Tag Archives: Hilary Gardner

MODERN ROMANCES IN JAZZ, WITH A LEMON SLICE: “CHARLES RUGGIERO AND HILARY GARDNER PLAY THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE”

I will begin at an oblique angle.  One of my heroes is trumpeter Spike Mackintosh, fiercely devoted to the music he embodied.  Spike believed that the only jazz to be listened to was recorded between 1928-34.  I admire that devotion, but confining oneself to a narrow — even though pearly — segment of art would be stifling.  So I commend a new CD (Smalls Live SLoo61) of songs I’d never heard before by a duo entirely new to me.

Hilary Gardner by Shervin Lainez

Singer Hilary Gardner adores Rodgers and Hart but also knows theirs is not the only love music we might vibrate to.  When she asked if I’d like to hear this CD, she cautioned that I might not like it.  True, I don’t “like” it: I embrace it.

And before I ask you to read one more word, here is a song from the CD:

Although I still grow weepy when I hear Charles La Vere’s 1935 I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU, this I find entrancing.  The song is a collection of half-sentences that coalesce into an emotional mosaic, a synergy larger than the apparent fragments.  And the other seven songs on this disc are small novellas in jazz.

When I first heard the CD, the image that kept recurring was “Warm heart and sharp elbows,” and I think it’s true.  Or a cake recipe where the expected sweetness is cut by a cup of lemon juice.  I may be older than the perceived audience for The Bird & The Bee, and I am usually very suspicious of new additions to the words-and-music I treasure, but I feel that this music not only sounds pleasantly surprising, but the lyrics express the modern world with snap, tenderness, and glee.  It could be the successor to all the songs I have taken to my heart from the Twenties onwards — intelligent additions and modifications to the world of love as seen by Porter and Hart and Gershwin, Wilder, Robison, and many others.

What strikes me now and did when I first listened to the CD is not the apparent “audacity” of the project — “My goodness, Mabel, jazz people recording non-jazz material!  Heavens!”  It’s neither incongruous nor is it a gambit to make money from bridging two disparate audiences (think: BASIE’S BEATLE BAG) but the delight is how seamless the result is, as if I and others had really been waiting for four wonderful creative improvisers to record this music.  And, by the way, the back of the sleeve has a gracious appreciative note from Inara George, one half of the musical duo, about this CD.

It is not only the original songs I admire, their mixtures of affection and wryness, their romance and realism, but the performances.  They are great songs not only to improvise on but to hear unadorned, even without lyrics.  I have admired Neal Miner for a long time, but the trio he forms with Charles Ruggiero, drums, and Jeremy Manasia, piano, is just superb: they mesh but remain distinctly individuals.  And Hilary comes through with great subtlety, gentleness, and wit: as if here she’d found the real nourishment to express herself afresh.  I should also add that the recording is lovely: the way we usually hear artists in a club, through amplifiers, microphones, and the club’s sound system is coarse by comparison.

The CD gleams in every way and will continue to do so.   And it’s available in all the usual places and ways.  (Hilariously, Amazon notes it is “Explicit” because the second song uses the F-word.  Oh, save me from such filth!  How very naughty.  But I digress.)  Buy it, I suggest.

May your happiness increase!

FOR NANCY HARROW, THE SONGS ARE ALL

Looking back on my 2017, one of the memorable pleasures is the privilege of meeting and hearing Nancy Harrow (in the company of fellow-singers Daryl Sherman and Hilary Gardner, too).  You could call Nancy “a singer,” and then add “composer,” but she is more, an inspiring artist of great scope.  I imagine her as someone who realized, early on, what her paths were, what her purposes might be, and set off to fulfill them — as she continues to do, with warmth, perception, humor, lightness, and strength.

I’ve written about Nancy here, but I couldn’t let this year conclude without shining a light on her latest work, her 2016 CD, THE SONG IS ALL.  It’s not just that she’s recorded infrequently in this century — her preceding CD, recorded with Don Friedman in Japan, was in 2009, and even Tom Lord hasn’t noted it.  But THE SONG IS ALL shows off Nancy in all her facets and reflections.

Nat Hentoff wrote this about Nancy’s 1981 sessions with John Lewis (THE JOHN LEWIS ALBUM FOR NANCY HARROW, Finesse Records): Nancy’s style is Nancy.  There are no masks, no trickery–of sound or personality.  What impressed Buck [Clayton] and a good many others . . . was the absence of artificiality, the directness of her sound and emotion.  The presence, in sum, of someone real. . . . Nancy moves inside the lyrics, and as she tells each story there is that touch of autobiography that all lasting singers suggest.  Again, it’s real.  And that, I think, is why people who have heard her keep on wanting more.  Hearing that kind of probing of memory and imagination is infectious.  You start probing your own.

In the opening track of  THE SONG IS ALL, Nancy sings the lines, “When I was small, no friend called, I played all the parts by myself,” which beautifully characterizes what she’s been doing for years — creating literary / musical imaginings based on Willa Cather, Hawthorne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and several “children’s books” with deep meanings for adults as well.  Nancy has written music and lyrics — songs that stand on their own as well as interludes in the plot — then performed them, an actress without artifice.  THE SONG IS ALL is thus the multi-colored, emotionally intense Nancy Harrow Repertory Company.

Here is IF I WANT TO, drawing on Nancy’s improvisations on Cather’s A LOST LADY, combining pride, tenderness, vulnerability, and self-knowledge:

Ordinarily, if you offered me a CD solely of one artist’s originals, I might look at it with skepticism, for not every musician is a successful composer, but I embrace THE SONG IS ALL because of its depth and variety of feeling — the toughtness of SELF-ESTEEM, the wry wit of PUTTING ON AIRS, the mournful recollections of MY LOST CITY, the quiet intensity of I AM TOO SHY, and more.  Many CDs pall after a half hour because of sameness, but this one moves from scene to scene with grace and power.

Although I take great pleasure in hearing Nancy with spare accompaniment, here she has assembled a thoroughly entrancing stock company of (mostly young) musicians: Chris Ziemba, George Delancey, Robert Edwards, Owen Broder, Alphonso Horne, Carrie Dowell, Monica Davis, Sarah Whitney, Eleanor Norton, Alex Claffy, Britton Smith, Carl Clemons Hopkins, David Linard, Nathan Bell, and veterans Dennis Mackrel and Rufus Reid.  (If I’ve made anyone improperly “young” out of my ignorance, I trust I can be forgiven.)

Another piece of music that has become part of my daily pleasure — I cannot share it with you here (it never became a CD in this country)– is Nancy’s 1981 performance of MY SHIP and her version of AS LONG AS IT’S ABOUT LOVE from the record with John Lewis, and I have had the strongest urge to get out of my chair and put my ear close to the speaker, to best hear her songful message.  I think of Whitman, “This hour I tell things in confidence, I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.”

Her voice, so endearingly personal — vibrato-ed or vibrato-less, tender or fierce — conveys emotions and ideas that it seems only she can convey, even if the song is familiar, with many singers trying to make it their own.  And when she sings her own words and melodies, she quietly fills the room.

Here is an extraordinarily deep article on Nancy (with many of her own words and insights) by Wayne Zade, and here is Nancy’s website, a good place to read, listen, dream, and purchase CDs.

I close with the words by Chekhov — chosen by Nancy to be what someone sees having opened the cardboard sleeve of THE SONG IS ALL:

“Why are your songs so short?  Is it because you are short of breath?” the songbird was asked.  The bird replied: “I have a great many songs and I should like to sing them all.”

“When it’s true, I can move you,” Nancy sings, and she does:

Nancy Harrow and her songs are rare blessings.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE: “THE LATE SET”

This new CD doesn’t have a false note in it, just tremendously satisfying music.

I don’t recall the first time I heard Hilary Gardner sing, with or without Ehud Asherie’s accompaniment, but I was smitten — in a nice legal Platonic way — by the blending of her tender, expressive voice and his elegant, sometimes raucous piano.  Singular individualists, they combine in wonderful synergy, and this CD expertly reproduces what it’s like to hear marvelous improvisations in a small club full of attentive, sympathetic listeners, leaning forward to catch every nuance.  The sound is spectacularly fine — by which I mean natural, and you don’t have to leave your house to “be there.”  (Although seeing them at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street has been one of my great pleasures for a few years.)

Both Hilary and Ehud are splendid connoisseurs of the best songs, and this recital shows off their sensitivity to fine melodies and telling lyrics: SHADOW WALTZ by Al Dubin and Harry Warren; SWEET AND SLOW by the same two masters in a completely different mood; the very sad Rodgers and Hart A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL; the ancient but still lively AFTER YOU’VE GONE with the never-heard second chorus; I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote; Irving Berlin’s immensely touching I USED TO BE COLOR BLIND; the wicked EVERYTHING I’VE GOT, again by Hart and Rodgers; the sweet command to MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, by Adolph Green, Betty Comden, and Jule Styne; the wistful SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo.

Song-scholars will find connections to Fred Astaire, Diane Keaton, Arthur Godfrey, Sophie Tucker, Lee Wiley, Fats Waller, Busby Berkeley, and two dozen others, but this is not a CD of homages to the Ancestors nor to their recordings.  Although the majority of the songs are enshrined in “the Great American Songbook,” this CD isn’t an exercise in reverential mummification.  No, the magic that Hilary and Ehud bring to these possibly venerable pages is to sing and play the songs for real — asking the questions, “What meaning might be found here?  What feelings can we share with you?”  And, ultimately, “Why are these songs so affecting in themselves?”

I’ve celebrated Ehud a great deal on this blog: his ability to create a Frolick all by himself, evoking both Bud Powell and Francois Rilhac, his touch precise but warm, his marvelous ability to think of anything and then to play it, his eye for the perfect swinging epigram a master archer’s.

Hilary was a wonderfully complete singer when I first heard her.  She has outdone herself here.  I find myself reaching for adjectives: is her voice “warm,” “creamy,” “light,” “rich”?  Then I give up, because it sounds as if I am a blindfolded contestant on a cooking show assessing a pound cake.

In plain English: she swings, she understands the lyrics, she improvises splendidly but without theatricality, and when she descends into a song, even if it’s one she’s sung a hundred times before, she comes to the surface, immensely naturally, showing us something we’ve never thought of before.  She’s witty but not clever; emotive but not melodramatic, tender but not maudlin.  Her approach is warm, delicate, unhurried.

When Hilary and Ehud did a brief tour of the Pacific Northwest not long ago, they visited KNKX, did an interview about the CD, and performed three songs in the studio — SWEET AND SLOW, I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, and AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  Here‘s the link to watch the videos and hear the interview.

You can find THE LATE SET at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and the Anzic Records site.  I urge you to find and purchase a physical disc, because one of the great pleasures — hidden inside — is Hilary’s own pitch-perfect evocation of “the late set” in what I presume is a New York City jazz club.

This is extraordinary music.  How delightful that it exists in this century.

May your happiness increase!

HARMONY AND HIJINKS: DUCHESS, “LAUGHING AT LIFE”

duchess-portrait

DUCHESS: Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, Melissa Stylianou

The superb vocal harmony group DUCHESS has released their second CD, LAUGHING AT LIFE, and it’s a wonder.

duchess-laughing-at-life

Here’s a sample of their originality, energy, and fun: EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, at the Jazz Standard, accompanied by Michael Cabe, piano; Matt Aronoff, string bass; Jared Schonig, drums.

 

For those of you who, like me, didn’t catch every rapid-fire turn of the new “original” lyrics, here they are in slow-motion print:

How did the Bozzie’s do their rapid-fire scatting
When they yes-siggle-dirred when they double dogged their Latin
There were so many words just a flyin’ and a rat-n-tatting how?

Vet, Martha, Connie gave us all the Heebie Jeebies
Said Duchess ought to try it but you know it isn’t easy
So we gotta tip our hat to the Bozzie’s oh, they really dazzle, wow!

Harmony and hijinks are the currency we deal in
Though we love the Bozzie’s honey, no we ain’t a-stealin’
Got a style that’s all our own and we know it’s so appealing here and now!

There’s only one problem with that gloriously expert and exuberant video.  A casual viewer might assume, “Oh, that’s a Boswell Sisters cover band,” in the odd parlance of this century, drop this versatile trio into a convenient classification, and be completely wrong. Someone else might misread the group because of their “vintage” twentieth-century repertoire.

But DUCHESS is not a tour of the local museum of past greatness, and no one pretends to be anyone else.

The glory of this group is their quirky sweet transforming energy, which enables them to do so many things so beautifully and with such deep emotions. LAUGHING AT LIFE is a wonderful showcase for their swinging versatilities.

The CD’s delights begin early, with a modern-Basie version of SWING, BROTHER, SWING — where one can delight in the three piquant voices and their distinctive blend (as well as a solo by postmodern intergalactic rhythm ‘n’ blues tenorist Jeff Lederer).

Then they move into familiar (and possibly dangerous) territory . . . the 1930 SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, a song that I would guess no one has ever called “dangerous.”  But as a song, it has become over-familiar and thus open to formulaic run-throughs in the same way as PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.  But halfway through this track, after a pleasing rhythm-section interlude, something magical happens.  Whitney Balliett called a similar instrumental passage “slow-motion leapfrog,” and on this track, the three voices slide over one another, each singer starting a phrase in a different place, creating a kind of three-dimensional cathedral of sounds.

There’s the rubato voices-plus-Michael Cabe’s sensitive piano reading of the verse of LAUGHING AT LIFE.  Then, Amy Cervini’s quite definite reading of GIVE HIM THE OO LA LA, with a fine solo from guitarist Jesse Lewis, a wooing WHERE WOULD YOU BE WITHOUT ME? featuring Melissa Stylianou, and a down-home frolic by Hilary Gardner on HALLELUJAH, I LOVE HIM SO!

The tender ache of EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOOD-BYE is followed by the hilarity of STRIP POLKA (thank you, Mister Mercer!).  And the bonus track, DAWN, a song known to only a few, is immensely touching — its author is someone we honor for other reasons.

Buy the CD and find out all.  I didn’t linger over every track for its delights: you can find the little bowers of bliss for yourself.

DUCHESS fans already know this, but it bears repeating: each of the three singers is a very distinctive soloist, but their blending is impeccable: their intonation and diction are splendid.  The clever and witty arrangements are complex, but only truly attentive listeners will understand just how beautifully layered they are — a key change here, an almost unnoticed shift from a lead voice with support to a unison ensemble, and more.  Incidentally, there are guest appearances by clarinetist Anat Cohen and trombonist / vocalist Wycliffe Gordon to add to the mix.

Learn all the secrets here, and follow Duchess on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook if you while away the hours in such revelries.  But most important, here you can purchase / download the CD through Bandcamp. Amazon, or iTunes.  You’ll find it extremely rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

 

BUT WHO KNOWS WHERE OR WHEN?

Although technology — whatever that means — keeps telling us we are “all connected,” and it is easier than ever to click a “like,” to instant-message someone, I think many of us feel, in the midst of the crowd, more isolated than ever before.

where-or-when

But community is always possible.  I offer this tender example from — oh, only eighty years ago.

The song is WHERE OR WHEN, by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, from the musical BABES IN ARMS, which premiered in New York April 14, 1937.  I don’t know when Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Gene Krupa first heard the song or had the sheet music (possibly well in advance of the show’s premiere, because who wouldn’t want to know, sing, play a new score by Rodgers and Hart?) — but they performed it at the Madhattan Room of the Hotel Pennsylvania, on October 23, 1937.  (An aside: the first jazz group to record the song was Frank Newton’s small band.)

Here is that Goodman Trio performance:

Now, this is not a generic time-travel post.  As delightful as it would be to hear the music of 1937, I’d also be reading about Herr Hitler in the newspapers; people would die from tuberculosis and polio . . . so I don’t want to leap backwards in time.

But the sound of the “college audience,” to quote my friend David J. Weiner, who wrote the notes to the CD issue of this track, singing along in unified pleasure and knowledge . . . it’s a sweet yet heartbreaking reminder of a time when such things were possible.  Perhaps the fragmentation of the collective audience is an inevitable result of astonishing strides forward in communication, but I’d trade Facebook for a world where people acted in unison, so sweetly.

Here are the lyrics to the chorus, for those motivated to sing along.  I know I was.

It seems we stood and talked like this before.
We looked at each other in the same way then.
But I can’t remember where or when…
The clothes you’re wearing are the clothes you wore
The smile you are smiling you were smiling then,
But I can’t remember where or when…
Some things that happen for the first time
Seem to be happening again.
And though it seems like we have met before,
And laughed before, and loved before,
But who knows where or when…”

What could we do to make such sweet unity the norm in the Here and Now? And I mean more than people knowing the lyrics and being willing to share their sweet impulse.

This post is for Hilary Gardner, who knows and sings.  Both.

May your happiness increase!

“HOTTER THAN THAT”! (on January 15 – 16, 2016)

It’s getting colder, which is both appropriate and reassuring because it is January.  But if the descending temperatures oppress you, here’s a wonderful chance to become HOTTER THAN THAT in the New York winter.  I don’t refer to new down parkas or thermoses full of the preferred hot dram . . . but to the New York Hot Jazz Festival. . . . the continuing creation of the indefatigable Michael Katsobashvili:

Art by Cecile MLorin Salvant

Art by Cecile MLorin Salvant

Here’s the Facebook event page.  And the Festival’s website.

Details?  How about a schedule of artists and times.  (And there are seats — first come, first served, as well as room to dance.)

FRIDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)

6:20 – Tom McDermott (New Orleans piano explorer)

7:20 – Bumper Jacksons

8:40 – Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road with Hilary Gardner

10:00 – Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars with Kat Edmonson

11:20 – Mike Davis’ New Wonders

SATURDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)

6:20 – Christian Sands (solo stride)

7:20 – Michael Mwenso & Brianna Thomas: Ella and Louis Duets – 60 Years

8:40 – Rhythm Future Quartet

10:00 – Tatiana Eva-Marie & The Avalon Jazz Band

with special guest Oran Etkin

11:20 – Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers

with Molly Ryan & Tamar Korn

That’s a wonderful mix of music — solo piano, small band, gypsy jazz, singers — all of the highest caliber.  And although some New Yorkers might note local favorites, consider what it would cost to see them all in one evening, even if you could work out the transportation and timing.  New Orleanians McDermott and Evan Christopher will bring their own special rhythmic tang to the New York winter.

If you need more evidence, here are videos of the artists above.

Here‘s the way to buy tickets.  It’s an absolute bargain, and New Yorkers love nothing better.

The place?  The Ballroom at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street (West of 7th Ave South), New York, New York.

And for inspiration, here’s a 1949 version of HOTTER THAN THAT, performed live on the Eddie Condon Floor Show — Eddie was the first jazz musician to have his own television show — featuring Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Jack Lesberg, and Sidney Catlett.

May your happiness increase!

HOLIDAY GREETINGS FROM DUCHESS, “A CHRISTMAS COMPROMISE,” (December 17, 2015)

DUCHESS 12 29

The wonderful vocal trio DUCHESS mixes sharp wit, sweet sentiment, and uplifting swing.  Thanks to Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou for this restorative holiday song, A CHRISTMAS COMPROMISE, originally performed by “the bird and the bee.”  You can’t see him, but the invaluable Michael Cabe is at the piano.

It’s the one song I know of that addresses the potentially stressful situation where one partner wants all the Christmas accoutrements and the other one comes from another tradition — Doin’ the Uptown Inter-faith, as the Mills Blue Rhythm Band called it in 1933 on a disc never released.

This nifty performance comes from their set at a benefit for WBAI’s David Kenney and his long-running radio show, EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN, an evening at the Metropolitan Room, December 17, 2015.

If you weren’t there on the 17th — and the room was full of the trio’s fans — you can follow these members of the nobility here or here to find out their schedule here and abroad.

Wishing you holidays where all the necessary compromises are joyous, enacted to the sound of lovely music.

May your happiness increase!