American Songbook, as well as the history behind each tune. She’s an educator as well as an entertainer.

  7. Joel Albert

    “In the ideal world, Banu and her band would be touring the world — giving concerts and clinics and workshops —..” Agree. What we didn’t know when we engaged B to concertize here in Maryland ( PLUG:on Sunday March 19, 2pm, Montgomery College, Rockville) was that there would be a fresh CD to replace the one my wife has worn out playing in her “art room”. We even arranged for the Cherry Blossoms to pop early to salute her and David Boeddinghaus without whom the Banu event is not quite the same. And old band mate David Sager will lead a team of top DC players behind them.. or rather, alongside.

  8. Don "Zoot"Conner

    I love her!And I will buy the side,Where has she been all my life?

  9. Frank Wilner

    Michael, thanks so much for your notes. Lots of terrific comments and music. Just want you to know that you turned me on to Banu Gibson, a vocalist that I knew nothing about. Since learning from you about Banu I ordered & received her recording with Bucky; fabulous. Today I ordered two others on her “Swing Out” label. I’m always on the lookout for jazz singers & she is top notch. I also think you made me aware of Catherine Russell, another goodie.Thanks so much for all this musical joy. Regards, Frank

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s