Tag Archives: jazz singing

“TELL ME SOMETHING SWEET!”

The beautiful long run of Victor records Fats Waller made from 1934 to 1942 often simulate a party in three minutes, where everyone is having an unrestrained good time.  The best of them are remarkable energetic fun, and a classic example is THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’.  Here’s a less famous explosion, FLOATIN’ DOWN TO COTTON TOWN, with sound effects as well as extraordinary stride piano from Fats:

Note Fats’ subversion of the minstrel-show question and answer, and his updating of the 1919 song lyrics to “children.”

But Fats could also be tender, quiet, and pensive.  Here is FAIR AND SQUARE, music by Ada Rubin (“Queenie” when she performed with Tempo King for Bluebird Records), lyrics by Andy Razaf:

The first chorus, featuring Fats without the horns, is wonderful dance music; the second chorus, where the horns hum respectfully behind him, has him making his way through the lyrics with only the slightest hint of comedy; the third chorus (only the last sixteen bars) beginning with a hint of rolling bass before the horns come in, is almost as delicate.

And here is one of his most touching performances:

But Fats’ natural exuberance, his true life-force, was joyous.  Trying to restrain it was like telling a puppy not to wag its tail.  So here are two other less-known favorites of mine, not necessarily “great songs,” although SOMETHING TELLS ME is irresistible, but I love the way Fats gently builds from quiet restrained tenderness to real joy.  SOMETHING TELLS ME (Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer) also has the distinction of fine recordings by Louis and Connie Boswell.  Fats’ record starts with Gene Sedric in his best dance-band mode, with occasional celeste interjections, and then hits its swinging stride:

Candidly, WHAT WILL I DO IN THE MORNING? has most of its brilliance in its title.  The A and B sections are fairly thin variations on a repeated pianistic motif — although the bridge is an imaginative change — and the lyrics rely heavily on the end-rhymes.  But listen to how Fats moves gently from what I would call anxiety in swingtime for the first sixteen bars to hilarity, with his quacking repetition of “What!” seven or eight times, which always makes me laugh:

For many, the joyous clamor Fats generates obscures his subtleties, his gentleness and delicacy, as if it had been decided he was Our Jazz Clown.  He could whisper and cajole as well as shout.  I am amazed that no one celebrates him as a memorable singer as well as pianist and composer, creating three-minute dramas that continue to gratify us.  The “Rhythm” records could occasionally seem formulaic, but treasures abound.

May your happiness increase!  

LOVABLE ART: JANICE ANDERSON and CHRIS DAWSON (4.30.20)

“Find some beauty every day,” Janice Anderson gently suggests about three-quarters of the way through this nearly hour-long living room concert.

When she’s singing and husband Chris Dawson is at the piano, beauty radiates through very powerfully: no search engines are needed.

And if their music doesn’t win you, I can only shake my head sadly, as I often do these days.

The menu for April 30 — International Jazz Day and also Janice’s birthday — was BLT’s and lemon cake.  Enticing enough to plan a visit to Santa Monica next April.

And if you’d like more (I did and do) go to Janice’s Facebook page for a twenty-minute informal duo concert with Chris.  Simply wonderful.  You’ll notice that neither Janice nor Chris is soliciting contributions for themselves: those who feel uplifted and generous can make a contribution to the Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, where these two have run a music series for fifteen years, bringing in a variety of artists on the second Sunday of every month.

One more thing: at very widely-spaced intervals, I’ve met and heard Chris and Janice over the past nine or ten years.  The most recent encounter — they came to New York in mid-November and appeared magically at Cafe Bohemia: I’m convinced they stopped by just to delight and startle me, but that theory has no evidence behind it.  It’s not always the case that lovable people make lovable art (we all have our stories of the negative exemplars) but in the case of this duo, it is brilliantly true.

May your happiness increase!

 

BEAUTY AS AN ANSWER TO FEAR: BARBARA ROSENE and JON DAVIS at MEZZROW, CONTINUED (12.8.19)

Even the most obliviously optimistic among us have to admit that we live in dark times, however one defines that phrase.  I don’t know if there are sure-fire ways of making fear vanish permanently, but I do know that being able to focus on light and beauty is at least a temporary cure.  And the lovely thing about recorded music is that one can return to it over and over.  Side effects may include a brightening of one’s psychic vistas.  Go ahead, operate heavy machinery.

In that spirit, here is another installment of the magic that Barbara Rosene and Jon Davis created on December 8, 2019, at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street.  I first encountered Barbara fifteen years ago when her repertoire often seemed to delve into the perky,  the sassy, the naughty.

As we all have changed, her approach has deepened: she sings of the eternal truths: not just of a desirable man who is six feel of tangible goodness, but of the courage it takes to fall in love and risk failure; the hopes one has for the future; immersions in feeling no matter what the odds.  She is braver and wiser, and although I was immediately struck by the beauty of her voice when I first heard her, it is immensely more beautiful now.

You can marvel at it  yourself in these four performances.  They won’t make the news go away, but they will give you space to have lovely clear thoughts of the best acts we are capable of as loving beings, brave enough to live tenderly.

FOOLS RUSH IN:

IT HAD TO BE YOU:

TIME AFTER TIME:

ON A CLEAR DAY:

In this brand-new era of Social Distancing, Barbara is its very opposite.  Even if she sang six to eight feet away from you, you would feel her warmth and her deep understanding of lyrics and melody.  And there is no Distance between her, the songs, and our hearts.

May your happiness increase!  

JUST ADD ADULTHOOD AND STIR: BARBARA ROSENE and JON DAVIS at MEZZROW (December 8, 2019)

Anyone can buy tubes of paint and a canvas at the art supplies store; anyone can buy a blank journal at the bookstore.  But there’s so much work, contemplation and self-contemplation that must take place before one can become even a fledgling painter or writer.  Some divinely talented children create marvels while their driver’s licenses are still new, but I admire those artists whose life-maturity shines through their work.

To me, this is especially true in jazz singing.  Anyone can learn the lyrics, learn the melody (from the paper or from hallowed recordings) but what then?  Does the singer really understand the meanings of the words and the meanings under the meanings?  The finest singers make me feel what it’s like to be dancing cheek to cheek, to be old-fashioned, to make emotional commitments — not only to the imaginary love-object, but to the song, to the songwriters, to the audience.

Barbara Rosene is just one of those artists I admire: she is Growed Up, and it’s  not a matter of numbers on her passport: when she sings, I know that she knows what she’s singing about, whether it’s fidelity to an ideal, devotion to beauty, or the hope of fulfillment.  Barbara and Jon Davis put on a true master’s class in creating art one evening some months ago at Mezzrow. Here is the example I posted last December: how very touching (even for someone like me, who recoils at every fragment of musical holiday cheer)!

And more.  Admire, at your leisure, the deep beauties of Barbara’s voice — but better still are the messages she sends us, complex, easy, and aimed straight at our hearts.  And Jon (whom I hadn’t known earlier) is the best partner, enhancing the mood, serving the song rather than saying “Here I am! Look at me!” at every turn — although his solos show off his adult virtuosity as well.

You will find it nearly impossible to locate DREAMSVILLE by using Waze, but Barbara and Jon know where it’s located:

and another adult song, thanks to Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer:

And here Barbara dramatizes hope and the fragility of hope:

Love comes to the rescue, delightfully:

and a wistful yet triumphant Rodgers and Hart opus:

I think it’s lovely to experience Barbara, going her own sweet way.  And I trust you know she is also an artist on canvas, her paintings as distinctive as her song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty is still very much possible: so reassuring.

May your happiness increase!

ORIGINALITY, WITH FEELING: ANGELA VERBRUGGE’S SPLENDID IMAGINATIONS

Welcome Angela Verbrugge, whose talents are not narrow, nor are they limited to her lovely voice.  Listen, and be delighted.

Much of the contemporary music criticism I read praises the “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” “and “adventurous,” sounds that may fall abruptly on my ears.  Angela’s music doesn’t assault; rather, it brings joy.

You can hear that Angela is certainly imaginative, but her singing rests securely on deep emotional understanding.  She understands the song, not only as notes and syllables on paper, but also the heart-messages it sends us.  She conveys tenderness, thoughtfulness, wit, and ardor: emotions and perceptions aimed right at us through her very human voice, its phrase-ending vibrato signifying a sweet earnestness.

When I received a copy of Angela’s debut CD — she’d been recommended to me by a Vancouver musical friend — I turned first to ALL TOO SOON, and was delighted and — in the best way — mildly startled.  Nothing abrupt that would have violated the Ellington – Carl Sigman creation, but it was as if someone had gently shifted the furniture by a matter of inches while I slept.  I had the same feeling I did when listening to Jimmie Rowles thoughtfully prowl his way through a song known for decades, making it new by building new surprises in from beneath.  And in a world of studio-modernism and thudding bass lines, to hear her walk serenely through the musical world of Ray Gallon, piano; Cameron Brown, string bass; Anthony PInciotti, drums, is reassuring as well as elating.

But back to ALL TOO SOON for a moment.  I sent Angela a note of admiration and asked her how she had gently tinkered with that song to shift its center of gravity so tellingly.  She told me, “I created a ‘verse’ using the bridge/ B section lyrics and elements of the A section melody, and it is sung out of time and then we go into 3/4 waltz time until near the end I bookend it with a more heartbroken take on the ‘verse.’ I brought it Miles Black to arrange in 3/4 and Ray Gallon helped me to tweak and finalize it to fall in a way that felt great; when you move a piece from 4/4 to 3/4 here are some options and massaging to get it to sit comfortably.”  Her explanation, as well as her performance,  show her remarkable musical intelligence.

She performs some of the same magic on familiar standards on this disc — LOVE WALKED IN, THIS COULD BE THE START OF SOMETHING BIG, THE MOON WAS YELLOW, SPEAK SOFTLY, LOVE — but the disc is much more than “Here’s my original take on songs everyone sings.”

Angela visited New York City, but I missed the opportunity to ride the subway with her.

Here is another affecting realization, another interlude — her version of A NIGHT IN TUNISIA with lyrics by Raymond Levey, thus INTERLUDE.  Fervent yet spare:

But that’s not all.  Not that I wouldn’t welcome a whole disc of Angela, rueful thrush singing her lonely song from a fragile branch.  She is a witty songwriter, drawing on Cole Porter, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Johnny Mercer for inspiration and rapid-fire rhymes, occasionally resembling a less vinegary Dave Frishberg.  And before more words fill the page, here‘s Angela’s website, and here you can buy or download the CD.

Here’s Angela’s I’M RUNNING LATE, her lyrics to Ray Gallon’s THAT’S THE QUESTION — a hilarious downhill slalom she negotiates with style:

The disc features three more originals by Angela.  I will feel much better about this decade when I hear new singers take up her songs . . . as well as modeling themselves on her warm, lively approach.  Those aspiring artists will take their own paths to passion and control, how to convey deep meanings without resorting to capital letters and bright primarily colors.  But those wise enough to take inspiration from Angela will find her art won’t outwear its welcome.  I am not the first to celebrate Angela Verbrugge, nor will I be the last.  But her art is her own, and she offers rare pleasures.

May your happiness increase!

“TWO BINGS, PLEASE!”

Given the collective memory loss, I am sure that few people under fifty automatically know who Bing Crosby is, which is a pity.  Their loss.  I fell in love with the sound of his voice when I was a child (I even came to appreciate the distorted renditions of WHITE CHRISTMAS played through loudspeakers throughout December) and my reverence for his work has only grown with time.  Add to that his delight in working with jazz players, his insouciant yet hilariously erudite film persona, and you have an Icon.  By the way, the second volume of Gary Giddins’ Bing tome is supposed to be published before the end of 2019: something to read while the days grow short.

Incidentally, the question of “Is X a jazz singer?” is not terribly interesting to me.  “Does it sound good? Does it move the listener?  Is it artfully done?” are the questions that do.

Here’s what he sounded like three days before his death: lovely, apparently casual, full of feeling:

and some forty years later, a recording that the fine singer Dawn Lambeth told me about, very loose, with the guitarist Perry Botkin the only accompaniment — a splendid song, taken in a light-hearted,  jovial way:

You may prefer other singers, but he remains inimitable.

May your happiness increase!

NANCY ERICKSON’S SPLENDID STOCK COMPANY: “HERE & NOW”

Nancy Erickson is a superb singer.  If you haven’t heard her because she is nicely tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, you will be rewarded once you do.

Nancy’s new CD, recorded live, is HERE & NOW, which is an accurate title.  You can hear sound samples and purchase one (or several) here.  I’ve liked her work since I heard her own composition “New Year’s Eve” and wrote about it here in December 2015, and then I was delighted by her then new CD,WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK, which you can read about here.

As an antidote to the profusion of hyperlinks above, some words.  A few years ago, I would have been embarrassed to quote from myself, but we are now so deeply in the “selfie” age that I trust readers will forgive me: “With this CD, I think Nancy Erickson deserves our very close attention as a fully-formed artist, one of our best contemporary singers — full of feeling, wit, affection, reverence for tradition and a thoroughly winning originality.”

I believe those words even more, listening to HERE & NOW. I should first say that it is a live session before a clearly attentive (even reverent) audience, but that recording “live” is a testament to courage and candor.  No Autotune, no punches, inserts, or other recording-studio dark magics.  Beautiful, satisfying singing, with very fine instrumental accompaniment from the 200 Trio — Cole Schuster, guitar; Greg Feingold, string bass; Max Holmberg, drums, and Alex Dugdale, saxophone.  Nancy has a splendid vocal range, although it never seems she is doing tricks to impress us; her voice pleases in all registers without strain; her diction is flawless; her swing likewise, and her scat-singing is quite delightful.  And when she’s tender, or sharp-edged, or playful, she always swings.

Now, what do I mean by Nancy’s “stock company”?  I don’t mean that she is an expert jazz impersonator — she isn’t Rich Little, and she doesn’t do the police in different voices.  But to me, a stock company is a small collection of highly trained versatile actors: one night, an actress is Ophelia, tender, doomed, fragile; the next night, Goneril or Regan, furious, dangerous, scheming; later on in the week, the angry middle-aged wife in an Albee play, or, hat cocked to one side, the lead in SUMMER STOCK.

Nancy is not an “actress” in the banal sense, and she doesn’t suffer from multiple-personality disorder, but she does morph from song to song so that we hear her beauty, dramatic power, and precision from different angles.

So the tender welcome she offers us in GENTLE RAIN, “There’s a hand for your hand,” which just about made me stop typing so that I could reach out one or both of mine to the speaker, is no longer there on the second track, IF I TELL YOU I LOVE YOU — the rest of the title being “I’m lying.”  This singer is darker-voiced; she is sharpening her scimitar as she sings, each cadence matched to the blade getting more lethal.  She is, as a friend of mine once said, not someone you’d argue with over whose chicken wings those are in the refrigerator.  The darkness lifts a bit — or at least its sunset-shade changes — with a film noir BLACK COFFEE, a period piece whose lyrics might need a dusting.  (No wonder the singer is gloomy and jittery: nicotine, caffeine, and her “oven” don’t add up to a healthy diet.)

A forcefully rollicking MY SHINING HOUR is exultant (and expertly navigated), including Nancy’s scatted exchanges with the drums.  I played this track for a friend, without comment, and the reaction was “Who is that?  She’s got mega-chops,” which I second.  NIGHT IN TUNISIA is easily swinging, and Nancy’s reading is the first where the lyrics have seemed meaningful, and her handling of the instrumental interlude is equally satisfying.  IT’S YOU I LIKE — yes, Mister Rogers’ heartfelt paean to complete uncritical acceptance — begins as a rubato duet for voice and guitar.  Extremely touching, I assure you, and not just for children.  If there was such a thing as radio airplay anymore, this would be a hit, and not just because we need its message.

Nancy’s own LET LOVE BEGIN — a dark yet hopeful invitation to romance — follows, and both singer and song seem fully engaged in the honest appeal, without guile of subtext.  Guile is, however, what WHATEVER LOLA WANTS is all about: the love song of the praying mantis on the honeymoon, perhaps, if I have my insects correct here.  (I grew up with the score of DAMN YANKEES, so listening to LOLA for the first time, when it was over, I thought wistfully of hearing Nancy sing YOU’VE GOTTA HAVE HEART as a ballad.  I don’t know if it’s a good idea, but if anyone could do it, she can.)

Sting’s FRAGILE was new to me (I don’t always take up residence in the modern world) but Nancy’s reading of “How fragile we are” haunted me for days after my first listening.  HOT HOUSE begins with a light-hearted, almost girlish scat reading of the melodic line, which becomes a virtuoso wordless exploration, worthy of a fine bebop instrumentalist.  HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, initially scored for voice and walking bass, feels new — not ninety years old.  Hear Nancy essay “touch my cup” and shift the syllabic emphasis ever so slightly — to great effect.  What she does with “You’re confection, goodness knows!” is hilarious and expert.  And as a gentle embracing coda, there is a two-minute LA VIE EN ROSE: it begins as a duet for voice and bass, and then becomes a sing-along, with Nancy leading the room in the melodic line reduced to “la-la” syllables.  Rather than being a gimmick, it succeeds completely: we hear the room following her, obediently and with affection.  Magic!

Twelve songs, fifty minutes.  A singer you might not have heard of.  But I assure you, the experience of this CD is rather like the most subtle compelling one-woman show you could imagine.  Again, I urge you to visit here for samples: you will not be disappointed.

May your happiness increase!

BOTH “FINE” AND “DANDY”: PETRA VAN NUIS, JOHN DI MARTINO, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (September 17, 2017)

Photograph by Bill Klewitz

One of the many pleasures of the recent Cleveland Classic Jazz Party was the opportunity to hear the wonderful singer Petra van Nuis, someone who has been pleasing Chicago audiences for the past decade and more.  She can sing is the simplest way to put it.  Although she has a fine sense of humor — catch her introductions to songs in this set — it bubbles out of her rather than being a rehearsed routine.  She has her own sound and phrasing — conversational, occasionally surprising, but it always honors the lyrics and comes out of her deep respect for words as well as melodies.  She improvises but does not obliterate the composers’ intent, and I came away from this quietly glowing set feeling that I had heard the songs in emotionally satisfying ways.  This delicious interlude is the result of Petra’s sensibility: her nice mix of delicate yet intense feeling and buoyant swing.  I could delineate the pleasures of each chorus she sings, but I’d rather leave those sweet surprises to you as you watch and listen.

Petra’s instrumental colleagues have the same spirit: a sweet focused attentiveness that delights in small details without losing sight of the songs themselves.  Nicki and Hal are long-time friends, people I admire for many reasons: their generous spirits, their melodic inventiveness.  John Di Martino was new to me, and he’s a wonder: his beautiful touch, his wise harmonies, and his willingness to put himself in the service of the music: he is secure enough in his self to do just those things that make his colleagues shine so brightly.  It’s only after you get accustomed to his selfless creativity that you realize just how wonderful his playing is.

If it seems as if I admire this group and the music they make, that impression would be correct.  Here, “without further ado,” is a glorious Sunday-afternoon interlude.  And, as Hal said to me afterwards, “You could see a lot of smiles and laughs, and none of them were forced!”  I’m still grinning.

DAY IN, DAY OUT:

On MY OLD FLAME, hear how Petra delicately yet meaningfully offers the first two phrases — the mark of very great exposition of lyrics and melody:

MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY has lent itself (in lesser hands) to caricature, but not here:

Let us honor Irving Berlin once again.  How beautiful I GOT LOST IN HIS ARMS is — its apparently plain melody allied to simple words, the whole being so moving when Petra explores it:

Both FINE AND DANDY here!  And blessings on the rhythm team for a fine 1944 Johnny Guarnieri groove to start:

I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO:

After this set, we all felt just as fortunate.  And grateful.

May your happiness increase!

“FOX TROT, VOCAL CHORUS”: JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, BRIAN NALEPKA with TERRY WALDO, JAY LEPLEY, JOHN GILL, JON-ERIK KELLSO at FAT CAT (Jan. 29, 2017)

Even if they don’t have trained voices, the instrumental soloists I know tend to be really convincing singers, often with a loose, sleeves-rolled up approach to the song, which, by its casualness, conceals a real understanding of melody, rhythm, and how to “sell a song.”  (And sometimes the most under-documented singers are the most affecting: Basie, muttering his way through HARVARD BLUES, Hawkins emoting on LOVE CRIES, Carter wooing us with SYNTHETIC LOVE.)

Musicians know that bursting into song delights an audience (if it’s not offered on every performance) and it rests tired lips and hands. Here are three wonderful examples from a Sunday afternoon session by Terry Waldo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Jim Fryer, Evan Arntzen, Brian Nalepka, John Gill, and Jay Lepley — January 29, 2017).  I will point out that everyone in this band has been known to warble a chorus, but today I am concentrating on Messrs. Fryer, Arntzen, and Nalepka — all of whom have sung in performance and the recording studio.

And since so much of American pop music of the last century and more takes romance as its subject, here are three very different love songs: the first a chronicle of deprivation (“I’d love to join the fun but they bar me.”) the second a narrative of how serendipity made for great love (“I kept buying china / Until the crowd got wise.”) and the last a happy description of mutual adoration (“My baby don’t care who knows it.”)

Jim Fryer chronicles romantic woes, Lombardo / Louis style on SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE:

Evan Arntzen reminds us of Bing, 1931, incidentally, with I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY (IN A FIVE-AND-TEN CENT STORE):

and Brian Nalepka tells the truth (ask Mary Shaughnessy), MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME:

These frolics happen most Sunday afternoons at Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York City (take the #1 train to Christopher Street / Sheridan Square).

May your happiness increase!

A PRIVATE RECITAL: DARYL SHERMAN’S BLUE HEAVEN

Daryl-at-piano-green-web

Singers who perform in public — as they must — have singular obstacles to face in performance.  Even though the ringing cash register is now a museum piece, there are so many extraneous sounds to surmount even when the audience is properly quiet and (imagine this!) everyone’s smartphone is shut off.  Dishes and glasses clink; the waitstaff murmurs details of the specials, offers a dessert menu, presents the bill.  The presumed answer to this is amplification, which can make a quiet sound audible at the back of the room, but in the process coarsens every nuance.

A CD session recorded in a studio has its own set of obstacles: the creative artist may be restricted to one small space, may be burdened with headphones and be banished into a booth . . . but we don’t see these travails, and the sound we hear through our speakers is a kinder representation of the human voice.

Hence, this delightful surprise (recorded by Malcolm Addey, so you can imagine the clear, accurate sound) in 2015:

My-Blue-Heaven-CD-cover-768x319

In case you can’t read the back cover, the songs are I Walk a Little Faster / Wouldn’t It Be Loverly / Feel Like Makin’ Love / Lets Go Live In a Lighthouse / Cycling Along With You / Inside a Silent Tear / My Blue Heaven / A O Zora / You Turned the Tables On Me / Fly Me To The Moon / You Wanna Bet / The Brooklyn Bridge / The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

And the Orchestra with Vocal Refrain is Daryl, piano and vocals, with Harvie S, string bass, on tracks 2 and 10.  It’s a delightfully old-fashioned CD: twelve tracks, fifty minutes, but no need to turn it over.

From the start, it’s a wonderful chance to hear Daryl — “her ownself” — as we might say in the Middle West a century ago.  She is of course her own splendid accompanist, and her two selves never get in each other’s way.  And I would direct some pianists who revere Tatum as their model to her spare, pointed accompaniment.

Her voice is the true delight here.  Daryl sounds so much like herself, and is I think instantly recognizable, although one may call to mind Mildred Bailey, Blossom Dearie, and Dave Frishberg as musical colleagues and inspirations.  I think she’s been undervalued because of what sounds (to the casual listener) like girlish charm, a high sweet voice with a conversational, sometimes wry delivery. But once the listener is into this CD for more than a chorus, the absence of other instrumentalists allows us to hear emotional depth beneath the apparent light-heartedness.  This isn’t to say that the disc veers towards the dark or maudlin, but there is a true adult sensibility that makes even the most familiar material shine as if beautifully polished and lit.  And even if you think you know how Daryl sings and plays, I submit that this CD is her masterpiece to date, sending us gentle immediacy of the most rare kind.

It’s a wonderful one-woman show, with nothing to excess, and a CD I’d like to send to many singers to show ’em how it can be done.

Matters of finance!  If you send Daryl an email here, and say the magic words, “I’d like to buy MY BLUE HEAVEN,” her staff will help you do just that.  You can also ask for an autographed copy.  For now, checks only: $20 plus $ for shipping.  You can also browse around her site to learn about upcoming gigs, to read her biography, see pictures, and more.  I’m amused and pleased that four of the five videos are mine.

 May your happiness increase!

NANCY ERICKSON’S “NEW YEAR’S EVE”: IN PRAISE OF DEVOTED MONOGAMY

Nancy Erickson

A friend told me about singer-songwriter Nancy Erickson’s new single, NEW YEAR’S EVE, and I’ve watched and listened to it half a dozen times.  Try it for yourself:

Doesn’t she sound beautiful?  Her focused, husky yet natural voice is a delight. And the song is hers, which is even nicer.  Nicest yet — for me, a true romantic — is that the song celebrates something more lasting than the first flush of what we often call love, something warming that goes on for decades.  Although much of the music of the last century-plus is about love, how much of it is about love that sustains itself?  I don’t hear this song as a gimmicky one to be tossed about between December 26 and 31, but as a real expression of feeling, something that can be hard to find these days.  Not glitter but substance.

You can subscribe to Nancy’s YouTube channel here, but you will learn more about her here.  And even here.

It takes a good deal to entrance me, but Nancy Erickson is well on her way.  I look forward to her new CD and more . . .

May your happiness increase!

“REJECTED TAKES,” DECEMBER 17, 1937

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

Most jazz aficionados, if asked what pianist / bandleader Teddy Wilson was doing in the recording studio in 1937, would reply that he was a member of the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet — recording for Victor — and creating brilliant small-group sessions with Billie Holiday for Brunswick.  Some might check the discography and report that Teddy had also recorded, under John Hammond’s direction, with singers Helen Ward, Boots Castle, and Frances Hunt.

But few people know about one session, recorded on December 17, 1937, with an unusually rewarding personnel: Teddy; Hot Lips Page; Chu Berry; Pee Wee Russell; possibly Al Hall; Allan Reuss; Johnny Blowers.  The singer is the little-known Sally Gooding.  (All of this material has been released on Mosaic Records’ Chu Berry box set, and two sides appeared on a Columbia/Sony compilation devoted to Lips Page, JUMP FOR JOY, with nice notes by Dan Morgenstern.  My source is the French Masters of Jazz label, two Wilson CDs in their wonderful yet out-of-print series.)

Teddy Wilson And His Orchestra : Hot Lips Page (trumpet); Pee Wee Russell (clarinet); Chu Berry (tenor sax); Teddy Wilson (piano); Allen Reuss (guitar); possibly Al Hall (string bass); Johnny Blowers (drums); Sally Gooding (vocal on the first three sides only)
New York, December 17, 1937
B22192-2 MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU
B22193-1 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22193-2 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22194-2 WHEN YOU’RE SMILING
B22195-2 I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME

All of the instrumentalists on this session are well-known.  One can imagine Hammond selecting Chu from the Calloway band, Pee Wee and Blowers from Nick’s, Reuss from Goodman.  Lips and Al Hall were presumably free-lancing, although Lips may have been on the way to his own big band.

Sally Gooding is now obscure, although she was famous for a few years, making records with the Three Peppers and appearing at the 1939 World’s Fair. Here, thanks to www.vocalgroupharmony.com, you can see and hear more of Sally.  And this 1933 Vitaphone short allows us to see her with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band:

with-a-smile-and-a-song

WITH A SMILE AND A SONG (by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey) comes from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, which had not even been released in theatres when this session was made:

with a smile and a song two

The singer whose voice you hear is Adriana Caselotti.  Nearly sixty years later, our own Rebecca Kilgore recorded the finest version of this song for an Arbors Records session led by Dan Barrett:

MOON SONG Becky Barrett

The obvious question for some readers is “Where’s Billie?” Although Miss Holiday recorded several sessions with Wilson in 1937, I presume she was on the road with Count Basie — which also explains the absence of Lester, Buck, Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  Hammond and Billie didn’t always get along, and he was trying out other singers when he could.  Someone else has hypothesized that Billie would have been opposed to recording a song associated with SNOW WHITE, but this seems less plausible.  When she and Wilson reunited in the recording studio in 1938, they did IMPRESSION, SMILING, and BELIEVE, which may add credence to the theory.

Here are “the rejected takes” — each one mislabeled on YouTube:

MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU (from another 1937 film, HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME, also known as HAVING WONDERFUL TIME, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Ginger Rogers — and Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and Red Skelton, early on):

This version — for those who know Billie’s — is taken at a jaunty tempo, which makes the melodic contours seem to bounce.

All I can say is that both Chu and Lips Page leap in — not at high volume or extremely quickly — with swing and conviction.  (I love Lips’ flourish at the end of the bridge.)  Sally Gooding’s singing is not easy to love for those who know Billie’s version by heart, but she is — in a tart Jerry Kruger mode — doing well, with quiet distractions from Pee Wee and the bassist.  Wilson is energized and surprising, as is Pee Wee, and there is a moment of uncertainty when one might imagine Chu and Lips wondering whether they should join in, as they do, yet the record ends with a solid ensemble and a tag.

The first take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG:

I love Chu’s introduction, and Teddy sounds typically luminous as the horns — almost inaudibly — hum harmonies behind him.  (When was the last time you heard a front line play so beautifully behind a piano solo?)  Then, Pee Wee at his most identifiable, lyrically sticking close to the bridge but with two of his familiar turns of phrase leading into a Lips Page interlude — sweetly restrained, as if modeling himself after Buck Clayton.  Sally Gooding, who may have seen the sheet music for the first time only a few minutes ago, sounds slightly off-pitch and seems to sing, “With a life and a song,” rather than the title.  But she gains confidence as she continues, and her bridge is positively impassioned (although her reading of the song is less optimistic than the lyrics).  No one should have to sing in front of a very on-form Pee Wee, whose obbligati are delightfully distracting.  When the band comes back for the closing sixteen bars, they are in third gear, ready to make the most of the seconds allotted them, although it is far from a triumphant ride-out (think of the closing seconds of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO, in contrast). The rhythm section is quite restrained, but the bassist, Al Hall or not, adds a great deal.

The second take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG has, alas, eluded me on YouTube (thus I cannot post it here).  It is similar in its outline to the first take, although everyone seems more comfortable with the song.  I wonder if Gooding had had real trouble avoiding her singing “life” on the first take, so each time she sings — correctly — “smile” on this version, there is the slightest hesitation, as if she wanted to make sure she wouldn’t make the mistake again.  You’ll have to imagine it.

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:

The conception of how one could play this simple tune had changed since Louis’ majestic 1929 performance, and with four star soloists wanting to have some space within a 78 rpm record, the tempo is much quicker and the band much looser (hear Lips growl early on).  The ambiance is of a well-behaved Commodore session or three minutes on Fifty-Second Street, the three horns tumbling good-naturedly over one another.  In fact, the first chorus of this record — lasting forty-five seconds — would stand quite happily as the heated rideout chorus of another performance.   Behind Wilson, the rhythm section is enthusiastically supporting him, Blowers’ brushes and Hall’s bass fervent. When Chu enters, rolling along, he has a simple riff from the other two horns as enthusiastic assent and congregational agreement; his full chorus balances a behind-the-beat relaxation characteristic of Thirties Louis as well as his characteristic bubbling phrases.  Behind Pee Wee, the guitar is happily more prominent (did someone think of the lovely support Eddie Condon gave?) and Lips’ phrases at the end are — without overstatement — priceless.

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

Like SMILING, this 1930 song was already a classic. Wilson is sublimely confident, chiming and ascending, followed by a tender, perhaps tentative Lips (had Hammond asked him to play softly to emulate Buck?): the eight bar interludes by Chu and Lips that follow are small masterpieces of ornamented melody.  Wilson’s half-chorus has the rhythm section fully audible and propulsive beneath him.  Pee Wee, who had been inaudible to this point, emerges as sage, storyteller, and character actor, transforming the expected contours of the bridge into his own song, with hints of the opening phrase of GOOFUS, then Wilson returns.  (What a pity Milt Gabler didn’t record those two with bass and drums for Commodore.) Chu glides on, his rhythmic motion irresistible, then the guitarist (audibly and plausibly Reuss) takes a densely beautiful bridge before the too-short — twelve seconds? — rideout, where Blowers can be heard, guiding everyone home.

“Rejected” might mean a number of things when applied to these records.  Did Sally Gooding’s vocal error at the start of SONG convince Hammond or someone at  Brunswick (Bernie Hanighen?) that the session was not a success? Was Hammond so entranced by the combination of Billie and the Basie-ites that these records sounded drab by comparison?  Were there technical problems? I can’t say, and the participants have been gone for decades.  The single copies of these recordings are all that remain.  I am thankful they exist.  This band and this singer are musical blessings, music to be cherished, not discarded.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW: BEAUTY IN THE NOW (September 29, 2015)

 

MEZZROW door

Singer Hilary Gardner and pianist Ehud Asherie have created consistently gratifying music on their appearances — most recently at Mezzrow (163 West Tenth Street, New York City, just east of Seventh Avenue South).  I offer evidence below.

That’s cheering news to say the least.  But the best news is that they are returning for two performances on Tuesday, September 29, 2015:  shows at 7:30 and 9 PM, $20 music charge for each show. You can buy tickets here, and I urge you to do so promptly, because Mezzrow is a small space.  (That’s a wonderful thing, by the way: it is the ideal of New York City jazz clubs, with apologies to the others.)

Now, here’s the evidence.  Most recently, Ehud and Hilary appeared at Mezzrow in May 2015, gloriously:  here.  And in March of the same year: here.

I first heard Hilary and Ehud in duet at Smalls in April 2013 — which seems so long ago that the videos are in black and white: here.

As you can see and hear, their repertoire stretches back to the early collaborations of Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, and forward to the present. But the beauty they create is always NOW.  And you might consider immersing yourself in it, if you can, before it becomes the THEN.  See you there.

May your happiness increase!

TRAVELS WITH MOLLY: “LET’S FLY AWAY”

Molly Ryan by Don Spiro

Molly Ryan by Don Spiro

I’ve been admiring Molly Ryan’s singing — and her instrumental bandmates — for almost a decade now.  Her latest CD, her third, LET’S FLY AWAY, is a beautifully elaborate production, consistently aloft.

Molly Ryan CD cover

Here are the details.  The CD features a theme (hooray!) — the delights of travel, with some ingenious choices of repertoire:  WANDERER / BEYOND THE BLUE HORIZON / FAR AWAY PLACES / LET’S FLY AWAY / FLYING DOWN TO RIO / A RAINY NIGHT IN RIO / SOUTH SEA ISLAND MAGIC / THE GYPSY IN MY SOUL / THE ROAD TO MOROCCO / UNDER PARIS SKIES / TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE / IT’S NICE TO GO TRAV’LIN’ / ANYWHERE I WANDER . . .

and alongside Molly (vocal and guitar) some of the finest jazz players on the planet:  Bria Skonberg, Randy Reinhart, Dan Barrett, Dan Levinson, Adrien Chevalier, John Reynolds, Joel Forbes, Mike Weatherly, Mark Shane, Dick Hyman, Kevin Dorn, Scott Kettner, Raphael McGregor, with arrangements by the two Dans, Levinson and Barrett.

When I first heard Molly — we were all much younger — I was immediately charmed by her voice, which in its youthful warmth and tenderness summoned up the beautiful Helen Ward.  But Molly, then and now, does more than imitate. She has a gorgeous sound but she also knows a good deal about unaffected swing, and in the years she’s been singing, her lyrical deftness has increased, and without dramatizing, she has become a fine singing actress, giving each song its proper emotional context.  She can be a blazing trumpet (evidence below) or a wistful yearner, on the edge of tears, or someone tart and wry.

The band, as you’d expect, is full of great soloists — everyone gets a taste, as they deserve, and I won’t spoil the surprises.  But what’s most notable is the care given to the arrangements.  Many CDs sound as if the fellows and gals are on a live club date — “Whaddaya want to play next, Marty?” “I don’t know.  How about X?” and those informal sessions often produce unbuttoned memorable sounds.  But a production like LET’S FLY AWAY is a happy throwback to the glory days of long-playing records of the Fifties and Sixties, where a singer — Teddi King, Lena Horne, Doris Day, Carmen McRae — was taken very good care of by Neal Hefti or Frank DeVol or Ralph Burns, creating a musical tapestry of rich sensations.

Now, below on this very same page, you can visit the page where LET’S FLY AWAY is for sale, and hear samples.  But Molly and friends have cooked up something far more hilariously gratifying — a short film with an oddly off-center plot, dancers, visual effects, hard to describe but a pleasure to experience:

Yes, it does make me think of Mildred Bailey’s WEEK-END OF A PRIVATE SECRETARY, but perhaps that association is my own personal problem.

And tomorrow — yes, tomorrow, Thursday, September 3, at 9:30 PM — Molly and friends are having a CD release show at Joe’s Pub, with Dan Levinson, Mike Davis, Vincent Gardner, Dalton Ridenhour, Brandi Disterheft, Kevin Dorn.  You may purchase tickets (they’re quite inexpensive) here.  Details about the show here, and Molly’s Facebook page.

Purchase a digital download of the CD (with two hidden tracks) OR the physical disc itself (with twenty pages of liner notes and wonderful art / photographs) OR hear sound samples here.

Airborne, delightful swing.  Why not FLY AWAY?  Let’s.

May your happiness increase!

SHE’S BACK, ALTHOUGH SHE’S NEVER BEEN AWAY

Marty Elkins hat

Marty Elkins is one of my favorite singers.  If you know her work, you’ll understand why.  If she’s new to you, prepare to be entranced:

For one thing, she swings without calling attention to it.  Nothing in her style is written in capital letters; she doesn’t dramatize.  But the feeling she brings to each song comes through immediately.  Her voice is pleasing in itself and she glides along next to the song, not trying to obliterate it so that we can admire her and her alone.  And that voice is not an artifice — a mask she assumes to sing — it comes from her deepest self, whether she is being cheerful or permitting that little cry to come out.  I think her approach to the songs on this CD is a beautifully mature one: not the shallow cheer of someone who’s not lived . . . nor the bleakness of the world-weary.  I hear in Marty’s voice a kind of realistic optimism, a faith in the universe that also knows melancholy is possible.  Gaze at the sky in blissful wonder but look out for that cab while crossing the street.

I know that such art is not easily mastered . . . ask any singer whether it’s simply a matter of memorizing the notes and the words and standing up in front of the microphone — but Marty quietly has something to tell us, and we feel what she feels.  Direct subtle transmission!

And she improvises.  Her third chorus on any performance is not simply a repetition of the second.  She doesn’t obliterate the composer or the lyricist; rather she makes friends with the song and — as if she were a great designer — considers the approach that would show it off most truly.

I shelve my CDs alphabetically — so to the left of ELKINS there is ELDRIDGE, to the right ELLINGTON.  Fast company, but neither Roy nor Duke has protested; in fact, were they booking gigs at the moment, Marty would be getting calls.  But my ELKINS holdings have been — although choice — small in scope.  Two CDs, to be precise: FUSE BLUES (Nagel-Heyer 062) finds her with Herb Pomeroy, Houston Person, Tardo Hammer, Greg Staff, Dennis Irwin, Mark Taylor.  (The provocative title is Marty’s own blues which has a great deal to do with the ministrations offered by her electrician.)  IN ANOTHER LIFE (Nagel-Heyer 114), a duo-recital for Marty and Dave McKenna, is just gorgeous. Here‘s what I wrote about IN ANOTHER LIFE when it was released — not just about the CD, but about Marty’s beautiful singing.

So it’s delightful news that Marty has released her third CD, WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER (Nagel-Heyer 119), and it is a treat.

marty-elkins-walkin-by-the-river-2015

Marty isn’t a Diva or someone who demands to be a Star.  When I’ve seen her in performance — sitting in or on her own gig — she is on equal, friendly terms with the instrumentalists, never demanding the spotlight.  But quietly, subversively, her voice finds a place in our hearts: it is the closest thing to having someone you’re fond of whisper something pleasing in your ear.  And it’s not just me, or my ear.  Marty has things to tell us about love, about pleasure, about sadness.  Many of the songs on this CD are familiar — but they take on new depth and feeling when she sings them.  And Marty has a real feeling for the blues, so her offerings seem authentic rather than learned . . . with bluesy turns of phrase that are warm surprises in standard 32-bar songs.

Marty has consistently good musical taste.  Her band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Howard Alden, guitar; Steve Ash, piano; Joel Diamond, Hammond C3, Lee Hudson, string bass; Taro Okamoto, drums.  This small group is priceless in itself — intense yet relaxed, with a light-hearted Basie feel on some numbers, a gritty soulful drive on others.  But — with all respect to these musicians — I am always happy on a track when the band plays and Ms. Elkins returns for another chorus.  She’s their equal in keeping our attention.

Her songs: IF I COULD BE WITH YOU /  RUNNIN’ WILD / IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? / GARBAGE CAN  BLUES / WHEN MY SUGAR WALKS DOWN THE STREET / DON’T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYIN’ / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / DOWN TO STEAMBOAT TENNESSEE / COMES LOVE / ILL WIND / I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME / BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA / WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER.  Song historians will note some nods to Lee Wiley, Una Mae Carlisle, and of course Billie.  But this is living music, not a repertory project, thank goodness.

Marty, thank you!  Now — let’s have a regular gig for this remarkable singer?

I just found out that the CD  will officially be out in September, which is nearly here.  You can check out Marty’s website, or find Marty at her regular Thursday-night gig Cenzino Restaurant in Oakland, New Jersey, where she performs with Bob Wylde, guitar, and Mike Richmond, string bass.

May your happiness increase!

 

PAINTED LIPS, PAINTED EYES

Clara Bow

Clara Bow

One more from this delicious band — Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs — on their 2015 West Coast Tour.  I posted a life-affirming (no, life-improving) selection from their July 9, 2015 concert at the Rossmoor Jazz Club here, and you could do worse than watch it again.

This delight  — again thanks to SFRaeAnn  (who is known to the law as Rae Ann Hopkins Berry) — comes from the very next night, when Ray and his Cubs performed at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California. For those who haven’t kept up, the band is Ray Skjelbred, piano / vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet / vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar / vocal; Clint Baker, string bass / vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

(About Cafe Borrone, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, were I there, I would be there.)

I pointed out in my previous post how much I enjoy Kim Cusack’s singing. Perhaps to the uninitiated, he sounds a little like a character in a good Warner Brothers film circa 1933, his phrases clipped, his delivery conversational (a useful corrective to so many singers orally swooning over their own long vowel movements).  But listen closely to how he lingers over a note here and a note there, how he swings, how he delivers the goods.

I belong to a small select group of people who not only delight in Kim’s singing, but who treasure his elongation of certain sounds, especially in this case — at the end of the chorus, what he often does to NOW, stretching it out so that it reminds me of the annoyed comment of a Siamese cat whose imperial will is being disregarded.  On this July 10 performance, it’s a little less cheerfully caustic than usual, but perhaps this was the last tune before a break and everyone was thinking of dinner.

I also adore — and I will stop shortly — his final hand gesture, amused yet charming: “Ladies, don’t rush the band.  Don’t knock me off my stool.  Form a single line and don’t push.  Thank you, my people!”

AND THE BAND ITSELF.  Swing made lucent and portable — the music stand on Ray’s keyboard was not the only thing rocking, I know.  The ripe-peach rhythm wave of Clint and Katie, and the beautifully melodic waves of sound that Jeff creates.

If you’re not smiling, I urge you — as a healing practitioner — to play the video again until it has its proper palliative effect.

May your happiness increase!

TERRY BLAINE AND MARK SHANE MAKE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC: MAY 8, 2015 (Part One)

So sweet when they stir it up.

Deep comfort.

Terry Blaine and Mark Shane are endearing musicians and very dear people, and I was thrilled to be able to attend and record their informal concert at the Croton Free Library in Croton-on-Hudson on May 8.  They’ve been working together for nearly thirty years, which shows in their genial swing and deep intuitive feeling for the music.

Terry Blaine is one of the finest singers you haven’t heard enough about.  Her speaking voice alone is full of light and shade, girlish enthusiasm and real depths; her singing voice is a watercolor landscape in itself, wistful, hinting at shadings that she does not overemphasize.  When I’ve heard her sing a familiar song I am always thrilled to hear its inner self revealed at last.  Tenderness and sweet swing pedal along side by side in her expressive gentle art.  She takes as her model the extraordinary Ethel Waters, but she is her own woman, and we are so glad of that.

Mark Shane is the frolicking brook to Terry’s serene voice, the dancing waters and rippling sounds, the Jess Stacy to her Helen Ward.  As we listen, we hear them both, complementing each other playfully but never demanding our attention forcefully.

Here is what I wrote about Terry and Mark and their newest CD, SWINGTIME DUET: MY BLUE HEAVEN, in 2014.

But now it’s 2015, and I can share selections from this magic, quiet, affecting evening with you.  Listen to Terry’s caressing voice, to Mark’s just-right accompaniment and solo.  Admire the easy way they make two old songs sound new and one that might be new to you sound comforting, wise, and true.  Float on their sweet tempos — they both know everything one would want to know about the Blessed Land of Medium Tempo.  If you’re not smiling because of this music, I don’t know what to say to you.  I certainly am.

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (so easy and sweet!):

BREAD AND GRAVY (Hoagy for Ethel):

MY MELANCHOLY BABY (which has passed from being over-requested to rare and obscure, which is a pity, since it’s such a lovely song):

There will be more songs from this concert, I promise you.  But one doesn’t gobble down the finest cuisine, nay nay.

This post is specifically for my dear Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, who loves Mark and Terry as I do.

May your happiness increase!

“TO IGNITE THE SPARK”: MR. WALLER’S ROMANTIC SONG (1937)

Recently there was a long, energetic discussion on Facebook, sparked by our friend, the superb young pianist Kris Tokarski (you can find it if you scroll down to March 31) on what attributes constitute a “jazz singer.” Bless him, Kris didn’t come to it with a narrow ideology; he wanted to open up a discussion, which he did.

I made mention of instrumentalists with “untrained” voices, and mentioned Hot Lips Page — then also Jimmy Rushing and Ivie Anderson.  But I forgot one of the finest singers of all, Thomas “Fats” Waller.

Most often, we think of Fats, at high volume,  shouting and carrying on — THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’, satirizing, parodying, mocking, clowning. But there was another side of him, heard all too infrequently: the dear romantic balladeer, treating a deserving song with great tenderness.

He does it here — with the 1937 I’M ALWAYS IN THE MOOD FOR YOU:

The lyrics aren’t memorable — in fact, they seem a winking collection of love-song-conceits — but the performance lingers because it is so close to the heart. Hear the long, leisurely piano chorus, Fats’ careful, endearing reading of the lyrics with only Herman Autrey whispering sweet nothings in back of him, and the return.  I think it’s fascinating that this take was issued, for clearly Fats got distracted or the lyric sheet slid off the piano, for there is a distinct near-crisis around three minutes in.  Whether Eli Oberstein said, “Look, we have six more sides to get done today,” or “Well, you made a mistake, Fats, but it’s so late in the record and the side is so beautiful, let’s leave it be,” I don’t know.  (It was the fifth side of nine recorded that day, so I suspect Fats was pressed to move on, even though there was this momentary lapse of attention.  I find the “mistake” completely endearing.)

I also wonder if Fats’ very tender delivery of the song was because it was written by Benny Davis (lyrics), a true veteran of the Brill Building, and Fats’ dear friend and eating buddy J. Fred Coots . . . whatever the motive, it is a very sweet performance and one that has stayed in my mind for years.

I hope you have someone you adore who can hear this recording — preferably seated right nearby — and know that the lyrics and melody are Cupid’s arrow, aimed tenderly but accurately.

May your happiness increase!

“WHERE THE WINTRY WINDS DON’T BLOW”: CONNIE JONES SINGS AND PLAYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 29, 2014)

I first heard and saw Connie Jones play cornet and sing late in 2010, and I was entranced by his quiet majesty, his subtle grace.  Other cornet players make more noise; their horns point to the sky — but they don’t create beauty the way Mister Jones does.  And although he doesn’t look the part of a “boy singer,” he sings with more conviction and more fluid rhythmic delicacy than most singers who do only that.

Connie performed in six sets with Tim Laughlin’s New Orleans All Stars at the San Diego Jazz Fest over Thanksgiving weekend.  One of the many highlights of that weekend was his performance of TISHOMINGO BLUES, written in 1917 by Spencer Williams, referring to the Mississippi town of that name.

He’s joined here by Tim, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums:

I was delighted by this performance when I saw it, and it has become one of those videos I can happily watch and listen to repeatedly.  I hope it affects you the same way.  I feel honored to be in the same space as Connie Jones, who shines his light so generously on us.  Long may he prosper.

May your happiness increase!

THE TRUE SPARK: MARIANNE SOLIVAN’S NEW CD

MARIANNE SOLIVAN

Thanks to the splendid pianist Michael Kanan, I am very proud that I was captivated by the singer Marianne Solivan as far back as the spring of 2011. Here are Ms. Solivan and Mr. Kanan in performance then:

Notice her delicate intensity, her strength of conviction — authentic rather than put-on-for-effect — her witty tenderness, her elastic yet perfectly respectful phrasing . . . Marianne is a model of joyously inventive improvisatory singing, her sweet candor transforming any song.

Her belief in the lyrics, her immersion in the emotions of the song, her courageous yet friendly bending of the original melodic line — all of these virtues make her singing entrancing.

Here is a later Solivan-Kanan medley about enduring romance:

I followed Marianne to a number of gigs at Smalls and Iridium in those years, and I continue to take pleasure in her first CD, PRISONER OF LOVE.  Here is the title track (a song I love, thanks at first to Lester Young and Russ Columbo):

You might not initially notice that the “new” verse, perfectly appropriate and deeply felt, is Marianne’s own composition — which points to another talent.

Hearing these venerable songs, treated as if they were new, one might be tempted to assign Marianne her own little cubbyhole: “She sings the Great American Songbook with a twist.”  But she is and does more than that.  (Although I have heard her perform Annie Ross’ TWISTED, which may count for something in the imagined taxonomy.)

SPARK

This year, she created and produced her second CD, SPARK (Hipnotic Records) — compelling yet light on its feet.  Here’s a video that will give you a taste of the disc’s riches.  One of the songs is THE HUMDRUM BLUES, but nothing about this effort is in the least monotonous.

Although I’ve heard Marianne favor dark, pensive songs, SPARK is lively and energized.  She has power, but it’s never being wielded against an audience.

SPARK starts off immediately at a high level — with the title song, which Marianne created, words and music.  Unlike many singer-songwriters, she is not attempting to fit words and notes into a conventional box.  Her songs sound much more like conversations with an audience — or the listeners — or someone being wooed.  Her lyrics might use conventional phrases, but they are always arranged in new ways, without formal reliance on end-rhymes.

The song SPARK depicts the heady beginning of a romance; FIRST DESIRE (Marianne’s setting for the Lorca poem) is a rumination, full of images and evocations, music and lyrics evoking exalted states.  IF I WERE TO LOVE YOU is a paean to love’s magic in the natural world, although voiced in the subjunctive.  ON A CLEAR NIGHT meditates on a love affair tenuously balanced between past happiness and present erosion. THE DOVE, a collaboration between Marianne and pianist Xavier Davis, seems a twisting, intense carpe diem — don’t neglect love!  Marianne’s compositions do not reveal themselves immediately, but each re-examination offers new levels of emotion and intelligence.

The other songs on this disc are wonderfully varied. There’s Oscar Brown, Jr.’s sharp-edged HUMDRUM BLUES (which has a touch of hope if one gets through the complaints of the lyrics); Francesca Blumenthal’s darkly ambivalent THE LIES OF HANDSOME MEN.

Marianne also gives her own singular transformation to songs associated with others: the sardonic modern folk song TENDER AS A ROSE (Abbey Lincoln), which sits somewhere between an unwritten PORGY AND BESS song and FRANKIE AND JOHNNY; I WANNA BE AROUND (Tony Bennett) which has a violent swinging energy, suggesting that Marianne could be dangerous if crossed, although she’d never diminish her rhythmic energy in the midst of taking revenge; a very brisk THIS IS NEW, rescued from those singers who have turned it into a moony dirge in opposition to the exultant lyrics.  Ruben Blades’ EL CANTANTE (THE SINGER) is beautifully sung in Spanish — truly evocative — and Marianne explains the lyrics in part in the video.

Singing Loesser’s WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEW YEAR’S EVE? she rescues this song and brings a tender sweetness to the title — making the question vibrant yet fragile.  OOH, WHAT’CHA DOIN’ TO ME, by Timmie Rogers, is a Forties trifle that offers Marianne the opportunity to play — she never copies Billie, early or late, but I think of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO as the only parallel to Marianne’s evident delight.

SPARK is buoyed by Marianne’s joy in the music, but also by the evident joy in the studio, as Marianne and her working band take pleasure in creating together. They are Xavier Davis, piano; Matthew Parrish, string bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums.  The instrumental settings are fresh: one never thinks of “singer plus rhythm trio,” but rather of four musicians on an equal footing.  The CD is splendidly recorded by Joe Marciano and Max Ross, with excellent liner notes by drummer Lewis Nash.

SPARK is never formulaic, but it is not oddly or whimsically “innovative” in offputting ways.  Marianne’s inventiveness is refreshing throughout, but her music will not scare anyone off.  She always sounds like herself, which is delightfully reassuring.  I am happy to experience her blossoming creativity, and I look forward to more surprises.

SPARK is available in all the old familiar places: CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, but I suggest you begin your investigation here — you can learn more about Marianne, keep up with her schedule, perhaps take a class with her (she is a most respected and beloved teacher of singers), and more.

Here and here are Facebook pages where you’ll find Marianne . . . but the best way to experience her magic is to buy her CDs and meet her at a gig.  Whichever comes first or is more convenient is the one I recommend to you.  Don’t wait until she is booked into huge concert halls and the security prevents your getting close to the stage . . . catch her now.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET LIKE THIS: SPATS LANGHAM, LARS FRANK, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, PHIL RUTHERFORD, JOSH DUFFEE at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 7, 2014)

Thomas “Spats” Langham is one of the great romantic singers of our time.  Every year at the Whitley  Bay Classic Jazz Party he moves me to tears.  I do not write those words lightly.  He can perform his deep emotional magic on a love song like GUILTY (you can find it here) but his wizardry is not restricted to amorous crooning.  No, it’s even deeper and less conventional, as he demonstrated on the evening of November 7, 2014, in his performance of a song associated with Cliff Edwards, “Ukulele Ike” to those on close terms.

NIGHT OWL is a captivating song — music and lyrics by Herman Hupfeld — with a melody that, once heard, refuses to leave, and lyrics that move from the poetic wordplay of “I make light of the darkness” to the time-filling repetition of “hooting” . . . but it casts its own spell, verse and chorus.

I think Mr. Langham’s mastery comes from a double sensibility.  You can see him give himself utterly to the song and its romance, yet, at the same time, there is a hint of amusement: “These are the most important words in the world and I must make sure that you feel them deeply but I also know they are just a touch silly . . . and I love them for both reasons.”  Imagine a huge heart and the slightest hint of a grin, simultaneously. His approach is subtle — not the let’s-have-a-ball ebullience of Fats Waller, nor the lush wooing of Russ Columbo, but it is its own splendid personal amalgam.  There’s no one like him, and we are blessed that he exists.

Lester Young told Francois Postif, speaking about the music he was searching for, “It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig?”  Lester would have enjoyed Spats Langham immensely.  As do we:

Postscript:  Some YouTube viewers are impatient creatures, so they will want to know that the musical part of this performance begins at 2:10, but if you skip forward you will miss Mr. Langham’s narrative about the intriguing-looking, rare and precious musical instrument he is holding (and playing expertly).  It’s a novella in itself.

May your happiness increase!

TWO FOR MILDRED: DARYL SHERMAN at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 1, 2013)

It’s always pleasing to me when an artist fully inhabits the present while offering a deep understanding of the tradition.  The soulful Miss Daryl Sherman does just that.

Here, Daryl honors one of her idols and mine, Mildred Bailey, at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party. She is accompanied by Duke Heitger, trumpet; Alistair Allan, trombone; Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Keith Nichols, piano; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Spats Langham, guitar; Richard Pite, drums.

First, the lovely I’LL CLOSE MY EYES:

Then, Mister Berlin’s cheerful I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM:

I’ve been remiss in not posting these earlier, but a variety of technical difficulties held them back.  Thank you, Daryl, and swinging players, for telling your stories with a swinging beat.

May your happiness increase!