Tag Archives: Marianne Solivan

MARIANNE SOLIVAN’S EXUBERANCE (July 20, 2017)

MARIANNE SOLIVAN by Gulnara Khamatova

My current life is imperfect and (not “but”) I am deeply grateful for it.  One of the aspects of it that deeply warms me is living in a world where creative people are my friends. Even though we don’t see each other on a regular basis, one of the people I treasure is the extraordinary singer Marianne Solivan.  I was first introduced to her by the equally splendid Michael Kanan — this was in 2011 (!) and followed her around with a video camera a few years ago. We most recently encountered each other last September at an awards ceremony.  Hugging ensued.

Marianne has always had a powerful emotional connection with what she is singing: she doesn’t stand back and view the song with a cool postmodernist glance.  No, she’s IN it before she utters a syllable, and that’s entrancing.  It isn’t “acting”; rather it’s experiencing in the moment.  You can feel the music flow through her, as she embraces each note and syllable before passing it along to us.

But what I love most about Marianne’s performing is her willingness to take what someone else’s GPS says are wrong turns and make them inescapably right and rewarding.  Sometimes she even appears to be conversing with the song, “Song, what would you think if I emphasized this note, or held off on this phrase in an unexpected way?  How would you like that?”

She has a true playful spirit, she loves experimenting, and her internal compass never fails.  Drop her in strange surroundings, she makes friends; she sniffs out congenial places; she’s not afraid.  Ask her to sing in the wrong key, and she makes a banquet of it.

And so it is with the performance captured at Luca’s Jazz Corner — with Josh Richman, piano; Matthew Parrish, string bass — on July 20, 2017.

Watching and hearing this for the first of many times, I was laughing –Marianne is a great comedienne who hasn’t scripted a thing — while delighting in the music and the beauty she makes.  A courageous striving soul, a great spreader of joy.  I am honored to know her.  Seek her out here, on disc, and in person.

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!

BRILLIANT PLAYERS RETURN! MARIANNE SOLIVAN and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (April 21, 2013): THE SECOND SET

Genius at work. Brilliance at play. Two artists so confident and playful that they inspire each other to take risks, risks that come off. Watching the singer Marianne Solivan and the pianist Michael Kanan in duet is rather like watching great athletes, actors, or dancers — so sure of their immersion in the art that courage and wit come naturally to them.

Here’s the second set of a completely inspiring duo-performance at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) that I recorded on Sunday, April 21, 2013.  (You can see the first set here.)

BILLY STRAYHORN MEDLEY:

Their hit!  I GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

TOO MUCH IN LOVE TO CARE:

THE LAST TIME FOR LOVE:

THOSE HUMDRUM BLUES:

THE LIES OF HANDSOME MEN:

May your happiness increase!

ADULT BEAUTY and TENDERNESS: MARIANNE SOLIVAN / MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (April 21, 2013)

I know that beauty and worth cannot be quantified by the amount of public appreciation they receive; in simpler terms, the most rewarding painting in the museum may not have the longest line of people who wish to stare at it.

But here is a very brief reposting of something both beautiful and honest.  My motivation, and it may be a crass one, is that I saw that this video had been seen by 22 people on YouTube.  Twenty-two seems like a small number . . . so I hope that JAZZ LIVES readers will forgive me for saying, “If you missed this, you owe it to yourselves to take a few minutes and watch and listen calmly.”

It is a medley of two love songs performed by singer Marianne Solivan and pianist Michael Kanan at Smalls on April 21, 2013.  The first, I’LL FOLLOW YOU, is — to my mind — inescapably associated with Bing Crosby circa 1932; the second, THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU, is an Arthur Schwartz / Howard Dietz classic* that I first heard in Fats Waller’s jovial but loving version.

Marianne introduces them by noting that most of the love songs she knows are about new love (“Oh gee, oh gosh, oh golly, she’s a great great girl, I can’t wait until we go to the preacher!” — to conflate three or four Twenties songs) and, having listened to Marianne as often as possible, I know she is one of the most wrenching explorers of love that has failed.

But here she and Michael pay living subtle moving tribute to love that lasts, commitment without phobia, devotion.  It’s not the aging idea of Darby and Joan — I sense that the lovers dramatized in Marianne’s versions are still able to get up and do the hokey-pokey without making an appointment well in advance — but I so admire this presentation of music that dramatizes the idea that real love isn’t microwaveable.

And I would also like us all to bow low in the direction of Michael Kanan, soulful and generous — at the piano and away from it.

Please listen again, or for the first time.  Or send this posting as a love-token to your Beloved . . . perhaps even to someone you’d like to audition as one?

May your love be as rewarding as that Marianne and Michael bring to us.

*I sent a link to this video to Jonathan Schwartz: I hope he is able to observe and admire, too.

May your happiness increase!

OUR BECKY, HER NEW YORK: REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, EHUD ASHERIE at SMALLS, April 28, 2013

Everyone in the know was excited that Rebecca Kilgore, our Becky, Miz Roo, was coming to New York and New Jersey for a short stop at the end of April 2013.  Before heading off to the UK for the Norwich Jazz Party, she and Dan Barrett had one gig at Smalls, one glorious evening with Rossano Sportiello and friends at Carnegie Hall (!), and another intimate evening at Shanghai Jazz.

The Beloved and I attended the first two . . . and I brought my camera to Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York).  I’ve adjusted the videos so that Becky, pianist Ehud Asherie, and trombonist Dan appear to be performing in a light-hearted version of film noir . . . but the music shines brightly in a rainbow of colors!

Here, incidentally, is what I wrote in anticipation of Miss Becky’s visit.

And here are five glorious performances from that Smalls triumph in swing . . . with a few more to come!  Our Becky swings sweetly, offers nuances and shadings that surprise, move, and enlighten.  She makes us smile — under a baking spotlight, in the middle of two great jazz extroverts, in front of a portrait of Louis, smiling for good reason.

The Beloved and I weren’t the only ones paying close delighted attention: the room was full of singers: Marianne Solivan, Hilary Gardner, Molly Ryan, Yaala Ballin, Petra van Nuis — as well as friends of the Jazz Bears: Justin, Danny, and Kristin; Jeanie Wilson beamed at us; Bill and Sonya Dunham made sure everyone behaved well; Stompy Jones and Maxine were there in spirit, too.

THOU SWELL:

I HEAR MUSIC:

I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU:

TEA FOR TWO:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

What extraordinary music!

May your happiness increase.

BRILLIANT PLAYERS!: MARIANNE SOLIVAN and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (April 21, 2013): THE FIRST SET

Genius at work.  Brilliance at play.  Two artists so confident and playful that they inspire each other to take risks, risks that come off.  Watching the singer Marianne Solivan and the pianist Michael Kanan in duet is rather like watching great athletes, actors, or dancers — so sure of their immersion in the art that courage and wit come naturally to them.

Here’s the first set of a completely inspiring duo-performance at Smalls (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) that I recorded on Sunday, April 21, 2013.

LOVE IS A NECESSARY EVIL:

LOVE WALKED IN:

I’LL FOLLOW YOU / THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU:

I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE:

DAY IN, DAY OUT:

BLUE:

BEAUTIFUL MOONS AGO:

REMEMBER:

They bring such pleasure — I admire them so.

May your happiness increase!

APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH, or NEW YORK JOYS (2013)

Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow.  I have something for you.”

ny skyline

These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:

Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.

And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.

T.S. Eliot had it wrong.  Just another average jazz-month in New York.

P.S.  This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .

May your happiness increase.

THE REMARKABLE YAALA BALLIN: “LIVE SESSION”

Yaala Ballin knows how to share.  And that’s special in itself.  We first met her at a Marianne Solivan gig at Iridium, where the elegant Ms. Ballin was placed next to us.  She had ordered a dessert — which turned out to be a slice of red velvet cake — and although we had only known each other for a matter of minutes, she offered us half.  Old-fashioned style.

YAALA BALLIN

And then we heard her sing!  Frankly, her musical art is more gratifying than any dessert I could imagine.  Her new CD, LIVE SESSION, was recorded at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room, in October 2012 — audio and video by Neal Miner.  On it, Yalla sings alongside Michael, piano; Ari Roland, string bass; Keith Balla, drums.

Here are the details and audio excerpts of each performance.  For those impatient with clicking, the songs are NOBODY ELSE BUT ME / AUTUMN IN NEW YORK / YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / HOW LITTLE WE KNOW / FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE / I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE / ALWAYS.

Yaala Ballin stands out because of her artistic integrity — that gives great delight.  Her artistry is very plain: she does not “dramatize”; she does not obliterate the song with her own ornamentations; she does not coo or woo.  She does not impersonate any one of The Great Dead.

Rather, she has a beautiful voice, unerring rhythmic command, and courage: her rubato embellishments are both brave and sure-footed. Her singing is confident, assured, as if a great actress strode on stage, sure of herself and her lines, deeply informed about the music she wants to make and the effect she hopes it will have on us.  Nothing is studied; there are no faux-spontaneous gestures; her singing seems utterly natural and at the same time powerful, focused.  Although Yalla is not yet forty, her singing is mature; we listen to her and relax, secure in her mastery of music and lyrics.  She plays with the song while honoring it, as do her superb accompanists.

What she so generously shares with us is remarkable.

Here is her website, and her Facebook page.

But you don’t need to take any of this on faith.  Neal Miner has posted videos of LIVE SESSION on the Gut String Records YouTube channel.  You can see that my praise of Yaala Ballin is based on her deep musical knowledge, enthusiasm, and empathy.

Here are two of the seven performances:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK (with the rare and moving verse):

and the witty and touching NOBODY ELSE BUT ME:

Convinced?  I thought you would be.  Yaala has a number of New York City gigs, but the one I have circled on my calendar is this: she and Michael Kanan will be performing in duet at Smalls (183 West 10th Street) on May 12, 2013, at 7:30. I’ll be there!

May your happiness increase.

“SHE INHABITS HER SONGS”: MARIANNE SOLIVAN’S ONGOING ART

Midway through Marianne Solivan’s first song, the Beloved turned to me and whispered, “She inhabits her songs,” which I immediately took as a truth so self-evident that it deserved to be the title of this blogpost (copyright 2012 Lorna Sass).

We were celebrating at the second set of a jazz brunch at North Square (in the Washington Square Hotel, at the northeast corner of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, New York City) with the constantly-energizing singer Marianne, guitarist Ethan Mann, and her long-time associate, bassist Dmitry Ishenko.  (For the schedule of jazz brunches, click here.)

In the space of an hour, Marianne Solivan showed herself not only a great improvising actress — a brave musical creature making up deeply moving scripts as she goes along. producing and directing them as the rhythm rolls underneath her — but an elaborately gifted musical architect.  Each song felt like a new room in a previously unvisited house, full of surprising angles and turns, bathed in shifting lights.  Her creations felt absolutely authentic: there was no practiced effect, no planned-out “surprises,” but we felt as if we were hearing and watching someone simultaneously inventing and inhabiting expansive spaces.

Some of the magic came from her choice of repertoire — she makes familiar songs new through daring tempo choices (a racing I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE that shook some of the familiar affectionate dust from those familiar words and notes; a very slow HEART AND SOUL that showed off Loesser’s lyrics for the first time, rescuing that song from generations of amateur pounding duo-pianists).  Some of her magic is in witty shifts of phrase, where expected clusters of words fall in places we don’t expect, elongated or compressed.  In ALL OF NOTHING AT ALL, she took the “Please” that begins the bridge and stretched it out to dramatic length — making it a true heart-entreaty.

The highlights of her set were her reinvention of HEART AND SOUL at a tempo so slow that in other hands it would have come to a stop — making that song a painfully exultant exploration of love found — and a slow inquiry into Bobby Troup’s YOU’RE LOOKING AT ME, in which the singer takes “I’ve been such a fool — I can’t believe it,” to new heights . . . or new depths.

In all of her songs, Marianne was beautifully accompanied (in the most true sense of that word) by Ethan Mann, spinning out slightly lopsided-on-purpose single-note lines, and by bassist Ishenko, a fluid, flexible foundation of rhythm.  It was an astonishing afternoon, but we expect no less from Marianne Solivan, a brave explorer jumping off into the unknown and spreading carpets out for herself and us to land on.

May your happiness increase.

TRUE TO LIFE: MARIANNE SOLIVAN at IRIDIUM (May 22, 2012)

Marianne Solivan is not only an affecting singer but an affecting artist.  I know that her approach to the audience and to her songs — so candid, so deep — is the result of hard work at her craft — but she makes it seem new, fresh, unstudied.  She isn’t “acting,” but exploring, finding her way through the notes and pauses, the facts of the words and the sweep of the music — to create something moving in each phrase.

Even on songs that I have heard for thirty years or more (I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME is one example) Marianne manages to strip away the accretions of familiar expectations to reveal the heart of the music living underneath.  Her candor is remarkable, as she balances power and delicacy, performing without seeming to perform.  Her music is intense but never melodramatic, and she takes us with her.

She proved this once again at Iridium on May 22, 2012, with three special players — each one a poetic sound-painter — who accompanied her on her quests: the pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Marco Panascia, and drummer Michael Petrosino.

The hour-long set made me think, not for the first time, “It is a privilege to hear these musicians.”  I hope you feel the same way!

You’ll have to take this one on faith, but it’s absolutely true.  Marianne and the band decided, wisely, to do a sound check before beginning their performance.  She alerted the audience and the band embarked on a brief LOVE WALKED IN.  When it was over, the crowd at the Iridium applauded.  Not noisily, as at a rock concert, but with real appreciation.  They knew what was happening onstage!

Marianne began with a puckish Declaration of Independence, smiling all the way through, I CAN’T HELP IT (she says she likes the lyrics, and no wonder):

Marianne often begins her sets with IN LOVE IN VAIN — one of the darkest songs I know, and that is including GLOOMY SUNDAY — but she takes it into a brisk medium tempo, somewhat undercutting the sadness.  Although I’ve heard her perform it more than a half-dozen times, each version is new and affecting:

I hadn’t heard Marianne perform I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME . . . but I admire so how she sidesteps the Holiday trap: that is, the temptation to meow and slither as  Billie did so memorably.  This performance, like every other Solivan exploration I know, is all hers:

Another song with a somber title, THE LONELY ONES, a rare Ellington-Duke Jordan (!) collaboration, makes Marianne sing it with perverse enthusiasm and delight . . . if it weren’t such a cliche, I would write that she has a twinkle in her eye.  Perhaps a permanent gleam?

Without trying hard or showing off how hard she’s working, Marianne makes even the most familiar songs shine — we hear them for the first time.  For me, PRISONER OF LOVE summons up Lester Young – Teddy Wilson and Russ Columbo (in that order).  But I have added Marianne’s approach to that pantheon:

I would bet that Michael Kanan, that conoisseur of rare beautiful music, brought MOON RAY to everyone’s attention — it’s one of the unusual tunes written by Artie Shaw, and the band does it beautifully:

Forthright and heartfelt — I WISH I DIDN’T LOVE YOU SO:

What other singer would fuse Alec Wilder’s MOON AND SAND and the somewhat obscure French IF YOU GO?

Another moving experience — watching these four musicians proceed bravely through the possibly over-familiar MORE THAN YOU KNOW — making it fresh at every turn:

What Marianne calls “their hit,” the elusive sweet-sour GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY . . . is it an affirmation or a despairing resignation or both?  You decide:

And — to close — an exultant DAY IN, DAY OUT:

I haven’t said anything about Michael Kanan, Marco Panascia, and Michael Petrosino.  What do you say about beautifully intuitive players who know when you whisper and when to propel, who know how to blend and support, who make just the right impressionistic clouds of sound throughout an evening?  Why can’t all accompanists be this wise, this brave, this subtle?  Their generosity to Marianne, to the music, and to us, was heartening.

May your happiness increase.

EXPRESSIVE MUSIC (on SHORT NOTICE): MARIANNE SOLIVAN at IRIDIUM, May 22, 2012

I know that some of my readers already have plans for tomorrow evening (that’s Tuesday, May 22, 2012) at 10 PM.  And others might be out of range.  I hope it’s neither presumptuous nor too late to urge you towards a New York City jazz club . . . but I wouldn’t want anyone to miss an opportunity to be uplifted.

That soulfully pensive woman is Marianne Solivan.  In a short time, she’s become one of my favorite singers.  She doesn’t follow routines; she doesn’t “dramatize”; she doesn’t “innovate.”

What she does is more difficult and more valuable: she gives us her heart and craft in every measure, digging deep into each song to share its truths and beauties (and often its sadness) with us.

And tomorrow night she is going to be singing at Iridium with a peerless trio led by pianist Michael Kanan, a generous, heartfelt player who makes everyone around him sound splendid.  Providing intuitive accompaniment will be sound-painters Marco Panascia and Michael Petrosino, both of whom have impressed me substantially in person.

The Iridium is located at 1650 Broadway, at 51st Street.  You can make reservations by calling 212.582.2121. or by visiting  here.

In case you haven’t been transfixed by what Marianne and Michael can do, here is a deep example — their duet on HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, recorded at Michael’s “The Drawing Room” on March 24, 2012:

And here‘s Marianne’s website . . . where she has a brand-new CD, PRISONER OF LOVE, on display!

May your happiness increase.

LOVE LETTERS: MARIANNE SOLIVAN and MICHAEL KANAN at THE DRAWING ROOM (March 24, 2012)

The love letter (not an emoticon or a tweet) can carry many messages.

I adore you.  I wish you were mine.  Thank you, my dear one.  Come run away with me, my Prize!  Why don’t you write to me?  What happened?  I have found another.  Why did you break my heart?  Will you come back to me?  Remember our moments together?  I miss you so.

Singer Marianne Solivan and pianist Michael Kanan know all about love — in human form and in the song.  They’re not a couple, but it’s clear from the way they play that they have depths of emotion to share with us.  The results are subtle and memorable.  Marianne and Michael know music’s power to move us to tears and to make us feel lighter-than-air, as well as its tragicomic bitter-sweetness: when we hear a sad song and think, “Oh, that is so beautiful!” while we are feeling the sadness.

They are poets, improvising their poems as they go.  They ask deep questions of us through music, and the answers they offer aren’t easy or monochromatic — each time we listen, the answers shift slightly in the light.  They move through each song experimentally, considering it a new experience, testing its limits, sounding its depths.

Their art, at once strong and delicate, asks only that we give ourselves to it wholly — no multitasking, please.  In admiration, I will stand out of its way, for it would be wrong to offer commentaries.

What follows is my video-recording of a spiritually intense evening at Michael’s Brooklyn studio, The Drawing Room (70 Willoughby Street).  It was a privilege to be there and an honor to be allowed to share it with you.

Jerome Kern’s mournful IN LOVE IN VAIN, with a surprise concealed inside:

A joyous, sideways look at the Rodgers and Hart THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL: where is this hotel?  We want to book rooms there, too:

I COVER THE WATERFRONT (with the lovely dark verse):

The wistful I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?:

LET’S GET LOST:

I DON’T WANT TO CRY ANYMORE:

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT:

HAUNTED HEART (interpolating LOVE LETTERS):

Berlin’s magically buoyant ISN’T THIS A LOVELY DAY?

MORE THAN YOU KNOW:

BILLY STRAYHORN Medley (STAR-CROSSED LOVERS / A FLOWER IS A LOVESOME THING / PASSION FLOWER):

Theme music for timid arsonists: I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE:

The wrenching I GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

Grammarians point out that I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU should correctly be I HAVE EYES ONLY FOR YOU, but grammarians don’t usually write memorable songs.  I always think of this song in connection with Lester Young, who said of something he approved of that he had “big eyes for that”:

Berlin’s series of devoted questions to be addressed to the Beloved, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN:

Michael and Marianne are both marvelously capable of emotional and artistic magic on their own.  I have been publicizing the very moving events at The Drawing Room, and you can also visit Marianne’s website here.  When you visit her site, you will hear the strains of Marianne and Michael exploring I WISH I KNEW — from Marianne’s new CD, PRISONER OF LOVE.

They will be appearing on April 19, 2012, at Smalls (183 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York) from 10 PM to 12:30 AM, with bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Jerome Jennings.

For the love of music: love letters from Marianne and Michael, straight from their hearts.

May your happiness increase.

MARIANNE SOLIVAN: IN BLOOM

I did not know the singer Marianne Solivan before hearing her at Smalls last year (in duet with Michael Kanan).  I was a believer — convinced of her artistry — a few minutes into the first song.

Her debut CD, PRISONER OF LOVE, is just out — perhaps timed to coincide with the end of winter.

It is a wonderfully accurate representation of what she creates in performance, and I do not say that casually about many recorded works.

If you find the disc’s title is off-putting, I will reassure you: Marianne Solivan is a brave, free artist — a prisoner of nothing, as far as I can see.  In fact, she has written her own powerful verse to the title song, evidence of talents beyond her singing voice.  On this disc, Marianne embraces a wide variety of emotions and textures in her work without being bound to any one of them.

Through intuition, taste, and experience, Marianne has avoided the traps that catch eager “jazz singers.”  She surrenders herself to the song, both lyrics and melody, rather than insisting that the song bend itself to her will.  This is not to say that she is excessively respectful, bound by the written manuscript, quarter note by quarter note.  No.  In fact, she takes her own liberties — subtly reshaping the original melody and words as she goes — but her little bends and pauses, elevations and turns, leave me with the feeling that I have heard, for example, a reading of I GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY that is what composer and lyricist aspired to create.  She is just that successful in her sweet inventions.

Although Marianne never “sings like a horn player,” shorthand for someone pretending that written melody, cadence, and lyrics are to be tossed around vigorously, she does remind me of horn players — of late Lester and mid-period Ben, of Jimmy Rowles and early Miles.  The singers who stand behind her are (among others) Sinatra and Betty Carter, but she has managed to make her own path around the intense pathos of one and the sharp dismissive edginess of the other.

And what Marianne does with the lyrics is uniquely rewarding.  If you consider a sheet of music and lyrics, the words and syllables are often tied so tightly to individual notes that to sing them as written would be like reading a Keats sonnet, accenting every other syllable up and down to a metronome — thus obliterating meaning rather than enhancing it.  Marianne doesn’t “speak” her lines — her voice, cello-rich and powerful, will not be ignored — but she gives the lyrics a speech-like naturalness, as if she were discovering the words and the sentiments for the first time.  Great acting without an actor’s artifice: no self-pity, no drowning in pathos.

PRISONER OF LOVE is illuminated from within by intelligence, restraint, and headlong emotion.  Marianne’s producer is the fine jazz trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who appears on one track; she and he have the best taste in musical colleagues, including Michael Kanan, Christian McBride (showing himself a fine writer in addition), Peter Bernstein, Xavier Davis, Ben Wolfe, Johnathan Blake.  The musicians are enthusiastic but never get in Marianne’s way: indeed, the eleven selections seem like a series of small playlets, of perfectly poised improvisatory conversations.

Here is a video memento of that evening at Smalls when I first heard Marianne — listen closely to her witty, amused, romantic recasting of THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL, where she is sometimes intimate, sometimes annunciatory:

As much as I admire that performance from July 2011, I can hear that Marianne has matured in the half-year since then . . . so imagine her at even higher levels of grace and casual splendor.

To hear her — only a few days ago — both singing and talking to John Schaefer of WNYC, click here.

Marianne’s CD is available at Amazon (for antiquarians like me who prefer the tangible disc and sleeve) and at iTunes for those who believe that music can be sped invisibly through the air: click here for the Amazon link.

And the best news is that the remarkable Miss Solivan will be performing in the next few months not only in New York City, but in Boston and Washington, D.C.  To learn all, visit her website here.

I am most excited about another duet performance that she and Michael Kanan will be creating — delicate magic in our ears — at Michael’s studio, “The Drawing Room,” a large, quiet, white-curtained room with a fine piano.  It’s at 70 Willoughby Street (# 2A, one flight up and follow signs on your left) in downtown Brooklyn — between Lawrence Street and Bridge Street, this coming Saturday, March 24, 2012.  There will be two sets, beginning at 7:30 PM.  And, since space is limited (seating for 50!) I recommend that you let Michael (at mpkanan@gmail.com) or Marianne (at her website) know that you will be there.   Admission is only $10, and there will be a cash wine bar.  Even for people like myself who are moderately challenged by Brooklyn, The Drawing Room is not difficult to get to: a variety of subway lines graciously come there:   N,R,Q,B,F,A,C,E, 2,3,4,& 5 trains.

Marianne says, “Working in duo with Michael has been one of the most inspiring and challenging experiences in my life.  I love the feeling of flight that I have with him in a song.  I get so many musical ideas from him and I am challenged to be creative and honest.  The feeling is amazing, I enjoy every minute of making music with him.  We will be playing some songs from my new CD, Prisoner of Love, as well as some of our other favorites.  Breathing new life into melodies that will never get old.   I hope you can come out and share this with us.”

May your happiness increase.

EASY TO LOVE: MARIANNE SOLIVAN, MICHAEL KANAN, BARAK MORI, DAN ARAN at SMALLS (Sept.13, 2011)

Jazz isn’t meant to be timidly conventional music: the jazz that moves us has an essential sweetness but takes risks.  

The September 13, 2o11 performance at Smalls by singer Marianne Solivan, pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Barak Mori, and drummer Dan Aran is a living example.  The quartet’s repertoire wasn’t ostentatiously “experimental”: no odd time signatures or eccentric tempos, nothing self-consciously cerebral. 

But in every song these four musicians were doing their best to take the material on its own terms, as if no one had ever sung or played these songs before.  The chances they took came off — their daring and expertise was subtle improvisation of the highest order.  

If you haven’t heard Marianne Solivan sing before, prepare yourself for brave beauty — an open-hearted approach to each song, supported nobly by Michael Kanan, Barak Mori, and Dan Aran.

By now, I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU is familiar territory.  Without distorting its emotional center, Marianne and the trio made it new, bending phrases around bar lines, testing the waters:

The quartet performs the same levitation on THE MORE I SEE YOU:

GONE WITH THE WIND (a song I love) reached hew heights:

DAY IN, DAY OUT had a lovely bounce:

I’d never heard IF YOU GO (written by a French composer, the lyrics translated) but it held us transfixed:

A more hopeful approach to the eternal passions, LOVE WALKED IN:

Marianne told us that THE LONELY ONES was an Ellington song — a new discovery:

Cole Porter’s AFTER YOU, WHO? was full of emotion but without melodrama:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME is more than eighty years old, but its bittersweet message has never aged:

EASY TO LOVE — the best title for this music, this impassioned performance:

SOULFUL CANDOR: MARIANNE SOLIVAN and MICHAEL KANAN at SMALLS (July 12, 2011)

JAZZ LIVES readers will already know the work of pianist Michael Kanan — his deep sensitivity to his fellow musicians, his splendidly intuitive accompaniment, his whimsical paths, reminiscent of Jimmy Rowles and Nat Cole. 

But the singer Marianne Solivan may be new to you, as she was to me before July 12, 2011, when she and Michael performed thirteen songs at Smalls in New York City.

The cosmos is full of people who sing, and then there are singers: people who have studied the melodies and lyrics so seriously that they have absorbed their messages . . . and then feel free to take risks, to play with what’s been given to them on the lead sheets.  Marianne is playful in the best sense of the word.  I don’t mean that she abandons the original contours and intent to go off on her own peregrinations, but you can hear, in a few notes, that she honors the music enough to know that if she takes chances, her byways may arrive at surprising places that would please the composer and lyricist. 

She proceeds to experiment — gently and persuasively — with the words, the arc of melody, the emotions, with depth and freshness, making us feel the joy of the small hotel, the sorrow of hanging her tears out to dry, of finding love in vain, or asking for just the right squeeze from the loved one.  Her delivery is witty yet heartfelt; her leaps land in the right places; her hesitations and rushes make perfect emotional and dramatic sense.  Her embellishments and improvisations are that of a great horn player: they enhance rather than flatten.  She is sincere but she doesn’t “act”; she lets the music take her in exultant ripples, while her phrases bubble up and out for us to savor. 

And the interplay between Marianne and Michael is remarkable, unstudied but wise and full of feeling.  Magic in a Greenwich Village basement on a hot July evening!

I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU:

THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL:

BEAUTIFUL MOONS AGO:

JUST SQUEEZE ME:

GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY:

MOON RAY:

ALL TOO SOON:

TWISTED:

MY IDEAL:

IN LOVE IN VAIN:

PRISONER OF LOVE:

I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE:

SIGNING OFF:

Marianne has a new CD coming out in the fall: I look forward to it!