Tag Archives: singing

A PRIVATE RECITAL: DARYL SHERMAN’S BLUE HEAVEN

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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:

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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!
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NANCY ERICKSON’S SWEET SHARP MAGIC

Nancy Erickson

At the end of 2015, a friend suggested I listen to the singer Nancy Erickson, who had collaborated on and sung NEW YEAR’S EVE, appropriate to the season.  I did listen — several times — and was entranced, as you can read here.  Not only was it a well-constructed song, it was rare in celebrating devoted long-term emotional fidelity rather than the brief infatuation, the searing heartbreak.

And Nancy Erickson’s voice and vocal style made their own lasting impression:

Her voice is dark and rich but her approach breathes its own naturalness, so I never find myself listening purely to her “vocal instrument,” but rather the ways in which it conveys the emotional and musical message — now somber, now light-hearted, her diction always clear but never an elocution lesson, her pitch accurate without being mechanical.  She subtly improvises on melody, lyrics, and rhythmic patterns, but her embellishments light the way rather than dynamiting the original’s intent.

To me, she beautifully balances drama and subtlety, intensity and delicacy.  And this may seem an odd thing to write, but in this era of heightened artifice, Nancy comes across as a human being with great sensitivity, rather than someone attempting to act the part of a.h.b.w.g.s.

I closed my December post by writing that I eagerly looked forward to her new CD.  It came; I’ve listened to it multiple times; it’s wholly gratifying.  The cover alone will tell you that Nancy Erickson follows her own splendidly surprising impulses.  The “photography and compositing” is by Steve Korn, but I sense Nancy’s inspired whimsy here as well:

Nancy Erickson cover

I know: somewhere you might hear the muffled tinkle of a convention falling off the kitchen counter and smashing on the floor.  Isn’t an attractive woman singer supposed to be draped alluringly — on a divan, in a doorway, hair blowing out of a convertible — so that the Fifties male audience can purchase the cover without giving much thought to the art?  For me, I’ll take what looks like a giant goldfish suspended in mid-air, with Nancy patting it nicely (“Gooooood fish!”) any time as an alternative.  Inside the CD there’s another variation on the cover, offering surprise rather than pastoral complacencies.

But the witty cover would mean nothing if the music was dull, predictable, inept. Not to worry.  And if  you would like to jump ahead, here you can both listen and purchase.

Nancy’s songlist tells a good deal about her range and intelligent approach to the often-constricting “Great American Songbook”:  NEW YEAR’S EVE (which Nancy says is inspired by the story of her mother and father — another delightful change from the twenty-first century formula); WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK ONE DAY; IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE; PERDIDO; PRELUDE TO A KISS; SUMMER DAY (Nancy’s original); I JUST DROPPED BY TO SAY HELLO (a duet with Clipper Anderson); THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC; THE WHIPPOORWILL SONG (Nancy’s original); LA VIE EN ROSE.  Purcell, Ellington, Piaf — now there’s a heady mix.

Take the title song for an example.  WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK ONE DAY is quite venerable — 1884 — and thus both popular as a kind of Victorian love-anthem and the subject of parody in the best Chuck Jones manner.  Nancy offers her own angle on it — beginning with a percussive vocal vamp echoed by the rhythm section, then moving into a loose reading of the original lyrics (with “a pair of roguish eyes”).  But before we know it, we are in Nancy’s own sweetly hip romantic lyrics of the singer’s delight in a handsome fellow who has crossed her path at the fountain in the park.  Then an expert trombone solo over the crisply swinging rhythm section gives way to Nancy’s bridge (where she alternates her own lyrics and an imagined orchestral riff) — and the track returns to the original percussive pattern, stopping abruptly but well.  IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE marries Purcell to rocking boppish accompaniment (and a tenor saxophone solo that looks to the present but also back to Buddy Tate), and when Nancy tells us “Sing on!” we know the urging comes from her heart, to herself as well as to us.

PERDIDO and PRELUDE TO A KISS have been done and perhaps overdone — but Nancy’s version of the first is firmly and endearingly Fifties: is it a cha-cha? I don’t know, but the slightly goofy lyrics and the retro-rhythms work perfectly. PRELUDE starts on a high note — both emotionally and technically — and Nancy offers a reading that is classically lovely yet deeply felt.  SUMMER DAY seems like the best poetic folk opus — in a world where taste ruled, it would become a hit, both evocative and elusive.  The vocal duet on I JUST DROPPED BY TO SAY HELLO — for bassist / singer Clipper Anderson and Nancy — is not imitative, but it affectionately honors the great male / female pairings of popular song without “attempting to be” Louis and Ella, Ray and Betty, Billy and Sarah — the two singers splendidly convey the emotions of this tender, hopeful, rueful song.  What it says about me I don’t know, but I kept returning to this track.

THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC has often been buried under emotional hyperbole, but Nancy takes it lightly, at a conversational pace, savoring melody and lyrics but never in capital letters.  Her brief scat interlude in MAGIC seems entirely organic (and it’s expert) rather than an obligatory inclusion.  THE WHIPPOORWILL SONG seems to borrow some of its mournful nature from SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY, but that’s a worthy homage to a sad ancestor.  And the closing LA VIE EN ROSE is a touching, entirely affecting duet with bass — arco on the verse, pizzicato for the chorus.

Nancy’s musical colleagues are loving and wise players: they surround her with the best sounds.  I commend them: Darin Clendenin, piano; Clipper Anderson, string bass / vocal (7); Ken French, drums; Jay Thomas, flute, flugelhorn (4 and 6); David Marriott, trombone (2); Alexey Nikolaev, tenor (3 and 9); Jeff Busch, percussion (4 and 9); Jacqueline Tabor, vocals (9).

The CD avoids monotony by making sure adjacent tracks have enough spice, so that a performance with a trombone solo gives way to one with a tenor chorus, to one with flute.  Tempos, moods, and approaches change — but not so much that one feels a shock from track to track.

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.

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

May your happiness increase!

THE DEARNESS OF TWO: HILARY GARDNER, EHUD ASHERIE (and NOAH GARABEDIAN) at MEZZROW (September 29, 2015)

HILARY EHUD

When Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie get together, magic happens.  Here they are (with a guest appearance by string bassist Noah Garabedian) at Mezzrow, their home turf on West Tenth Street, on September 29, 2015:

A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY:

SWEET PUMPKIN:

THE NEARNESS OF YOU:

WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG:

I have intentionally left in some of the banter between Hilary and Ehud to let you in on what is not a secret, that they are having great fun.  I hear tell that they will be returning to Mezzrow for another delectable evening of music in February 2016.  Unless the locusts descend and the creeks rise, I’ll be there.  You might want to join in as well.

May your happiness increase!

MARGUTH = MAGIC

Karen Marguth by Tomas Ovalle

Karen Marguth by Tomas Ovalle

Perhaps you have not yet heard Karen Marguth, who is a superbly winning jazz singer. If this is the case,  I could choose to get annoyed about a culture that sometimes elevates glossy mediocrities over creative individualists, but why fill the air with bleakness?  Rather, you have delightful surprises in store for you.

But enough from me — for the moment.  Listen to Karen here.

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The reason I am celebrating Karen Marguth can be seen to the left — her remarkable new CD, JUST YOU, JUST ME.  The cover image is tiny but the music she makes is blissfully expansive.  She has only one accompanist — or collaborator — for the eleven delicious performances here, acoustic string bassist Kevin Hill.  They are a glorious pair; you won’t want anyone else.

Many singers, some of them with the best intentions in the world (male and female) decide that their CDs have to be productions.  So everything is done with beautiful elaborate care, down to the hair stylist for the photo shoot, the ornate arrangements — in the best tradition of singers who appeared, beautiful in person, in front of a big band where everything had been carefully planned out from the start.  I am not mocking this approach to art, merely noting that I often listen with my eyes closed rather than staring at the gorgeous creature, artfully posed, on the CD cover.

Karen Marguth is approaching music from a different perspective.  As music, as playful exploration.  She has a light-hearted honest voice that pleases on its own terms.  She sounds candid, as if she would never lie to us in music.  Hers is a flexible joyous approach to the song.  Karen has an instrumentalist’s ease — without “innovating” or “improving” on the composition at the composer’s expense. Karen takes small risks with bent notes, sweetly demure (but effective) scatting. And the most familiar songs glow under her caressing attention.

I should list them here: YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / JUST YOU, JUST ME / I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT / LOVE’S GOT ME IN A LAZY MOOD / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / I GOT IT BAD / IMAGINATION / HARPO’S BLUES (by Phoebe Snow) / IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME / BABY WHAT’S YOUR ALIBI? (by Nellie Lutcher) / THE MOON IS MADE OF GOLD (by Richard Jones).

Each track has a small delicious series of surprises in it: very little is predictable but all the quirky twists pay off in the best ways.  I would suggest that listeners begin with I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT as a good place to hear what these reverent explorers accomplish so well.  And then Eddie Miller’s SLOW MOOD, transformed into LOVE’S GOT ME IN A LAZY MOOD.  There’s a song that has always made me want to leave the room — with new feminist lyrics by Karen and Brady McKay — BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME — that has become a hilarious delight because of Karen and Kevin.  YOU’D BE SO NICE and IMAGINATION have been done and perhaps overdone, but they sound so fresh here.

And Kevin Hill is all the rhythm section — and eloquent soloist — any band would ever need.  His sound, resonant without being overpowering; his intonation delightfully accurate.  No one would feel encouraged to talk during his solos. Milt Hinton would have invited him to St. Albans for Mona’s chicken and a good long session in the basement.  (There is no higher tribute I can imagine.)

I know a CD has captured me when, having heard it once through, I want to hear it again right away.  I’m listening for the third time to JUST YOU, JUST ME, and I plan to play it for friends and make converts.

This unobtrusive little CD — about the length of an ancient twelve-song vinyl record of my adolescence — is a very important piece of art, because it bravely defies convention to present naked song, unadorned (yet expert) improvisation, joyous eccentric collaboration.  In an age where froth tries to pass itself off as substance, Karen Marguth and Kevin Hill offer us beauty.  And that is worth celebration.

Here is the link to CDBaby — at a price that is next door to free.

Karen Marguth and Kevin Hill make magical music.  You’ll hear.

May your happiness increase!

HILARY GARDNER’S QUIET TRIUMPHS (Jazz at Kitano, September 25, 2013)

The Beloved and I went to see and hear the fine singer Hilary Gardner and her band last night at Jazz at Kitano: a wonderful seventy-minute performance.  Her musicians were impressive: Jason Marshall on tenor and soprano saxophone; Ehud Asherie on piano; Elias Bailey on string bass; Kevin Kanner on drums.

That instrumental quartet began the set with a leisurely but pushing I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE.  Quickly, we noticed Kanner’s boyish exuberance at the drums; Bailey’s steadiness; Asherie’s inventive ebullience, and Marshall — someone new to me but a splendid mix of Rollins and Southwestern passion (think of Buddy Tate).  I couldn’t predict where his phrases would land, but his lines had a speaking grace.

Hilary has been offering songs that celebrate (or delineate) life in New York, relating to her CD, THE GREAT CITY.  Often those songs have been dryly witty, salty glances at life-as-it-is-lived in Manhattan.  (There are very few songs about the boroughs, one notices.  Apologies to Staten Island and the Bronx, especially.)

She began with THE GREAT CITY, whose message isn’t the optimistic fraudulence of “If you can make it here . . . ”  Rather, the song suggests that one wants to keep a clear path to the exit at the same time one enters the Manhattan cosmos.  WHEELERS AND DEALERS had much of the same balsamic-vinegar flavor.

But there were love songs — Ronnell Bright’s cheerful SWEET PUMPKIN, the more subdued THIS LITTLE TOWN IS PARIS (associated with Beverly Kenney), the wry tale of an urban love that is transmitted but not received, SWEETHEART — sung by the imagined protagonist, who is moony over a male customer she waits on in the doughnut shop.  Another of Hilary’s creations was the love song to the lost world, WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG.  (For the first time, I thought that this song — in its possibly melodramatic verse and more familiar chorus — has a sideways kinship with JUST A GIGOLO.)

The performances I have briefly listed would act as convincing evidence that Hilary is a superb singer: her multi-colored voice, her unerring time, her fine but subtle dramatic sense, her wit, her swinging ability to let the song pour through her rather than insisting that the song sit behind her.

But the show had three triumphs where she outdid herself.  And the remarkable connection among those three performances was that they were all of “familiar” songs, which could in other hands have been formulaic, predictable, unsurprising.  Hilary didn’t “do” anything to these three songs to change them — the songs didn’t need it — but she embodied them with deep feeling, freshness, and ardor.  The first was, in honor of the season, ‘T’IS AUTUMN.  I love the song for its melody and its sentimental associations, but think the lyrics alternate between the touching, the almost too-cute, and the inept: “La-di-da, di-da-di-da,” to me, is a lyricist being sweetly unambitious.  But I love “the birds got together / to chirp about the weather,” with unshakable affection.  Hilary took the song at a slightly slower tempo, letting us hear its sweet whimsicality without a trace of contemporary irony. When she sang, “My holding you close really is no crime,” I thought I could see several men in the row in front of us lean forward hopefully, expectantly. They had fallen under her spell and the song’s.

Then, she essayed Dave Frishberg’s DO YOU MISS NEW YORK?  Frishberg’s songs are so remarkable in themselves, and many of us remember their composer singing them at the piano, so it is an act of courage for other singers to attempt them in his shadow.  Hilary’s version was only a shade slower than I might have expected (the better to let us savor Frishberg’s brilliant witty, wry poetry) but I have never heard a more poignant version.  The song came alive in all its rueful splendor, and it was as if I could hear both Frishberg (as composer) and Hilary (as enactor) discovering just how much they did miss New York, and that the loss was irreparable.

And the sly apex of this trio was Hilary’s sly take on YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS — with its satiric, punchy verse.  I’ve heard some singers deliver that song with the emphatic dismissiveness of someone slamming the door on an ex-lover or an unmasked pretender.  Hilary gave the song a bluesy, groovy slither — as if to say, “Look, pal.  Other people may not have noticed that you are really tofu masquerading as something else — but I know.”  Not angry or mocking, but amused.

I felt as if I had heard these three songs for the first time.  The audience didn’t stand and cheer (they only do that in the movies or for drum solos, I think) but they should have.

You will note that no videos accompany this posting.  I’d decided I wanted to enjoy the show, pretending to be more like my peers than someone peering through the viewfinder.  So you will have to find Hilary at one of her gigs for yourself!  Or you can purchase her CD.  Or you can find her at the next concert of the Sidney Bechet Society — Monday, October 14 — with Evan Christopher, Randy Reinhart, and other notables.

But don’t ignore the exceedingly talented Hilary Gardner.  If you catch on to her subtle beauties, then you can say, in Frishberg’s words, “Me, too.”

May your happiness increase!

MEET MIMI TERRIS, WHO SINGS BEAUTIFULLY

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I first encountered Mimi Terris late in 2008, a sweetly humble young singer who joined Tamar Korn and the Cangelosi Cards at the Lower East Side music spot Banjo Jim’s.  With Naomi Uyama, the three songbirds stood out on the sidewalk on a cold night and serenaded me, Jim and Grace Balantic with an a cappella Boswell Sisters chorus.  It might have been SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT, and we were thrilled. Tamar, Mimi, and Naomi are immortalized on a few videos on YouTube, and the EP CD of “The Three Diamonds”.

Now, Mimi has released her debut CD: it is just wonderful throughout. It’s not simply the winning purity of her voice; it’s the depth of her emotions and the wide range of her musical affections — from gutty Bessie Smith to floating sweet lyricisms.  She can be as light as Beverly Kenney or Blossom Dearie, but she isn’t limited by any one approach. Mimi is classically trained, but she doesn’t sound like Helen Traubel “trying to swing.”  Swing comes naturally to her, but so does beautiful enunciation, convincing phrasing, a deep love of both the original melody and the lyrics.

Here she is, with friends, deep in the purple dusk of twilight time:

The CD, THEY SAY ITS SPRING, is just as delicious.  On it, Mimi is joined by pianist Gordon Webster and bassist Cassidy Holden with visits from guitarist Jacob Fischer and trumpeter Peter Marrott on THEY SAY IT’S SPRING / WEST END BLUES / EN SADAN NATT SOM DENNA (an instantly memorable Swedish pop song from the Thirties) / IT WON’T BE YOU / LILAC WINE / I GOT IT BAD / ROCKIN’ CHAIR / LOVER, COME BACK TO ME / STAR DUST / ALICE.

Listening to it, a dozen times, I thought of Eddie Condon’s praise of Lee Wiley: “She just sings the melody.  No tricks.”  But Mimi’s delicate, reverberating art — deeply simple — is even better than the absence of melodrama.  Although young, she sounds like a mature artist, offering her love of the songs to us.

Mimi’s Facebook page is here; her website is here; to hear music samples or download the CD, visit here.

May your happiness increase!

MAUD HIXSON, SINGER

I don’t mean my very simple title to be taken lightly.  Many people sing.  Very few of them are singers.

Maud Hixson is one of that small group.

I’m not alone in thinking so: ask Warren Vache, Joe Lang, Will Friedwald, Sandy Stewart, Amanda McBroom . . . .

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Maud is based in Minneapolis, and so she and I had only crossed paths when I was asked to review her 2007 CD, LOVE’S REFRAIN, for CADENCE.  I was won over before the end of her first chorus.

She is sincere without ostentatiously Being Sincere; her cool voice and precise diction were only the outer coverings for a great warmth, deep feelings contained below.  She is sure without being forced, quiet without being timid.  And when she approaches a lyric, we quickly know that she knows what the words mean; she isn’t using words as steps to get from one note to the next.  A Hixson song is a small, apparently casual, fully realized offering.

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When I found out that she had a new CD, I was eager to hear it — and it is a delight: learn more here.  DON’T LET A GOOD THING GET AWAY is devoted to the subtle, often surprising songs of Michael “Mickey” Leonard.  Leonard might not be well-known, but we know his I’M ALL SMILES and WHY DID I CHOOSE YOU.  And he’s also collaborated with Carolyn Leigh and Marshall Baer.

Maud has wisely surrounded herself with the finest jazz players: Warren Vaché, cornet; Tex Arnold, piano; Steve LaSpina; Gene Bertoncini, guitar, giving the disc a modern-Basie feel.  Here’s the title track as prelude to Maud’s conversation with Twin Cities interviewer Mike Pengra.

If you don’t know Maud Hixson, you’re in for a delightful surprise.  Hear her float beautifully — offering music and lyrics with subtle mastery — with that wonderful small band.  If Mickey Leonard is new to you, there is another delight in store.  “Don’t let a good thing get away” is doubly apt in this case.

May your happiness increase!