Tag Archives: Stephen Sondheim

JANE HARVEY SINGS!

Like many other listeners, I knew Jane Harvey as a wonderful singer with a singular voice (its charm immediately apparent) beginning with her 1945 recordings with Benny Goodman, later ones with Zoot Sims and Dick Wellstood, among others.  Although Jane first recorded as a very young woman in the Swing Era, she is active and vibrant — appearing at Feinstein’s in New York City less than a year ago and continuing to perform.  Here she is, appearing in 1988 with Jane Pauley on the Today Show — singing a medley of Stephen Sondheim classics with delicacy and emotional power:

and on a V-Disc with BG, showing off her beautiful voice and innate swing:

Jane’s recordings have never been that easy to find, so it was a delightful surprise to learn of five new compact discs devoted to her — including much music that no one had heard before.  This bonanza isn’t a box set — not one of those unwieldy and often costly artifacts that we crave and then don’t always listen to.  And it has the even nicer fact of not being posthumous!  The CDs can be purchased individually (at surprisingly low prices at Amazon).

Here’s the first. Originally issued in 1988 by Atlantic, this disc originally featured Jane in an intimate setting with Mike Renzi, Jay Leonhart, and Grady Tate.  In an attempt to reach a wider audience, Atlantic added a large string orchestra, overdubbed.  The CD issue presents the music as originally recorded, with a new version of SEND IN THE CLOWNS.

This CD finds Jane in front of Ray Ellis’ large string orchestra (which works) for a collection ranging from the familiar (MY SHIP) to old favorites refreshed (THE GLORY OF LOVE) to the little-known title tune, with music by Moose Charlap, Bill’s father:

LADY JAZZ presents Jane amidst jazz players, including Doc Cheatham, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Bunch, Gene Bertoncini, Richard Davis, Bill Goodwin, Don Elliott (a session originally supervised by Albert McCarthy for English RCA), as well as six performances from Jane’s time with Goodman, two songs with Zoot Sims, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood, and a duet of SOME OTHER TIME and THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME with Mike Renzi:

TRAVELIN’ LIGHT has been even more obscure, not for any musical reasons — an album originally recorded for Dot in 1960 which pairs Jane with the Jack Kane Orchestra.  Eight bonus tracks show Jane off in front of orchestras conducted by Billy Strayhorn and others or the Page Cavanaugh trio:

THE UNDISCOVERED JANE HARVEY might have been the title for any of the preceding discs, but it truly fits the final one.  When a disc begins with two performances where Jane is backed by the Duke Ellington orchestra — Strayhorn on piano and Ellington talking in the control booth — listeners are in a magical place.  Other performances on this disc have Jane paired with Les Paul, Ellis Larkins (an eight-minute Arlen-Koehler medley), and larger studio orchestras:  

The five CDs have been lovingly produced — with Jane’s help — by her friend, publicist, and booking manager Alan Eichler.  They feature enthusiastic liner notes by Will Friedwald, Nat Shapiro, Albert McCarthy, Nat Hentoff, and James Gavin.

The time is always right for Jane Harvey.  Her energy, jazz feeling, and empathy are undimmed.  Her voice is a pleasure to listen to; she honors the melodies, and she deeply understands the lyrics: no pretense, no overacting.  The Amazon link to the CDs can be found here

And for any other matters pertaining to Miss Harvey, please contact Alan Eichler at aeichler@earthlink.com.

If you remember Jane only as the lovely voice on the 1945 Goodman red-label Columbia version of HE’S FUNNY THAT WAY . . . or if you’ve seen her in more recent times, you’ll find these new issues full of pleasures.

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DWAYNA LITZ CAN SING!

One of the many friends of JAZZ LIVES asked if I had heard the singer Dwayna Litz and sent along this YouTube video:

And I found this one on my own:

Now, I don’t know much about Dwayna Litz — aside from the fact that she has an attractive, beautifully focused voice.  Her singing, at turns, suggests someone who could fill the hall or command the stage, but she isn’t restricted to capital letters.  She doesn’t consider herself a “jazz singer” (and she leaves extended passages of scat-singing and “recomposing” melodies to others), but she swings.

And although she treats her material reverently, her natural exuberance comes through in every note.  She has a fine vocal instrument, but best of all, she seems to have done the deep work of studying the music: she respects the song and gives the lyrics intelligent readings so that one comes away from her performance of SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME feeling that the song’s essential honesty has been shared.

The YouTube videos above are snippets of a documentary about the process leading up to her new CD, COUNTING YOUR BLESSINGS, which features among other players the pianist Larry Ham, saxophonist Marc Phaneuf, and trombonist John Allred — on thirteen songs that cover a broad range of emotions and approaches — from the sweet serenity of Berlin’s COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS to the naughty rock of SATISFY MY SOUL to Sondheim’s OLD FRIENDS.  Whatever the setting, Dwayna shines like a bright light.

Visit her website  here to learn more about her music.  I expect great things from Ms. Litz!

THEY’RE STILL EAR! (April 10, 2010)

My title is an unconscionable pun on Sondheim’s famous affirmation from FOLLIES.

It’s my way of writing how glad I am that the Sunday night sessions (from 8 to 11 PM, more or less) at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) are happily afloat.  This summer The EarRegulars will celebrate their fourth anniversary!

I had missed a number of Ear sessions, so I was delighted to return on April 10, 2011 to find that nothing had been changed in my absence.  Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, on trumpet and guitar, respectively, still offered benign swinging guidance (catch Jon-Erik’s plunger work on HAPPY FEET and Matt’s ringing, chiming solos and fierce rhythm!).  The other members were the eloquent bassist Neal Miner and the always surprising Alex Hoffman on tenor sax.  Here are three delightful performances from that night.

The first of these is a novelty song with goofy lyrics (about women who wicky-wacky-woo) which used to be a jazz / jam session favorite . . . less so in this century, but NAGASAKI is still a delight:

Then, an EarRegular favorite — bringing together the late Paul Whiteman band and the early-Thirties Henderson orchestra — HAPPY FEET:

These Sunday night music-parties are one of the best things about New York City: long may they continue!

THE BOUNCE ACCORDING TO JOE ALTERMAN

There’s a Stephen Sondheim song — BOUNCE — from the musical of the same name.  I heard it many times on Jonathan Schwartz’s show on WNYC-FM.  It’s a cynical paean to the ability to re-adapt, to get up off the floor, to reinvent yourself, sung by two brothers who have seen a great deal.

I thought about it, however irrelevantly, when the young jazz pianist Joe Alterman sent me a copy of his debut CD, PIANO TRACKS (VOLUME ONE).  Young?  He’s twenty-one.  Credit for my knowing about Joe is due to the energetic Marc Myers, of JazzWax: read his December 2009 post on Joe here: http://www.jazzwax.com/2009/12/joe-alterman-piano-tracks.html.

Joe admires the lyrical, singing, propulsive styles — they’re timeless — embodied by Hank Jones and other giants. 

Joe’s also got his own personal blog, where he writes about meeting Hank Jones and Jimmy Heath, studying with Don Friedman, and more — humble, funny, and to the point.  It’s http://joealterman.blogspot.com/

But back to the CD at hand.  It was recorded last year, and it is a comfortable kind of music: swinging without being self-conscious, embracing the past without being restricted by “repertory” conventions.  Joe is a melodic player — someone who respects the compositions he sets out to play (Arlen, Johnny Green, Styne, Gershwin, Mancini) and is also an adept composer.  I’ve heard some contemporary pianists recently who seem to believe that their improvisations must be aggressive to be compelling, so they rampage over the keyboard as if they were annoyed by it.  That’s not Joe’s style.  He knows the virtue of space, of letting lines breathe.  And he knows how to swing naturally in the fashion of Red Garland and Ahmad Jamal.  Some of the infectious bounce of this CD is due to bassist Scott Glazer and drummer Justin Varnes (on one track, they are replaced by Sam Selinger and Tiffany Chang), but with all due respect to them, I think Joe could swing on his own.  He understands the possibilities within “medium-up-tempo,” and the CD has its own rocking momentum.  And several of his originals deserve their own life — the moody THE FIRST NIGHT HOME, and the naughty blues (BEFORE YOU BRING ME MY CORNBREAD) SLAP SOME BUTTER ON THAT BISCUIT, which surely has lyrics waiting to be sung. 

You can hear some music from the CD at Joe’s site — click on http://www.joealtermanmusic.com/live/

Sondheim’s song urges us all to “learn how to bounce,” which I know is a commendable skill — but young Joe Alterman already knows how.  Welcome!