Janet Seidel – Far Away Places

December 15, 2014

A recent release by Australian singer Janet Seidel prompted me to look back at my previous website. There, I found reviews of seven of Janet’s earlier albums, all of them on the La Brava Music label (which is jointly owned by Janet and her brother, David). One of Janet’s albums that I had missed is Charade (LaBrava LB0077), on which the singer presents a selection of songs by Henry Mancini. Accompanied by Joe Chindamo on piano, David Seidel on bass, Chuck Morgan, guitar, and drummer/percussionist Fabian Hevia, Janet takes a delightful tour through some of the composer’s best known works, while also finding time and space for a few songs that while perhaps lesser known are by no means unworthy of the care and attention given to them here.js - charade Among the songs heard are some from movies, a field in which Mancini was a master: Charade (from the film of the same title), Whistling Away The Dark (from Darling Lili), as well as songs from The Party, Two For The Road, and Days Of Wine And Roses. The similarly titled song from the last-named movie deservedly won an Oscar for the composer. There are also songs from some of the TV shows for which Mancini wrote memorably, notably the classic Peter Gunn series. To all of the songs, Janet brings warmth and subtle understanding of the lyrics, while her accompanists are impeccable.

Among the CDs that were covered on that earlier website was Moon Of Manakoora (LaBrava LB0068) and listening to this album again I have to confess that I did not say enough about Chuck Morgan’s playing of the ukulele, an instrument he had only recently begun playing regularly. The ukulele originated in Portugal in the late 19th century as a guitar-like instrument similar to the machete and the cavaquinho and was brought to the Hawaiian Islands by immigrants. Relatively inexpensive to manufacture (and hence cheap for students to buy), this four-stringed instrument was partly popularized because of its use in music schools and in particular through the acceptance into popular culture of Hawaiian music in the 1920s.js - moon Although familiar with the instrument since childhood, thanks to his father’s playing, Chuck did not play the ukulele professionally but during a 2004 tour of Japan with Janet and David he bought an instrument while in Tokyo. That same night he was urged to play the ukulele during a concert and was received rapturously by an audience that, unexpectedly but fortuitously, included several players of the instrument. Chuck’s playing is light and fluid and his inventive solos are a valuable addition to the session. Among the songs are When Lights Are Low, Till There Was You, Linger Awhile, April In Portugal, Deep Purple, Falling In Love Again, Twilight Time, Whispering and, of course, Moon Of Manakoora.

Janet’s new release, Far Away Places, on Antipodes Records (AR 101) has two, no make that three things in common with previous albums: a delightful selection of songs, exceptional interpretations by the singer, and superb accompaniment by her musical companions, David Seidel, playing double bass, and Chuck Morgan, playing various guitars and several ukuleles. Also added on some tracks are drummer Hamish Stuart and percussionist Fabian Hevia, while guest instrumentalists are Bob Henderson, trumpet, Paul Furniss, clarinet, Ben Jones, tenor saxophone, and Mitchell Morgan, soprano ukulele, while Janet plays piano on three tracks. The songs heard here include La Paloma, Too Darn Hot, Take The ‛A’ Train, Sand In My Shoes, Autumn In New York, Midnight Sun and Far Away Places. As is obvious, most of these songs are familiar but there are a few less well known to jazz audiences, including Haruhiko Haida’s Suzukake No Michi, with lyrics by Janet, and Paul McCartney’s Golden Slumbers.js - far away The songs evoke New York, the Hawaiian Islands as well as islands in the Caribbean and their lyrics are ably sung in Spanish and French as well as English. This is a very attractive set and it is one that this singer’s fans will want to have. Those reading this who love classic popular song but have yet to hear the exceptionally talented Janet and David Seidel and Chuck Morgan, should make every effort to buy this album. You won’t regret it.

For Far Away Places and any of Janet Seidel’s previous albums, go to Amazon.

Jazz and the unlikely ukulele

July 21, 2017

There are hundreds of different musical instruments in existence, but how many are used in jazz? Apart from trumpet and saxophone, trombone and piano, drums and guitar, clarinet and bass, how many others are there? Not many. Well, no doubt anyone reading this will quickly compile a list, maybe a lengthy list, but mostly these will be instruments few jazz musicians play, some maybe playing them only as a second instrument. Those musicians who do play instruments from outside that small familiar group sometimes attract the (perhaps surprised) appreciation of fans. Consider, for example, the unfairly-maligned ukulele, a delightful instrument that has been in my mind recently, thanks to the reissue of almost forgotten recordings from the late 1950s. lyle ritzThis is Lyle Ritz Plays Jazz Ukulele (Fresh Sound FSR-CD 810), which is reviewed at length by Ian Lomax in the June 2017 issue of Jazz Journal. The music heard on this album vividly demonstrates that Ritz (1930-2017) was a very skillful instrumentalist and an imaginative improviser. In his review, Lomax mentions other, more recent players of the instrument: Jake Shimabukuro, Israel Kama-kawiwoole and Paul Hemmings. To this short list, I would definitely add Chuck Morgan, a gifted jazz artist and in particular his work with singer Janet Seidel. My review of their album Moon Of Manakoora (LaBrava LB0068), can be found here. I also wrote about the ukulele in a Guest Editorial in Jazz Journal in early 2006, which includes in part an explanation of the instrument’s origins.

“. . . The ukulele, which in its original form looks like an acoustic guitar, is smaller than but structurally similar to the guitar. It has only four strings, something that is not as restricting as might be thought; many early jazz and especially blues guitarists tended to use only four of the available six strings. The similarities between ukulele and guitar are not coincidental; although claims are laid for the guitar’s origins being on the Indian sub-continent, both instruments developed significantly and in a form recognizable today on the Iberian Peninsular. This was probably in Portugal where a four-string instrument, similar in size to the braguinha but tuned like a rajão, became popular and was later taken by Portuguese sailors and immigrants to the Hawaiian Islands, where it was given the onomatopoetically coined name by which we know it today. Aurally, the ukulele is very close to the guitar but given its physical dimensions has a lighter, more delicate and very attractive sound. . .”ukulelerose

Because those of you in the USA might well think better of the ukulele than those in the UK, perhaps I should expand upon my description of the instrument as being unfairly-maligned.

This is mainly because of George Formby (1904-1961), a hugely popular British music hall performer who was at the height of his fame in the 1930s and 1940s. In addition to playing to packed houses all across the country, he made many very successful records, starred in more than twenty popular films, and in the 1950s played the lead in London’s West End in the stage musical Zip Goes A Million (adapted from George Barr McCutcheon’s novel, Brewster’s Millions). At the height of his fame, Formby was one of the UK’s two highest-paid showbiz performers (the other was Gracie Fields). Many years after his death, Formby’s popularity returned in part thanks to the entertainer Alan Randall (1934-2005). Early in his career, Randall played vibraphone and piano in jazz groups (he also played drums, trumpet and trombone), working throughout the UK and also touring the USA, including appearing in Las Vegas, and a earning favorable review in The New Yorker: “One of the World’s best musical acts”. 81U3G3aunwL._SL1394_It was his impersonation of Formby, though, that boosted his popularity and this occupied most of his late career and unfortunately shaded his considerable instrumental talent. Randall also co-wrote (with Vince Powell) and starred in Turned Out Nice Again, a stage musical based on Formby’s life.

So, what has all this to do with the ukulele? When Formby sang his comic songs, among them Leaning On A Lamppost, Chinese Laundry Blues, When I’m Cleaning Windows and Auntie Maggie’s Remedy, he accompanied himself on what he referred to as his ‘little ukulele’. In fact, this instrument was not a ukulele but a Gibson UB3 banjolele, a hybrid instrument that is rather like an enlarged version of the banjo. Formby’s constant references to his ‘little ukulele’ are exemplified in the song With My Little Ukulele In My Hand, although as everyone over a certain age knows, this title should not be taken literally. The lyrics of songs sung by music hall artists are rich in double entendres, quite a lot of them making even the raunchiest of blues lyrics seem mild in comparison. When George Formby sang that particular song, both he and his audience knew that whatever he might have in his hand it was not a musical instrument. Unfortunately, in the UK mention of the ukulele brings to mind Formby and his banjolele, which is decidedly un-jazzlike, and as a consequence of this the ukulele and those who play and enjoy hearing this very musical instrument are the losers. The ukulele, which is the same shape as guitar but about the size of a violin, has a softer sound than the guitar and does not have the same resonance. Try hearing Lyle Ritz or Chuck Morgan and you will hear what I mean. You will also hear some very good jazz.


Ukulele image by Dreamstime.

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