January 14, 2016
Musically speaking, the worlds of jazz and cabaret and stage and screen are often forcibly separated by boundary lines that impede performers and writers. Unfortunately, this means that audiences potentially lose a lot. Fortunately, there are some artists who demonstrate the artificiality of these boundaries by their dedication to wide-ranging repertoires that happily and successfully embrace these various sources. These thoughts have been brought to mind by three albums that coincidentally came together for review.
Daryl Sherman My Blue Heaven (Muzak MZCF 1322)
There are some names that tell you what to expect and as always Daryl Sherman’s name on an album heralds a delightful experience. This set, recorded in New York City and released on the Japanese Muzak, Inc. label, is a special treat for all of this exceptional singing-pianist’s many fans. Here, Daryl plays and sings a delightful selection of songs, ranging through standards, show tunes, rarely heard work by songwriting masters. Among the songs are Fly Me To The Moon (Bart Howard), The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (Jimmy Webb), You Turned The Tables On Me (Louis Alter, Sidney Mitchell), Inside A Silent Tear (Blossom Dearie, Linda Albert), The Brooklyn Bridge (Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn), My Blue Heaven (Walter Donaldson, George Whiting), which includes Japanese lyrics by Horiuchi Keizo), two of Cy Coleman’s compositions, I Walk A Little Faster (lyrics by Carolyn Leigh) and You Wanna Bet (Dorothy Fields). There are also two originals, Pat McCarthy’s Let’s Go Live In A Lighthouse and Daryl’s own Cycling Along With You. Most of the songs are performed by Daryl alone, while on the two exceptions she is joined by bassist Harvie S., this minimalism especially suiting Daryl’s style. Every year now, Daryl visits Japan, most recently spending several weeks there at the Tableaux Lounge in Tokyo, and she continues to visit Europe, appearing in the UK and the Netherlands. For those of us who cannot get to see and hear Daryl live, this is an ideal album as there is throughout a delightful sense of intimacy. An exceptional set by a fine singer and pianist who remains a New York treasure.
Mary Foster Conklin Photographs (MockTurtle Music)
This selection of songs by Mary Foster Conklin demonstrates not only her performing skills but also her interest in and love for the dusty corners of the world of popular music. Not that the songs heard here are unworthy – far from it because Mary presents some lovely if lesser-known gems that are performed all too rarely. Prominent among these songs are five with lyrics by Fran Landsman, lyrics that are witty, wise and perhaps a little dark. There has been a recent revival of interest in Landsman’s work, with British pianist Simon Wallace writing music for the words. Here, though, the songs from an earlier date: Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most (music by Tommy Wolf), Small Day Tomorrow,The Winds Of Heaven, Nothing Like You (Bob Dorough), Photographs (Alec Wilder). There is an emotional intimacy about these songs that is captured most effectively by Mary. Jazz fans will recognize the composers of Long As You’re Living (Julian Priester and Tommy Turrentine, lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr), Moonglow (Will Hudson, Eddie DeLange), Key Largo (Benny Carter, Leah Worth), and there are also songs from Johnny Mandel (Cinnamon And Clove) and John Lennon and Paul McCartney (For No One). Mary is very sympathetically accompanied by (collectively) John diMartino, piano (he also wrote the arrangements), Ed Howard, bass, Shinnosuke Takahashi, drums, Joel Frahm, soprano and tenor saxophones, Warren Vache, cornet, Paul Meyers, guitar, Nanny Assis, percussion, with special guest Houston Person playing tenor saxophone on For No One.
Deborah Shulman My Heart’s in The Wind (Summit DCD 671)
A selection of ballads presented very attractively by a singer with a rich and warm voice. Deborah Shulman’s previous albums include Get Your Kicks: The Music & Lyrics Of Bobby Troup, and 2 For The Road, on which she sings with Terry Trotter who also plays on this new release. Deborah not only performs as singer but also as actor, and has sung and acted in a National Company production of Cats. Her repertoire on this Summit Records release includes Never-Never Land, Loving You, Where Do I Go From Here, This Hotel, A Sleepin’ Bee, You Are There, and The Shining Sea. Some of these songs come from Broadway, some from Hollywood, others from the Great American Songbook and while all are familiar none is overused. Deborah interprets lyrics with care and understanding, the liner notes (by Thomas Cunliffe) revealing that some of the music here mirrors the singer’s loving relationship with her late parents and the resulting emotional undertow adds immeasurably to the occasion. In addition to pianist Terry Trotter, Deborah is accompanied by guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Ken Wild and drummer Joe LaBarbera, although these four instrumentalists appear together on only four tracks. This spare accompaniment results in uncluttered arrangements that draw in the listener, making the experience one of unforced intimacy. The songs can thus be heard on different levels – the listener can not only share the singer’s feelings but can also bring to them his or her own emotional response. This is a vocal skill possessed by only a few singers. A very pleasing album that will be enjoyed by those who like jazz singers and more widely by anyone who likes to hear good songs well sung.
You will find much more to entertain and inform you on these sites:-
And as always, albums can be bought at Amazon.
November 20, 2013
Important in the jazz world since its earliest days, the singer-pianist comes in all styles. As mentioned in Take 1, although mining this rich lode I am not seeking to be definitive. My choices are self-indulgent, they are artists whose work I admire and enjoy, but they are also artists who stand high if rated only as a singer, and who are similarly excellent when only playing the piano. And when doing both simultaneously succeed in retaining very high standards despite the very different qualities needed in the art of piano playing and the art of singing.
In Take 1, only one artist was featured; this time there are three. Necessarily, I will have to be brief, but this is not in any way disparaging – it is nothing more than acceptance that writing at length, as I did in the case of Fats Waller, it would take until the end of time to deal with all possible artists. Come to think of it, that schedule applies if there are three at a time, or thirty, but . . .
The three artists featured here are Nellie Lutcher, Dardanelle, and Daryl Sherman.
For me, and I expect for many others, Nellie Lutcher arrived with a bang. This was a result of a succession of hit records played regularly on BBC radio programs in the UK. They were similarly aired in the USA, helping her to hit parade success there; this followed her signing to Capitol Records in 1947. The first of Nellie’s hits was Hurry On Down, a song in the currently popular R&B style; on this she displayed her distinctive vocal sound, earthy, knowing, and slyly suggestive, as well as her driving piano playing. Nellie was then in her early thirties and was already a rounded and experienced musician. She was born into a musical family on 15 October 1915, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Her father played bass in a jazz band and as Nellie swiftly developed her instrumental skills she joined him. As she gained in confidence, she moved on to the Southern Rhythm Boys band, where in addition to playing piano she also arranged, and from the late 1930s into the mid-1940s attracted considerable attention, particularly on the west coast. Nellie’s younger brother, Joe Lutcher, was also a professional musician, playing alto saxophone, and like his sister moved to California where he worked with several notable artists. Nellie played mainly club dates in California but she also appeared on the March of Dimes and this was when Capitol recognized her potential and brought her into their special, and at the time notably musician-oriented, fold.
Nellie’s first hit was followed by two other raunchy songs that suited her vocal delivery and percussive piano playing, He’s A Real Gone Guy,and Fine Brown Frame, both similarly successful. Nellie also sang moody songs with flair, among them another hit, The Song Is Ended. Capitalizing on her popularity in the UK, she toured there in 1950. Unfortunately, although her Capitol singles were hits, and her album, Real Gone, was a success, times were changing, as were musical tastes and the growing popularity of the softly sophisticated song stylists edged singers like Nellie aside. Soft and sophisticated are not words that leap to mind when describing her. She moved to Liberty Records where she recorded Our New Nellie to considerable acclaim, but the front-rank period of her career was over and from the late 1960s into the early 1970s she took an office job, working at the Hollywood Local of the AF of M. Her brother Joe also bowed out in the mid-1950s; in his case to become an evangelical preacher. Meanwhile, Nellie continued to make occasional club appearances, on both the west and the east coast, but it was not until the mid- to late 1980s, when her early records were re-released on the Stateside and particularly the Jukebox Lil labels, that she returned to the spotlight’s flicker. Through these reissues it became apparent to a new generation of fans, and fellow musicians, that she was special; a singer who followed her own ideas on what she should sing and how she should sing it, and a piano player who compounded enthusiasm with great skill. And, in all that she did, Nellie was always musicianly. In her late years, Nellie continued to play gigs and also appeared on her own PBS television show and on Marian McPartland’s radio show, Piano Jazz, on NPR. Nellie Lutcher died 8 June 2007.
If asked to find just one word with which to describe Dardanelle, it would not be inappropriate, I think, to select ‘storyteller’. A highly-accomplished musician, she was born Marcia Marie Mullen, in Avalon, Mississippi, on 27 December 1917, and played piano and sang from her earliest years. She studied through school and university and by the early 1940s had established herself on the eastern seaboard through working with a number of bands. She did, though, have her own ideas on the direction she wanted to take and formed a trio with bassist Paul Edenfield and guitarist Tal Farlow. Swiftly gaining popularity, the trio enjoyed a year-long residency at New York’s Copacabana and followed this with gigs at other New York nightspots. At the end of the 1940s, Dardanelle put her career on hold and following marriage to Walter Hadley spent most of her time raising a family. From the mid-1950s until the mid-1960s, she played church organ in Chicago and also appeared on radio and television. In the mid-1960s, now living in New Jersey, she formed a new trio, this one including her son, Skip Hadley, on drums. Ten years on and Dardanelle returned fully to the jazz fold, working with musicians such as guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, bassist George Duvivier and drummer Grady Tate. In the early 1980s Dardanelle was active on the club circuit and also appeared at jazz festivals and concert halls, and made records, an immersion in work that helped her through a divorce and the death of Skip Hadley. She worked in the USA, Japan and on cruise liners, survived a particularly vicious mugging, and continued to make records that displayed her gentle vocal style and her fluid piano playing.
In the mid-1980s, Dardanelle moved back to her home state where she had a spell as artist-in-residence at the University of Mississippi and continued to make public appearances, sometimes joined by her second son, bassist Brian Hadley. She also appeared regularly on radio, reading excerpts from her autobiography, then a work-in-progress. Some of these radio snippets were released on audiotape, a copy of which she sent to me and which, I regret to say, has long-since vanished. I recall that the stories she told matched the repertoire from which she drew the songs she sang. In these, her favorites were always those that reflected her interest in and love for the people and places of the Deep South. She continued to make records, mainly for Stash and Audiophile, and it is clear from some of these, for example Dardanelle Echoes Singing Ladies, that she held in very high regard singers of the past. A consummate musician, Dardanelle’s singing was always elegant, charming, and filled with love. Dardanelle died on 8 August 1997.
During her formative years, there was no shortage of good jazz musicians for Daryl Sherman to hear. Her family background was intensely musical and in her early years she was encouraged by her father, trombonist Sammy Sherman. It in her piano playing that Daryl reveals her love for jazz in all its forms and this is especially apparent when she plays with echoes of bop. And this love is also there when she sings the sophisticated songs of Cole Porter or delves into the witty lyrics of Johnny Mercer. Importantly, she does all of this with sparkling skill, enormous enthusiasm, and always an irrepressible swing. For several years, Daryl had a regular spot at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where she not only entertained the public, but also had the great pleasure and privilege of playing the Steinway piano that was used by Cole Porter during his long stay at the hotel. Later in life, Daryl recorded with a musician she had known for many years, stride piano player Dave McKenna; this is on her CD, Jubilee, where she displays her vocal skill when accompanied by another pianist. Contrastingly, her piano playing was spotlighted on an Audiophile album with Mr Tram Associates (Daryl, Barbara Lea, Dick Sudhalter, Loren Schoenberg) Getting Some Fun Out Of Life, and on a recording made late in his life by her father; this was Arbors Records’ Sammy Sherman, A Jazz Original – Live At Chan’s.
Daryl had mainly sung on her first album, I’m A Dreamer, and her willingness to sing in collaboration with other pianists is demonstrated on Johnny Mercer A Centennial Tribute where on a couple of songs her singing is accompanied by Barbara Carroll and Marian McPartland. On New O’leans, her paean to post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Daryl is primarily accompanied by a regular collaborator, guitarist James Chirillo. Also recorded in the Crescent City is Mississippi Belle – Cole Porter in The Quarter, a further delightful tribute to place and time and music.
Daryl’s repertoire is extensive and has at its core songs by the great masters of American popular music; in addition to Cole Porter she has recorded the music of Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by both witty Lorenz Hart and romantic Oscar Hammerstein (A Hundred Million Miracles), and the music of Johnny Mercer, whose songs combine rich melodies with lyrics that can be acerbically witty or unsentimentally romantic (A Centennial Tribute). Many of the songs composed by leading figures from Tin Pan Alley’s heydays were originally used in Broadway shows and Hollywood’s musicals and Daryl shows a special fondness for these nostalgic memory-tugging moments.
The ballads that feature strongly in Daryl’s shows often require a soft and subtle approach and it is not surprising that from choice she prefers to work with bass and guitar accompaniment, making up for the absence of a drummer with her own hard-swinging undercurrent at the piano. An exceptional singer, a strikingly good pianist; as a singing-pianist Daryl Sherman is one of a small handful of the very best of this important art.
As always, these CDs can be found at Amazon.
August 1, 2012
Jeff Hamilton Trio Red Sparkle (Capri Records 74114-2)
When he first appeared on the jazz scene back in the mid-1970s, Jeff Hamilton’s youthful appearance, allied as it was to sprightly playing, was a joy to many who feared that subtle, rhythmic and always swinging drumming was fading from the jazz scene. These days, happily, there are many jazz drummers who play like this, and it must be acknowledged that Hamilton has rather more gray in his hair than most. But listening to his playing on this CD you would certainly never know it. He is joined here by the regular piano player and bass player of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and the fluid interplay of these three fine musicians, Hamilton, Tamir Hendelman and Christoph Luty, makes clear how attuned each is to the others. This musical empathy provides one of the reasons why that particular big band is so good and so popular. But this is trio time, and as the spotlight shifts from one to another of the trio’s members it is fascinating to hear how all consistently contribute to the group’s overall well-being. Hendelman is a thoughtful jazz pianist, popular with singers, who need a musician of subtlety and grace. But he is also a soloist of distinction and his always inventive playing is a source of great delight. Luty plays with a solid sense of swing, urging along his companions and finding in his solo moments touches of brilliance, especially apparent when, appropriately enough, he takes an arco solo on a Ray Brown composition. But this is Hamilton’s group, and although throughout he makes clear that this is a joint enterprise, the ears are constantly drawn to his tasteful accompaniment, especially notable in his brush work, and in solos that are crisp and perfectly timed and placed. Red Sparkle, in case you are wondering, was the color of Jeff Hamilton’s first drum kit. Fortunate for all of us, it wasn’t his last.
Daryl Sherman Mississippi Belle (Audiophile ACD 342)
One of the most entertaining of musicians, Daryl Sherman has a fully deserved worldwide reputation as a fine jazz pianist and singer. On this CD, she delves into a trove of music with which she is wonderfully familiar, the songs of Cole Porter. For many years, Daryl Sherman has played and sung regularly at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel; what’s more, she has done so seated at the piano Cole Porter had in his suite when he stayed there, a Steinway given to him by the hotel. This CD is subtitled ‘Cole Porter in the Quarter’, that being, of course, the French Quarter of New Orleans, which is not only home to Audiophile Records but also where Sherman has often chosen to perform, particularly after Hurricane Katrina. Among the songs Sherman sings here are the familiar, which include Let’s Do It, Rosalie, Get Out Of Town, You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To and From This Moment On, and some that are less so, including Ours, Tale Of The Oyster, Use Your Imagination and Looking At You. To her interpretations of all the songs, Sherman brings her unmistakable charm and wit, cloaking everything in superb musicianship. Sherman’s instrumental collaborators here are clarinetist-tenor saxophonist Tom Fischer and bassist Jesse Boyd. The always admirable New Orleans-based jazz singer, Banu Gibson, joins Daryl Sherman for By The Mississinewah. This is lovely stuff, a CD that will have very wide appeal.
Jane Stuart Don’t Look Back (Jane Stuart Music JSM 002)
Jazz singer Jane Stuart’s debut CD was 2007’s Beginning To See The Light, which won the Blue Chip Award for ‘Best Jazz Vocals’ from the International Association of Jazz Educators. By now very much appreciated for her live performances, sometimes solo and sometimes as leader of her band, Airtight, in the New York and New Jersey area, Jane Stuart has built upon her very good start in the tough world of jazz singing and her new CD shows just how far she has come. This is a mature and confident performance, and her repertoire shows the breadth of her musical appreciation; among the songs here are Cole Porter’s Experiment, Dave Frishberg’s Wheelers And Dealers and You Are There (co-composed with Johnny Mandel), Lennon and McCartney’s Eleanor Rigby and I’ll Follow The Sun, Rodgers and Hart’s I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, and an especially attractive version of the Gershwin classic, Summertime. Stuart’s accompanists are pianist Rave Tesar, tenor saxophonist Frank Elmo, bassists Kermit Driscoll and Sue Williams (who share tracks), and drummer Rick De Kovessey (who is her husband). Also on hand are percussionist Emedin Rivera and background vocalists Orlando Quinones and Paige Sandusky. There are also guests in the very welcome form of guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Dick Oatts. Jane Stuart is a jazz singer who deserves your attention.
Natalie Cressman Unfolding (own label)
Natalie Cressman and her band, Secret Garden, are quite new to the jazz scene, and very welcome additions they are. Natalie is a trombonist, composer, and singer, and that might well be the right sequence in which to list her exceptional talent. Although stylistically centered firmly in contemporary jazz, it is clear that she has special affection for the music of Latin America. Among Natalie’s musical companions here are pianist Pascal Le Boeuf, trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg, and tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, and they, together with Ruben Samama and Jake Goldbas, bass and drums, and guest tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, create an inventive and always appropriate framework for Natalie’s performance. In interviews, with, for example, Indie Music Reviewer’s Dan MacIntosh, Natalie has cited trombonist Melba Liston and singer Joni Mitchell as key influences. From the wealth of involving and thought-provoking music that Natalie creates it is tempting to suggest that a few decades down the road, new young singer-instrumentalists will cite her as a guiding light.
Kat Parra Las Aventuras de ¡Pasión! (JazzMa JMR 1004)
Very popular in South America as well as in the USA, Kat Parra has a voice that demands attention and rewards the listener with wholly satisfying interpretations of an always interesting selection of songs. While much of Kat’s repertoire is suffused with Latin sounds, especially the rich song books of Brazil and Cuba, she also draws from jazz and the great popular standards. Unusually, Kat also explores in contemporary jazz terms the music of the Sephardic Jews of Spain. Blending this ancient form with contemporary jazz and Afro Caribbean styles is a leap for the imagination, yet Kat achieves this with seeming ease. Here, Kat is joined by some of her near neighbors in the Bay Area, among whom are trombonist Wayne Wallace, pianist Murray Low, saxophonist-flautist Masaru Koga, and drummer Paul van Wageningen. Kat’s earlier albums include Birds In Flight (JazzMa JMR 1001), Azucar De Amor (Patois PRCD 005) and Dos Amantes (JazzMa JMR 1003), the last named also draws upon the Sephardic tradition and seamlessly blends fiery flamenco, lively Hanukkah, and insinuatingly rhythmic Caribbean airs. It is a delight and, indeed, all of her albums are very warmly recommended, overflowing as they are with music that is emotionally rich and moving and performed in a voice that is burnished and flowing and touched with an attractive sinewy edge.