Tag Archives: Jeanie Wilson

AN AFTERNOON WITH YAALA BALLIN (and PASQUALE GRASSO and JOHN LANG): May 19, 2013

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon in May — on the East Side of New York City — but Yaala Ballin made us forget about the gloom outside, with the help of John Lang, string bass, and Pasquale Grasso, guitar.  All of this took place at The Churchill Tavern (45 East 28th St, 646 476-8419) — an “English pub” with appropriate food and decor, where the recorded voice of Winston Churchill accompanies one’s ablutions in the restroom — a novel sensation.

But the voice that concerned us, and rightly so, was Yaala’s.  She isn’t brassy or overemphatic, but she knows where she’s going — no timidity or indecision.  Whether she’s singing a straight-from-the-shoulder blues, a tender ballad, or a swing tune, she is definitely on target.  Her melody statements have surprising dips and turns, and her improvisations are brave, intent, and sometimes startling — but always with the powerful assurance of a graceful athlete who knows what she’s capable of and then takes delighted and delightful risks in addition.  On this gig, she was supported nobly by the elegantly fleet Pasquale Grasso, weaving deep tapestries of swinging sound on guitar, and the solid, nimble bassist John Lang.

Yaala and her strings found new things to reveal and explore in the most familiar repertoire — making a drizzly Sunday afternoon memorable.  (And although several of her songs come from Billie Holiday or Dinah Washington, she doesn’t pattern herself after Lady Day or Miss D — Yaala’s time, swing, and  feeling are her own — a very good thing for all of us.)

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN:

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:

RICH MAN’S BLUES:

MY SHINING HOUR:

BODY AND SOUL:

LOVE WALKED IN:

BABY, GET LOST:

YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO:

EVIL GAL / SALTY PAPA BLUES:

YOU GO TO MY HEAD:

Yaala has a wonderful new CD out, called LIVE SESSION: read more about it and see fine videos of her here.  Thanks to Michael Kanan, Neal Miner, and Jeanie Wilson — the best jazz guides!

May your happiness increase!

WORDS AND MUSIC FOR BARBARA LEA (St. Peter’s Church, April 16, 2012)

We miss Barbara Lea, and the gently loving memorial service held last night at St. Peter’s Church didn’t make our loss any smaller.

She gave us so much music for nearly fifty years that it seemed only proper that her friends and musical colleagues (one and the same) crowded the room to do her honor in words and music.

What Daryl Sherman — the evening’s most empathic, witty host — called Barbara’s “extended family” was there both in substance and in spirit.

For those who weren’t there, a thirty-two bar synopsis.

For words: Jan Wallman spoke of having Barbara perform at her club countless times, shaping her program to the individuals in the audience; George Wein remembered her as that remarkable creature in 1951, a “Wellesley girl who sang jazz”: Roger Shore told us how “the song came first” for Barbara; Jack Kleinsinger recalled a memorable “Highlights in Jazz” concert and surprised me by saying that the cornetist Johnny Windhurst had been his first mentor in jazz; Loren Schoenberg’s tribute had him thinking “WHAT WOULD BARBARA LEA DO?” in every situation, so fine was her critical vision; Nat Hentoff’s remarks focused on Barbara’s recordings; David Hadju recalled not only Barbara but the late Roy Hemmings; Lewis Chambers reminded us that what looked easy for her was the result of hard work; Frannie Huxley’s story of Barbara at college brought us a girl we hadn’t known; Peter Wagenaar’s story of falling hard for Barbara and her music from a distance was more than touching, as was Annie Dinerman’s reading of Barbara’s lyric for MOTHER, MAY I GO OUT TO SWIM.

For music: Ronny Whyte sang and played THANKS FOR THE MEMORY with lyrics I had not known; Joyce Breach offered Alec Wilder’s BLACKBERRY WINTER, which George Wein followed by singing and playing SUGAR (in memory of Lee Wiley as well as Barbara).  Marlene VerPlanck tenderly created IS IT RAINING IN NEW YORK? holding spellbound a New York audience on a cloudless night; Sue Matsuki made us laugh with FRASIER (THE SENSUOUS LION) and Karen Oberlin made BITTERSWEET resonate for Barbara and Billy Strayhorn.  Daryl Sherman wickedly delivered the naughty LORELEI, all of the laughs intact; Dick Miller played a strong medley of LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE and OH, YOU CRAZY MOON; Steve Ross slowed down YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO for voice and piano; Bob Dorough emphasized HOW LITTLE WE KNOW; Melissa Hamilton caressed I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU.  Throughout, lovely support and solos were floated by us from pianist Tedd Firth, bassist Boots Maleson, guitarist James Chirillo, and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen — all great singers of melodies.

But the stage belonged to Barbara — in a photo montage over our heads that showed her with Duke Ellington and Morey Amsterdam, with Johnny Windhurst, Cutty Cutshall and Eddie Barefield, with Dick Sudhalter, Daryl Sherman, Harry Allen, and Keith Ingham; Bob Haggart, Larry Eanet, James Chirillo — and many of Barbara and her dearest friend Jeanie Wilson, the two of them grinning like mad, fashionable or down-home.

And the musical interlude of videos by Barbara had great power — singing Bix and Hoagy, in front of a late Benny Goodman band, having herself a time, pacing through Noel Coward and a dramatically slowed-down BEGIN THE BEGUINE.

All of us send thanks to the people who made Barbara’s life better — Jeanie and her husband Bill, their friend and Barbara’s, Robert “Junk” Ussery, and the diligent, gracious Daryl and Melissa Hamilton . . .

In her last years, Barbara didn’t speak.  But her voice still rings:

A MEMORIAL SERVICE TO CELEBRATE MISS BARBARA LEA (April 16, 2012)

We miss Barbara Lea, who died at the end of 2011.

Her dear friend Jeanie Wilson has planned a memorial service for Barbara — full of deeply felt music and tart stories in honor of “The High Priestess of Popular Song.”

It will take place on Monday, April 16, 2012, at 7:00 PM, at St. Peter’s Church (54th St. & Lexington Ave., New York City), with Barbara’s good friend, singer Daryl Sherman, as host.  The performers and speakers will include Bob Dorough, Steve Ross, Marlene VerPlanck, Ronny Whyte, Melissa Hamilton, Jack Kleinsinger, George Wein, Joyce Breach, Roger Schore, Jan Wallman, Karen Oberlin, Lewis Chambers, Sue Matsuki, Tedd Firth, Harry Allen, Annie Dinerman, Dick Miller, The Speakeasy Jazz Babies, James Chirillo, Boots Maleson, David Hajdu, and others.

W.B. Yeats writes “Say that my glory was I had such friends.”  I hope to see you at the memorial service — to let Barbara know just how much she is loved, missed, remembered.  And although memorial services remind us that the object of our affections is no longer with us, we go out thinking of that person with something deeper than funereal gloom.

BILL DUNHAM REMEMBERS BARBARA LEA

The good friend of JAZZ LIVES, pianist and bandleader Bill Dunham, sent his recollections of Barbara Lea for us:

I guess I’m Barbara’s oldest friend – both in terms of age and friendship.  She was at Wellesley (where she was Barbara Leacock out of Detroit) when I was Harvard in the late 40’s.  We met on a blind date and dated briefly (I was pretty inept and Larry Eanet took over in that department).  It was there that I introduced Barbara to the Harvard Crimson Stompers a Dixieland band that was really a hot item among the college jock fraternities (Dartmouth, etc.) Her singing career started!  I was a member of the Stompers at the time and can remember how we were all knocked out by this Wellesley girl’s singing!

During her senior year at Wellesley and after graduation she sang at local Boston clubs – some not too upscale including a Mafia-run club where she called me one night and asked me to please come down the next night because she had been threatened by a gang thug.  I was to call a police lieutenant should there be a confrontation.  I was not too enthusiastic about this assignment but fortunately it went OK with me sitting nervously clutching the policeman’s phone number.

As you know, Barbara made scores of LPs, CDs, etc.  One of my favorites is the one she made with Johnny Windhurst, a marvelous young trumpet player.  He incidentally sat in with the Grove Street Stompers a number of times.

Barbara has often been labeled as a young Lee Wiley. Yes, one can pick up traces of Wiley in her singing but Barbara was her own person and had her own approach to singing the great standards with a beautiful, pure, ungimmicky voice!

I have been a close friend of hers since college and will really miss her!

Another pianist with young Barbara Lea

A FEW MORE WORDS FOR MISS LEA

On hearing of Barbara Lea’s death, I, too, went back to her recordings. And what strikes me now (and impressed me the first time I heard her) was her clarity and simplicity.  No tricks, nothing to obscure the melody and to place the singer in front of the song.  Barbara had most often been compared to the female singers she so admired — Lee Wiley, then Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday — but at this distance she sounds much more like a medium-register cornet, on track and sweetly focused.  She was also a great interpreter of the lyrics, without ever seeming to “dramatize,” to deliver certain words or lines in italics. The music flowed through her to us.  She respected the composer’s intentions and offered the song — with a lightness of heart yet a great deal of feeling.

What also remains is the memory of her sharp-edged prose: if you have the vinyl or CD version of the sessions Dick Sudhalter and Connie Jones did first for Stomp Off Records as GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON, read her notes: they have a gentle pungency — serious truths are being told here although without belligerence.

We are lucky to have had her and her music!

Here are two more reminders.  The first is a candid photograph taken by Sonny McGown at the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival (Barbara’s studio recordings from that time are collected on a CD titled DO IT AGAIN, which pairs her with Vic Dickenson, Billy Butterfield, and Johnny Mince).  Johnny had a headache so Barbara offered a neck massage — and it looks as if she knew exactly what she was doing:

Before I close this post, the person I want to call to your attention is Jeanie Wilson, Barbara’s dear friend from North Carolina.  Jeanie stayed out of the spotlight and does so even now, but the way she and her husband Bill took care of Barbara in Barbara’s last years is a model of loving solicitude and generosity of spirit that we could all try to live up to.  As we are bereft of Barbara, we should send thanks to Jeanie for being the most devoted friend anyone ever had.

And let’s have Barbara and Johnny Windhurst, both young, fill our ears with their golden music. If there are echoes of Wiley and Hackett, that doesn’t bother me:

GOODBYE TO MISS BARBARA LEA (1929-2011)

Young Miss Lea

The remarkable jazz singer Barbara Lea has left us.  Her dear friend Jeanie Wilson writes, “I am deeply saddened to have to report the death of our own Barbara Lea, “The High Priestess of Popular Song”. She died peacefully yesterday, Monday, December 26, here in Raleigh, North Carolina; I was with her as were my husband, Bill, and our dear friend, Junk. And as most of you already know, Barbara has been battling Alzheimer’s for quite some time. So, “Sleep Peaceful”, dear Barbara… we will miss you but now you are free to sing once again.”

I know that many JAZZ LIVES readers have their own memories of hearing and working with Barbara, which I will share in an upcoming post.  For now, this is the way I and so many others will think of her:

It’s an informal exploration of SKYLARK at the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival — where Barbara is backed empathically by tenor saxophonist Mason “Country” Thomas, who also left us in 2011; Larry Eanet, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Van Perry, bass; Tom Martin, drums.  Thanks to Sflair for the original video and for sharing it with us on YouTube.

A musician who worked and recorded with Miss Lea several times is the fine drummer Hal Smith, who had this to say, “She had a lovely voice, terrific intonation, perfect diction and her voice aged very well.  I had heard that she adopted the last name of “Lea” as a tribute to Lee Wiley.  If that’s true, she deserved to invoke Ms. Wiley’s name. At the recording session she was well-prepared with a list of songs and keys, easy-to-read charts and ideas for routines.  In that respect, and in her pleasant demeanor, she reminded me of another great vocalist — with the last name of Kilgore.”

Saxophonist, pianist, and director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Loren Schoenberg, also worked with and learned from Barbara: “Barbara Lea passed away this week and the world has lost an exemplary interpreter of 20th century popular music and I’ve lost a dear friend and mentor.

I was driving Benny Carter down Seventh Avenue to a rehearsal years ago and Louis Armstrong came over the radio playing “Ain’t Misbehavin’” . Benny’s response was “Listen to that – no bullshit!” And in the generous sense in which Benny meant it, one can transpose the same comment to Barbara’s music, though I’m sure she wouldn’t be happy with that language.

She was above all an intelligent and classy lady, with a gift for discovering the melodic and lyrical essence of a song. We started working together in the late 70’s and continued up to the point her illness made it impossible several years ago.  If I heard her sing one tune, I heard her sing several hundred, because I was first and foremost a fan, and went to as many of her gigs as I could, many times with my parents. The Mr. Tram ensemble we had with Dick Sudhalter and Daryl Sherman was nothing less than a joy. You should have heard the conversations; they were as good as the music! Barbara was incapable of coasting when she sang.  No wonder so many composers, starting with Alec Wilder, were so crazy about her. What a variety of timbres she had, and a variety of ways of phrasing to match the words.  Scatting wasn’t for her, and she was forthright about her opinions, and blessedly empathetic with others who didn’t necessarily agree with her.  There’s much more to be said about her, but for the essence, just listen. It’s ALL there.”

We’ll miss Barbara Lea.

(Thanks to David J. Weiner, Hal Smith, and Loren Schoenberg for their help.)

FINE TIMES at FEINSTEIN’S with HARRY ALLEN and FRIENDS (Oct. 3, 2011)

The first Monday night of every month has taken on new significance since Harry Allen and his world-class musical friends (courtesy of Arbors Records) have been appearing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City (540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street, 212-339-4095). 

The Beloved and I went there for the festivities of October 3, 2011, for what was whimsically but accurately called a Cavalcade of Singers.  The singers?  Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, and Lynn Roberts — backed by Harry Allen (tenor sax); Mike Renzi (piano); Joel Forbes (bass); Chuck Riggs (drums), and guest star Dan Barrett (trombone). 

Feinstein’s at the Regency is a very warm place — we got a friendly greeting and a very nice table with a good view of the stage, in a comfortably appointed, intimate room.  The atmosphere was very relaxed: a few of the musicians made their way from table to table, greeting old friends and making new ones, chatting and joking.  By the time the music started, the room was full, a very good sign — and we talked with Bill and Sonya Dunham (celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary!), Will Friedwald and friends, photographer Alan Nashigian, jazz friends Steve and Dafna, singer Melissa Hamilton, and a sweet surprise — I finally met Jeanie Wilson (whom I’ve known in cyberspace), the great good friend of Barbara Lea.

Everyone felt included, as if we had come to the most hip living room for a great yet casual evening of music.  And this warm feeling was firmly established even before I embarked on the Bloody Mary I had ordered, of a size and depth to require the Coast Guard.  The well-chosen soundtrack / background music was authentic Swing Era hits, entirely in keeping with the music we had come to hear, sweet and propulsive both. 

The instrumental quintet — Harry and Dan in the front line — began with a chipper PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, perhaps a nod to the weather that night, then moved to a sweet EMBRACEABLE YOU, where Dan showed off his Tommy Dorsey blue-steel control in the upper register, a rocking BEAN AND THE BOYS that featured some heartening cymbal playing from Chuck, a solo feature for Dan on a plunger-muted THE GLORY OF LOVE.  They ended the set with a deep-down version of Harry Edison’s blues, CENTERPIECE, which Dan introduced with the appropriate suggestion, “Turn out all the lights.”  Harry Allen usually looks serious, unflappable (unless he’s laughing or has his tennis racket), but he was rocking from side to side while the rhythm section was playing, and his solos soared throughout the set.

The Cavalcade of Singers began with our Becky: a cheerful PICK YOURSELF UP (“Good words to live by”), I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO that moved from a pensive start to deep improvising in the second chorus, with Harry purring obbligati behind her.  Nicki Parrott joined Becky for a duet on BETTER THAN ANYTHING, and took off on her own sultry BESAME MUCHO and an unusual WHERE OR WHEN — taken at a fast tempo with the verse.  Lynn Roberts (whose experience dates back to Tommy Dorsey in the Fifties but looks perky) joked with the audience before singing in her trumpetlike way THE LADY IS A TRAMP and a forceful AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  At the end of the set, the three women of song stood side by side and floated a deft S’WONDERFUL over Mike Renzi’s powerful chording, Joel’s splendidly deep bass, and Chuck’s floating hi-hat.

After a break, the band assembled for a vigorous LADY BE GOOD — Dan and Harry playing Lester Young’s 1936 solo in unison, before Lynn offered I’M CONFESSIN’ and a medley of Sinatra’s “saloon songs.”  Nicki created a sweet HEY THERE in honor of Rosemary Clooney, and then moved from the wistful to the straight-ahead with THE MORE I SEE YOU.  Becky returned for a sweet OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY in honor of the Dunhams’ anniversary (her singing provoking the Beloved to turn to me and say, “She has an understated elegance,” which is entirely true) and — in amusing contrast — an energetic THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.  The three singers assembled for a proper finger-snapping rendition of FEVER, for which they received great applause. 

When we went out into the night, we had been cheered, amused, elated, and warmed.  Great music, good value, and fine times at Feinstein’s at the Regency.

And for the future — the first Monday in November will be Harry’s Brazilian evening, and the December show will be John Sheridan’s Christmas extravaganza, with reindeer and drummer boys in residence elsewhere . . . not to be missed!  Visit http://feinsteinsattheregency.com/. for all the useful details.