Tag Archives: Beverly Kenney

HILARY GARDNER’S QUIET TRIUMPHS (Jazz at Kitano, September 25, 2013)

The Beloved and I went to see and hear the fine singer Hilary Gardner and her band last night at Jazz at Kitano: a wonderful seventy-minute performance.  Her musicians were impressive: Jason Marshall on tenor and soprano saxophone; Ehud Asherie on piano; Elias Bailey on string bass; Kevin Kanner on drums.

That instrumental quartet began the set with a leisurely but pushing I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE.  Quickly, we noticed Kanner’s boyish exuberance at the drums; Bailey’s steadiness; Asherie’s inventive ebullience, and Marshall — someone new to me but a splendid mix of Rollins and Southwestern passion (think of Buddy Tate).  I couldn’t predict where his phrases would land, but his lines had a speaking grace.

Hilary has been offering songs that celebrate (or delineate) life in New York, relating to her CD, THE GREAT CITY.  Often those songs have been dryly witty, salty glances at life-as-it-is-lived in Manhattan.  (There are very few songs about the boroughs, one notices.  Apologies to Staten Island and the Bronx, especially.)

She began with THE GREAT CITY, whose message isn’t the optimistic fraudulence of “If you can make it here . . . ”  Rather, the song suggests that one wants to keep a clear path to the exit at the same time one enters the Manhattan cosmos.  WHEELERS AND DEALERS had much of the same balsamic-vinegar flavor.

But there were love songs — Ronnell Bright’s cheerful SWEET PUMPKIN, the more subdued THIS LITTLE TOWN IS PARIS (associated with Beverly Kenney), the wry tale of an urban love that is transmitted but not received, SWEETHEART — sung by the imagined protagonist, who is moony over a male customer she waits on in the doughnut shop.  Another of Hilary’s creations was the love song to the lost world, WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG.  (For the first time, I thought that this song — in its possibly melodramatic verse and more familiar chorus — has a sideways kinship with JUST A GIGOLO.)

The performances I have briefly listed would act as convincing evidence that Hilary is a superb singer: her multi-colored voice, her unerring time, her fine but subtle dramatic sense, her wit, her swinging ability to let the song pour through her rather than insisting that the song sit behind her.

But the show had three triumphs where she outdid herself.  And the remarkable connection among those three performances was that they were all of “familiar” songs, which could in other hands have been formulaic, predictable, unsurprising.  Hilary didn’t “do” anything to these three songs to change them — the songs didn’t need it — but she embodied them with deep feeling, freshness, and ardor.  The first was, in honor of the season, ‘T’IS AUTUMN.  I love the song for its melody and its sentimental associations, but think the lyrics alternate between the touching, the almost too-cute, and the inept: “La-di-da, di-da-di-da,” to me, is a lyricist being sweetly unambitious.  But I love “the birds got together / to chirp about the weather,” with unshakable affection.  Hilary took the song at a slightly slower tempo, letting us hear its sweet whimsicality without a trace of contemporary irony. When she sang, “My holding you close really is no crime,” I thought I could see several men in the row in front of us lean forward hopefully, expectantly. They had fallen under her spell and the song’s.

Then, she essayed Dave Frishberg’s DO YOU MISS NEW YORK?  Frishberg’s songs are so remarkable in themselves, and many of us remember their composer singing them at the piano, so it is an act of courage for other singers to attempt them in his shadow.  Hilary’s version was only a shade slower than I might have expected (the better to let us savor Frishberg’s brilliant witty, wry poetry) but I have never heard a more poignant version.  The song came alive in all its rueful splendor, and it was as if I could hear both Frishberg (as composer) and Hilary (as enactor) discovering just how much they did miss New York, and that the loss was irreparable.

And the sly apex of this trio was Hilary’s sly take on YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS — with its satiric, punchy verse.  I’ve heard some singers deliver that song with the emphatic dismissiveness of someone slamming the door on an ex-lover or an unmasked pretender.  Hilary gave the song a bluesy, groovy slither — as if to say, “Look, pal.  Other people may not have noticed that you are really tofu masquerading as something else — but I know.”  Not angry or mocking, but amused.

I felt as if I had heard these three songs for the first time.  The audience didn’t stand and cheer (they only do that in the movies or for drum solos, I think) but they should have.

You will note that no videos accompany this posting.  I’d decided I wanted to enjoy the show, pretending to be more like my peers than someone peering through the viewfinder.  So you will have to find Hilary at one of her gigs for yourself!  Or you can purchase her CD.  Or you can find her at the next concert of the Sidney Bechet Society — Monday, October 14 — with Evan Christopher, Randy Reinhart, and other notables.

But don’t ignore the exceedingly talented Hilary Gardner.  If you catch on to her subtle beauties, then you can say, in Frishberg’s words, “Me, too.”

May your happiness increase!

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MEET MIMI TERRIS, WHO SINGS BEAUTIFULLY

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I first encountered Mimi Terris late in 2008, a sweetly humble young singer who joined Tamar Korn and the Cangelosi Cards at the Lower East Side music spot Banjo Jim’s.  With Naomi Uyama, the three songbirds stood out on the sidewalk on a cold night and serenaded me, Jim and Grace Balantic with an a cappella Boswell Sisters chorus.  It might have been SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT, and we were thrilled. Tamar, Mimi, and Naomi are immortalized on a few videos on YouTube, and the EP CD of “The Three Diamonds”.

Now, Mimi has released her debut CD: it is just wonderful throughout. It’s not simply the winning purity of her voice; it’s the depth of her emotions and the wide range of her musical affections — from gutty Bessie Smith to floating sweet lyricisms.  She can be as light as Beverly Kenney or Blossom Dearie, but she isn’t limited by any one approach. Mimi is classically trained, but she doesn’t sound like Helen Traubel “trying to swing.”  Swing comes naturally to her, but so does beautiful enunciation, convincing phrasing, a deep love of both the original melody and the lyrics.

Here she is, with friends, deep in the purple dusk of twilight time:

The CD, THEY SAY ITS SPRING, is just as delicious.  On it, Mimi is joined by pianist Gordon Webster and bassist Cassidy Holden with visits from guitarist Jacob Fischer and trumpeter Peter Marrott on THEY SAY IT’S SPRING / WEST END BLUES / EN SADAN NATT SOM DENNA (an instantly memorable Swedish pop song from the Thirties) / IT WON’T BE YOU / LILAC WINE / I GOT IT BAD / ROCKIN’ CHAIR / LOVER, COME BACK TO ME / STAR DUST / ALICE.

Listening to it, a dozen times, I thought of Eddie Condon’s praise of Lee Wiley: “She just sings the melody.  No tricks.”  But Mimi’s delicate, reverberating art — deeply simple — is even better than the absence of melodrama.  Although young, she sounds like a mature artist, offering her love of the songs to us.

Mimi’s Facebook page is here; her website is here; to hear music samples or download the CD, visit here.

May your happiness increase!

URBANELY, WITH FEELING: HILARY GARDNER SINGS OF CITY LIVES (with EHUD ASHERIE) at SMALLS, April 7, 2013

Hilary Gardner is not only a fine singer but she has an original turn of mind.  She wouldn’t have been the first singer to create a mini-concert around the theme of THE GREAT CITY — which, not incidentally, is the name of her bracingly fine new CD.  Details here.

Another singer might choose nostalgia and celebrate New York in formulaic terms of bygone neighborhoods and landmarks, the musical world of the double-decker bus and a pocketful of nickels for the Automat.  Hilary has her eyes open to this century as well as to its predecessor.  Her world didn’t begin in 1990, but she knows that intriguing songs keep being written about the city that so fascinates her.

The ten songs that follow — glorious evidence of the swinging, witty rapport between her and pianist Ehud Asherie — stretch back to Vernon Duke and Leonard Bernstein, but forward to Nellie McKay and Dan Hicks.  Hilary has a beautiful voice and a clear, focused delivery — you can hear she’s thought about the lyrics and how they ring most effectively — and a natural swing, a keen ebullience.  Her “contemporary” perceptions aren’t hard or ironic, though; she isn’t a postmodernist smirking at the audience through her songs.  No, she balances her sharp observations with a tender romanticism, both evident here.

WHEELERS AND DEALERS:

YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS:

BROOKLYN BRIDGE:

THAT’S NO JOKE:

MANHATTAN AVENUE:

A NEW TOWN IS A BLUE TOWN:

THE GREAT CITY:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

SWEETHEART / WAITRESS IN A DONUT SHOP:

THIS LITTLE TOWN IS PARIS:

And even those who think that singers should stay in the nicely fenced corral of “The Great American Songbook” should listen closely to both Hilary and Ehud — models of swinging, inventive solo and interplay, music with deep intelligence and deep feeling.  And any program of songs she offers us has its own artistic logic: she creates mosaics full of sharp but deeply felt juxtapositions and resonances.

May your happiness increase!

DOES YOUR ICONIC VOICE DRIP WITH LIFE EXPERIENCE?

Billie Holiday’s iconic voice dripped with life experience, and with good reason. The jazz and blues star’s 44 short years were littered with rape, child prostitution, addiction, rehab, prison – and international recognition for being one of last century’s finest singers.

That is the opening of a news story in a UK paper — reviewing another singer’s Billie Holiday tribute.  Here it is: no invention.  I will ignore the prose, though the dripping and the littering suggest that a good tidying-up is needed.

But it raises the usual question for me.  Billie Holiday is perhaps the jazz artist most victimized by posthumous “adulation” I can think of, with Beiderbecke and Parker not far behind.

I know that people are fascinated by the dead — especially those dead men and women who lived dramatically.  And I was raised, as a writer, to think that biographical detail counts, that you can’t entirely be a New Critic and pretend that Keats didn’t die young, that Joseph Cornell didn’t have mad crushes on younger women, that Beverly Kenney did not kill herself.

But when so many searches on JAZZ LIVES are for information about Billie and drugs — not Billie and music — I despair.

For all of those eager people who cannot think of Lady Day without a needle stuck in her arm . . . I would prescribe a course of steady listening to ME, MYSELF, AND I — in both takes.

Could we admire the artist’s work, its beauty, its scope, instead of wanting to make her “iconic” — which means a doomed figure we can morbidly eat and drink?

What if we knew nothing of any artist’s personal life, that he or she had lived in died in serene anonymity?  Would the art still be life-enhancing?

Where does adulation stop and voyeurism (out of whatever motives) begin?

What do we want of these dead people we say we love?

May your happiness increase.