Tag Archives: Edith Piaf

MUSIC TO OUR HEARTS: HETTY KATE’S “UNDER PARIS SKIES”

 

It’s been suggested to me that I might write too much, so here is my compact review of singer Hetty Kate‘s new CD, UNDER PARIS SKIES: “When I finished listening to the closing track, I wanted to hear it all over again.  I cam completely charmed.”  And you can buy it here   — $10 digital, $18 tangible.

Might I need to explain more?  This is Hetty’s ninth CD, and I first encountered her — on disc and in person — in 2014, and was charmed.  I wrote about her here and here.  The venue she performed at was terrifically noisy, so my videos were unusable, but Hetty was delightful — not, to quote Mildred Bailey, a bringdown.

UNDER  PARIS SKIES is mostly — but not completely — a CD of “French songs.” I put the phrase in quotation marks because for some singers it will might have been a selling gambit.  “What shall we do, now that I’ve done my Disney album and my holiday album?  I know, ‘French songs’!  That’ll sell like [insert appropriate French delicacy here]!”  But in a world of lovely (Photoshopped or otherwise) and beautifully styled young maids who present themselves as chanteuses, and create discs where the best thing is the cover, she is happily free from artifice.

Each song is its own particular pleasure.  There are a dozen, harking back to the records of my earlier life, reassuring.  But before I say another word about the music, I would ask Hetty to tell us about the genesis of this disc.

In January 2017, I moved by myself from Melbourne, Australia, to Paris, France. I can’t tell you one particular reason why, but I can tell you I was ready, and it felt right. Moving to Paris was, and is, one of the most rewarding, and challenging, things I’ve ever done.

I love to sing standards, and I chose these beautiful songs to represent the myriad emotions I felt before, during and after my arrival. I flew away from the people and the things I love to try something new, and as I tumbled into France, brave, joyful, hopeful and unprepared, I broke my heart and fell in love again a million times. Sometimes great distance allows us to see clearly, and sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder.

I must add that many of these songs are for friends who were kind to me, friends who have inspired me, and friends I miss when I’m in either France or Australia. So, it’s fitting to think of this album as a love song, to two cities, to new and old friends, and to being brave.

This album took a somewhat meandering path along the boulevards of Paris before it reached its final destination. Now that it’s here I hope you enjoy it.

That says a great deal about Hetty — not only her peregrinations, but her attitude, gracious, open-hearted, and warm.  That attitude comes through the songs, but the CD is not simply a swoony paean to the city of the most formulaic sort.  Rather, Hetty, without melodrama, has a splendid intelligence about the way to set each song off to its best.  You might think of her as an intuitive jeweler who knows how to present even the smallest stone so that it gleams memorably.

In this, she is aided immeasurably by guitarist James Sherlock and string bassist Ben Hanlon — neither of whom I’d heard of before, but in this three-quarters-of-an-hour CD I came to think of them as modern masters, subtle, gently incisive  soloists and accompanists.  UNDER PARIS SKIES becomes in the first minutes a gratifying conversation among equals who never compete for our attention.  As an aside, the recording quality is a joy, and I understand that James and Ben have made their own duo CD.  Meaning Hetty no disrespect, I would like to hear that as well.

Hetty herself has a very mobile voice and vocal texture: she can be passionate but she avoids aiming for Piaf, or, for that matter, the conscious little-girlishness of Dearie.  Her sound is sweet but she can be tart, and her phrase-ending vibrato seems emotive but never melodramatic.  Her voice has a slight reediness, which is very endearing.  At times, she has a speaking directness, but she is always singing.  Her phrasing intelligently follows the contours of the lyrics, but it’s never a rigid up-and-down.  Her diction is superb (and her vowels are deliciously cultured) even on the most elaborately treacherous set of lyrics, and she makes each song completely believable . . . but with layers that emerge as we listen and listen again.

The disc begins, and woos us, with AZURE-TE, which some singers have so dampened with unshed tears that the result is soggy.  But Hetty, James, and Ben realize that it is a song about songs about Paris — every cliche Velcro-ed in place — so there is an amused lightness about the performance.  I was reminded slightly of Jean Sablon, warning us about the wolf, but more subtly, the way Basie would play a very slow blues, reminding us that playing sad music didn’t mean he had to be sad himself.  ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE rocks from the first note, the three voices enjoying themselves thoroughly, and the longest track on the CD ends in a flash.

I said that each song was a small drama shaped by Hetty, and ONCE UPON A SUMMERTIME has a great deal of emotional energy, as Hetty, rubato, begins in duet with Hanlon’s arco bass for the first chorus — shifting into waltz time for the second chorus, then to rubato for Hanlon (who is a string quartet on his own): quite amazing.  Should you think I exaggerate, listen:

A hilariously energized GET OUT OF TOWN follows — where Hetty’s second chorus is resonantly wittily convincing (I remember thinking, “She must be a powerfully charged opponent in a romantic argument, winning points while smiling broadly”): Sherlock’s playing is a lesson in spare orchestration.  Guitar fanciers in the audience may fuss over who he Sounds Like; for me, I hope he and Ben are accepting the best students and transforming lives.

IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, a song flattened by over-performance, is uplifted here, because of Hetty’s sweet deep understanding of the lyrics, her understated yet vibrating sincerity.  How gentle yet compelling her voice is; how unerringly warm and — to make the cliche apt — how “pitch-perfect”!

We have to come down from such a peak, and DARLING, JE VOUS AIME BEAUCOUP is just the thing, where Hetty can gleam at us, savoring the unspoken comedy of the English speaker who wants better French to charm the Love Object.  It is a sly soft-shoe dance of a performance, even though you won’t hear a foot being moved, unless they are your own.  UNDER PARIS SKIES is, to me, sweetly trite, but Hetty, Ben, and James move through it at a brisk rocking 3/4.  Since it’s the chosen title of the CD, I have to take it with generosity, and Hetty’s light approach rescues the song, as does the dancing playing of Ben and James, and the ending made me smile.  “Stranger beware,” but we aren’t afraid.

LA BELLE VIE, is, I recognized immediately, THE GOOD LIFE, rendered in bright capital letters by Tony Bennett a year after Sasha Distel’s original version: Hetty’s French falls lightly on the ear, which is no surprise:

Hetty wrote above that a few of the songs on the disc were favorites of friends, and since AFTER YOU’VE GONE has no French connection, I must assume it has a place for that reason.  I dreaded hearing this song, because it has been obliterated through a century of performance, but Hetty makes it come alive from the verse to her final improvisations, and Hanlon’s gorgeous accompaniment: arco and pizzicato, one of the tracks overdubbed but I couldn’t tell which, give this elderly tune a complete makeover in the name of Play and Playfulness.  TOUT DOUCEMENT returns us to French, reminiscent of Dearie without coyness.

DOWN WITH LOVE comes across like a fusillade of pistol shots as every word explodes at the listener — not volume but precise enunciation, mixing hilarity and exasperation.  “Take it away” is the most delightful rapid-fire triplet: all of Hetty’s shots are in the center of the target, and the performance is a lemony chaser to the amorous sentiments in other songs.

A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE is both a favorite song — another one perilously over-familiar.  But here, with Hanlon trotting alongside, after Hetty’s frankly impassioned reading of the verse, we are in the middle of the most seductive “rhythm ballad,” passions in swingtime:

For the first time in my listening history, I actually believe that the streets were “paved with stars.”  The enchantment Hetty, James, and Ben create is flawless.

You can purchase this CD here.  And I urge you to for purely selfish reasons: if this disc sells well, she will create more.  Gifts to those who can hear.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS: “THE TRIO COLLECTION, VOLUME TWO”: TIM LAUGHLIN, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, HAL SMITH

Simply stated, this is a second disc (recorded on February 7-8 of this year) by one of the world’s most satisfying jazz trios: Tim Laughlin, clarinet (and a few originals); David Boeddinghaus, piano; Hal Smith, drums.  Volume Two, logically, is the successor to Volume One, issued three years ago.  I loved the first one and said so here.

But a New York winter has been very hard on my adjective hoard, so I called upon two of the musicians to help me out — fellows who can write as well as play. (David, terribly articulate, was otherwise occupied.)

I went deeply into the Obvious and asked Tim about the arresting cover, and he said, “I ran out of pictures of steamboats and wrought iron. I have new frames for my glasses and decided to grow a pencil-thin to complete the caricature.” And we agreed that “iconic black and white” really stands out, which is what you want from multi-tasking easily distracted (my words, not Tim’s) music purchasers.

Then I thought I’d ask another member of the trio for his thoughts, and the logical choice was Hal Smith, jazz scholar and former journalism major (if we want to go back a piece):

“It amazes me that Tim continues to come up with outstanding original material — especially ‘Gert Town’ and ‘Roundabout,’ which refer to an area of New Orleans and a traffic circle, respectively.  Tim has a genuine NEW ORLEANS sound on clarinet; rich and woody in all registers. He also has a natural swing in his playing that is infectious (especially for his accompanists)!  David’s playing encompasses many of the best traditions of Classic Jazz and Swing piano — Morton, Waller, Hines, Sullivan, Wilson — but it always comes out sounding like Boeddinghaus. That’s the way piano was meant to be played!  Drumming with these guys is as easy and pleasurable as putting on slippers and settling into the recliner with a good book, an adult beverage and a black cat.”

“Easy and pleasurable” nicely characterizes the comfort this CD offers us.  It’s miles away from EASY LISTENING, but there’s no strain, no chasing after crowd-pleasing effects.  Melody, rhythm, subtle harmonies, all combine in performances that are both logical and warmly inviting.

More about the repertoire, and the sound.  The familiar songs are presented with their rarely-played verses, which are wonderful surprises in a few instances: THANKS A MILLION, ALL BY MYSELF, CABIN IN THE SKY (a small poignant masterpiece), LA VIE EN ROSE, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, UP A LAZY RIVER.  Then, some hot classics: WOLVERINE BLUES and PONCHARTRAIN BLUES for Mister Morton, MESSIN’ AROUND, and THERE’S YES, YES IN YOUR EYES — which has a surprise at its center, and an arrangement credit for Dan Barrett.  (Extra credit for those who know which Arbors Records session this one came from.)  Then Tim has contributed two of his own, ROUNDABOUT — where the reference is to rapid-fire playfulness in the band as well as the traffic circle — and GERT TOWN BLUES, named for a New Orleans neighborhood that is explained more fully here.

The sound of this disc deserves its own paragraph, at least.  Thanks to Ben Lario, recording engineer, and David Farrell, mastering, this is one of the most authentic-sounding CDs I’ve heard.  I  have to preface this by saying I’ve heard the three members of the trio in a variety of settings, with David’s piano and Hal’s drums the least victimized by amplification, but often I have been seated at a distance from those instruments in a large hall.  Even in small venues, the sound is compromised by people gently moving or rattling paper.  Tim’s clarinet, its sound so delicious, I’ve heard out-of-doors or again through amplification for the most part.  (And when I’ve video-recorded these players, the sound of my videos, even through a good microphone, is at some distance from the real thing.)  This CD sounds gorgeously authentic, as if I were seated in front of the trio in a moderate-sized living room.  Nothing harsh or shrill, nothing unnatural, and the balance between the three instruments is as fine as I would hear in life.

You can hear samples and buy the disc here or download the music here.

May your happiness increase!

VANESSA TAGLIABUE YORKE: “THE RACINE CONNECTION”

What it looked like at the 2012 Bix Fest, thanks to Tom Warner, Phil Pospychala, Andy Schumm, Dalton Ridenhour, Josh Duffee, and the engaging singer Vanessa Tagliabue Yorke:

This performance and ten others are now available on a Rivermont Records CD called “Vanessa Tagliabue Yorke: The Racine Connection,” and it’s a thorough pleasure.

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When most people go to a jam session, club, concert, or festival, if the music is superb, there’s often the regret mixed with the joy: “Wow, that was wonderful. Wish I could hear that again!” The new Rivermont Records CD makes it possible, and a delight.  For one thing, Vanessa isn’t simply a record-copyist (although she does a very effective Annette Hanshaw homage on IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW).  Rather, she comes to this music with a winning combination of heartfelt emotions and deep understanding.

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She has a rangy, eloquent voice — no squeaky-girl Betty Boopisms for her — and at times she evokes the raw yet controlled passion of Piaf.  And her musical range is equally spacious, as evident in the songs selected: BLUE RIVER / WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE / THOU SWELL / BACK WATER BLUES / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW / BLACK BOTTOM / LOVELESS LOVE / PETITE FLEUR / IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING / THEM THERE EYES / NEBBIA.  That three or four of those songs go beyond what one might expect at a Bix Festival — and that they are rendered with great feeling and depth — is tribute to Vanessa’s artistic honesty and breadth.

And when this earnest swinging singer is accompanied by great musicians Andy Schumm, Dalton Ridenhour, Yves Francois, John Otto, Dave Bock, Frank Gualtieri, Jason Goldsmith, Leah Bezin, MIke Waldbridge, and Josh Duffee, you know there is fine playing in solo, ensemble, and accompaniment to go along with Vanessa’s voice.  Ten of the twelve selections were recorded “live,” in performance, which is all to the good: I’ll choose that “live” sound, which makes a listener feel as if (s)he is right there, over the pure — and sometimes tense — acoustic environment of a studio any day.

You can find this CD — and many more refreshing ones, present and historical — here.  I predict that Vanessa is at the start of a long and rewarding series of performances and CDs.

May your happiness increase!

THREE ARIAS, THREE MOODS at THE EAR INN (Jan. 16, 2011)

Despairing.

Optimistic.

Sly.

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.

POETRY IN SWING: BOB BARNARD / BOBBY GORDON at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

This was a wonderful set — full of love in the lyrics and love for the music. 

It took place at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua party, and a quintet full of beautiful singer-poets was in the spotlight.  Trumpeter Bob Barnard, clarinetist / singer Bobby Gordon, pianist Rossano Sportiello, bassist Jon Burr, drummer John Von Ohlen played Irving Berlin and Harry Warren, paid homage to Louis and King Oliver, Bix and Basie, as well as Edith Piaf and Dick Powell.  You wouldn’t want any more, would you, in the space of half an hour?  

Bob Barnard has a great love for melodies and their associations, so THE SONG IS ENDED resonates with him as a triple play: Louis, the Mills Brothers, and Irving Berlin.  But Bob is also a sly humorist: how many players start the set with this title?  Even though “the melody lingers on,” as it does here:

Then Bob wisely asked Bobby Gordon what he had in mind for a second number, and the poetic Mr. Gordon chose that old favorite SWEET LORRAINE.  I don’t know why I broke it in two, but I suspect I was carried away by the emotions Bobby aimed at all of us.  And — let there be no mistake here: Bobby looks somewhat frail in this performance, sitting in a chair, bringing the microphone close to his lips, but his heart is strong, and that’s what matters:

That fellow Louis recorded I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU late in the Fifties, and it’s a wonderful creation.  I don’t know whether Bob had that one in mind or he simply knew the tune — or perhaps saw the film with Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, and those Busby Berkeley exuberances.  Whatever the reasons might be, it’s an intriguing and less-played song to improvise on:

Then — in his own romantic exultation, singing of passion and loss, Mr. Barnard offered LA VIE EN ROSE, his lines arching into the night and the room, ecstatically and sadly:

But an audience needs something of a different emotional tenor to conclude, so Bob called for the faithful ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and sent it off at a Basie tempo:

I can’t forget to praise that wonderful rhythm section — the two singular melodists Rossano and Jon, and the honest timekeeper John — who made this an ideal small group, swinging, poetic, intuitive, and full of feeling.

LANCELOT TAKES MANHATTAN

Last Monday, the French stride wizard Olivier Lancelot flew in from Paris for ten days of tri-state jazz immersion — a duet gig at Smalls with Dan Levinson, and appearances at the Hot Steamed Jazz Festival in Essex, Connecticut, with serendipitious sitting-in here and there. 

Photograph by Lorna Sass.  Coptright 2008.

When Olivier sat down at the keyboard at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse (680 Columbus Avenue at 93rd Street) only five hours after his plane had landed, he looked serene and cheerful.  And he approached his four-hour gig with enthusiasm, playing nearly fifty songs in the course of the night, drawing on a huge repertoire.  His musical standrads are high: thus, no “Feelings,” no “The Way We Were,” no “New York, New York.”  Rather, he explored “Body and Soul,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” “That Old Feeling,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “Darn That Dream,” “Blue Moon,” all at a gentle jog reminiscent of middle-period Teddy Wilson.  True to his reputation, he gave out with a few stride showpieces, most memorably “Handful of Keys” and a blazing “Song of the Vagabonds.”  A very pretty “La Vie En Rose” reminded us of Piaf and Louis at once, a neat accomplishment. 

But the unfamiliar material was even more intriguing: a song neither I nor the Beloved could place turned out to be “Somethin’ Stupid,” a Sixties AM radio hit for Frank and daughter Nancy Sinatra.  Late in the evening, driven by some private whimsy, Olivier went into “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” once the tradmark song of Helen Kane, reprised by Marilyn Monroe in SOME LIKE IT HOT.  Following that line of thought, he leapt into a jaunty “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” a song James P. Johnson would have loved — although who, besides Olivier, ever thought of it as worthy material?  “Do-Re-Mi,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein, became a Donald Lambert fantasy.  

Lancelot’s understanding of the music goes beyond his admirable facility at the keyboard.    Many players who identify themselves as stride (or Stride) piano specialists narrow the style as a double handful of composed pieces: here’s “Carolina Shout,” here’s “Russian Fantasy,” here’s “Keep Your Temper.”  Dick Wellstood, ever questing, extended this approach by playing Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and “Rubber Duckie” (from SESAME STREET) as they would have been done uptown circa 1934.  Olivier has the technique and stamina to play ten or twelve choruses of violently athletic stride without strain, even though he pantomimed exhaustion (a giant wiping-of-the-forehead gesture) after his extravaganzas.  But he didn’t restrict himself to such fireworks: as he told me during the evening, playing these pieces too often in a set blurs the effect quickly.  Rather, he played stride patterns, casually and as a matter of course, remembering a time when that was the accepted way to play, at a variety of tempos — whether the song was an easy “Darn That Dream” or even “As Time Goes By,” suggesting Bogart and Bacall at Monroe’s Uptown House.  His rhythm was impeccable, his time steady, his bass lines varied (not just a metronomic oom-pah).  Combined with a light touch, he made it seem as if we had been invited into Fats’s living room to hear him play some tunes — informal and delightful.           

The last word belongs to our waiter Chad, a gracious import from the South.  “You know our regular pianist Ehud?  He sent this guy in for tonight — he’s from Paris.  Oh, this one’s great!” 

Yes, indeed.