February 1, 2016
Marlene VerPlanck The Mood I’m In (Audiophile ACD 348)
The past twenty-plus years has seen Marlene VerPlanck regularly visiting the UK, sometimes with side trips to Continental Europe. Only occasionally has she recorded while on these trips and that makes this new release even more of a delight. The regularity of these visits means that Marlene has built up good musical relationships with several key instrumentalists and during her 26th UK tour she went into the studio with the trio of pianist John Pearce, bassist Paul Morgan and drummer Bobby Worth. Also making a most welcome contribution to five tracks is Mark Nightingale on trombone, and on four tracks Andy Panayi on tenor saxophone and flute. Marlene is fully supported by these fine instrumentalists, many of whom have solo moments that are taken with skill and ingenuity. As always, Marlene’s selection of songs is impeccable, drawing as she does not only from familiar materials but also from distant corners of the Great American Songbook as well as work by superior jazz artists. Among the chosen composers are Harry Warren and Ted Koehler, Me And The Blues, Warren and Mack Gordon,This Is Always, Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner, Too Late Now, Henry Mancini and Bobby Troup, Free And Easy, Benny Carter and Paul Vandervoort, My Kind Of Trouble Is You, and Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges and Don George, It Shouldn’t Happen To A Dream. In all cases, Marlene’s innate skill and feeling for the heart of a song allow her to bring warmth and understanding to the often magical worlds created by the lyricists. The set also includes a two-song medley enjoyed by audiences on her tour with which she pays tribute to Frank Sinatra: It Started All Over Again, Carl Fischer and Bill Carey, and The Second Time Around, Jimmy VanHeusen and Sammy Cahn. If you, like me have long been an admirer of Marlene VerPlanck, you will be delighted to know that her vocal sound remains virtually unchanged and as always she has delivered glowing performances of some wonderful songs.
Lyn Stanley Interludes (A.T. Music 3104)
On another album reviewed here a few months ago Lyn Stanley chose her repertoire from songs composed in the 1950s. On this, her third album, Lyn has delved a little further back in time for many of her songs. Although some of these are familiar, they are given interpretations that render them new and fresh while remaining true to the original intentions of composers and lyricists. Among these songs are How Long Has This Been Going On, Just One Of Those Things, More Than You Know, Don’t Explain, In A Sentimental Mood, and Boulevard Of Broken Dreams. Lyn is joined here by two groups of accompanists. On four tracks are Mike Garson, piano, John Chiodani, guitar, Chuck Berghofer, bass, and Paul Kreibich, drums. One nine the core quartet has Bill Cunliffe on piano and Ray Brinker on drums, replacing Garson and Kreibich, with additional instrumentalists appearing on some tracks: Bob McChesney, trombone, Henrick Muerkens, harmonica, Cecilia Tsan, cello, and Brad Dutz, percussion. One track, I’m A Fool To Want You, is just Lyn with John Chiodani’s guitar. Throughout this album, Lyn Stanley sings with flair and understanding and the result is a delight.
Wendy Pedersen & Jim Gasior We Two (Jimmy G’s House of Sound)
Long established in Florida, Wendy Pedersen may be less well known elsewhere in America; if this should be so then surely this must change. On this new set, Wendy sings in duo with pianist Jim Gasior, the two having worked together successfully for several years although I understand that this is their first joint release. Pleasingly blending cabaret with touches of jazz, they present an admirable selection of songs that are chosen and performed with loving care. Among these are some from the Great American Songbook, Exactly Like You, The Best Thing For You, some from the world of jazz, Everything But You, Jitterbug Waltz, ‛Round Midnight, and others from Broadway, It Ain’t Necessarily So, My Favorite Things. Their obvious shared love for the songs they perform allow Wendy and Jim to respectfully take a few liberties here and there, giving Oh, What A Beautiful Morning a touch of Deep South churchgoing music, The Best Thing For You is taken at a faster tempo than is usually heard, and My Favorite Things is rendered in an unusual time signature. Wendy’s voice is rich, her diction clear, and everywhere she displays her understanding of the lyrics of the songs she sings. Jim’s work here is much more than that of accompanist, he is a collaborator, providing appropriate cushioning to the vocal lines and soloing with imaginative verve. Together they make a thoroughly entertaining duo and this album is warmly recommended.
You will find much more to entertain and inform you on these sites:-
And Amazon is the place to go for these albums.
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 18, 2015
Karrin Allyson Many A New Day (Motema 234083)
Over the past few years Karrin Allyson’s all-too-few albums have brought unalloyed pleasure. This, her latest, might well be her best. The material, while familiar, is far from overdone in the jazz world and this might be explained by the subtitle: Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein. Although Richard Rodgers’ partnership with Lorenz Hart has long been a gold mine for jazz singers and instrumentalists, his later collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein Jr has been much less explored. Any real or imagined problems there might be with the material dissolve as Karrin sings these memorable melodies and often insightful words. The arrangements, by Michael Leonhart and Karrin, never lose the inherent melodic qualities of the songs, although they sometimes take these in surprising but always interesting and musically satisfactory directions. Karrin’s voice is true and quite lovely, revealing maturity, intelligence and charm. Her interpretation of lyrics is faultless and she reaches the heart of the songs with extraordinary sensitivity. This last quality means that even when some careful liberties are taken with tempi the obvious love she has for this material ensures that the result is always pleasing. Karrin’s accompanists here are pianist Kenny Barron and bassist John Patitucci and their work is perfectly attuned to the needs of the singer, Kenny having most solo opportunities, all of which he takes with his customary élan. Among the songs performed here are Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’, Bali Ha’i, We Kiss In The Shadow, Something Good (a song for which Rodgers also wrote the lyrics), Out Of My Dreams, and Something Wonderful. This is a beautifully performed album of lovely music that has already lasted a lifetime and with recordings like this might very well last forever.
Kim Nazarian Some Morning (KIMJ Music)
A delightful set by Kim Nazarian, here stepping out of the esteemed vocal group, New York Voices, but staying close to two other musical families. One of these is her personal family: husband Jay Ashby plays trombone on several tracks, among them Robbin’s Nest and What’ll I Do?, son Ian sings on Que Sera, Sera on which Kim’s father, Greg, plays saxophone, and brother-in-law Marty Ashby plays guitar on Robbin’s Nest, Tell Him I Said Hello and So In Love. Kim’s other family comprises the musicians joining her on this celebration of song. Invidious, I know, but only some are mentioned here: pianists Mark Soskin and Mark Shilansky, bassists Dwayne Dolphin and Leo Traversa, drummer Jamey Haddad, as well as guests who include clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera (Tell Him I Said Hello), trumpeter Sean Jones (Road To Kursk, a Jay Ashby chart on which drummer Roger Humphries is also featured), guitarist John Pizzarelli (Gotta Be This Or That on which he also sings), and vibraphonist Gary Burton (Some Morning). All of these instrumentalists are in cracking form, providing excellent accompaniment, driving ensembles and sparkling solos. Kim’s vocal sound, full, rich, wide ranging, always melodious, brings out every nuance in the compositions, while her interpretations of the lyrics are miniature masterclasses. A thoroughly enjoyable exploration of attractive material by an exceptional singer.
Lynda Reed Our Tree (indepenent)
A fine singer with a growing reputation on the east and west coasts, here Lynda Reed presents an admirable selection of songs, most of them only rarely heard. Lynda’s vocal style is softly engaging and her interpretation of lyrics shows care and understanding. Her principal accompanists are Frank Zottoli, keyboards, Abraham Laboriel, bass, Roberto Montero, guitar, and Enzo Todesco, drums, who are joined on some songs by Justo Almario (saxophones/flute), Rique Pantoja (keyboard), Dave Compton (harmonica), Edgar Sandavol (violin) and additional percussionists (Léo Costa, Munyungo Jackson, Joe Fabio, Abe Laboriel Jr). Among the songs are Loving You (composed by Montero, lyrics by Reed), Fiesta Lynda (Laboriel, Reed), Our Tree/Tronco Do Jequitibá (Montero, Reed), Remembering and Zoe’s Lullaby (both Zottoli, Reed), and Masterpiece (Thomas Bähler). There are also some more widely known songs: Another Star, Blackbird, In Walked Bud. From what is heard (and also written by Lynda in her accompanying notes) all of these songs have a considerable measure of meaning for her. This particular quality is apparent throughout the set as emotional depths revealed both by the lyrics and the limpid melodies and sensuous rhythms of Latin American music that underlie everything. Both singer and instrumentalists bring to the occasion an air of gentleness and love, ensuring that the listener, too, is drawn into the moment. Songs from this album can be found on YouTube.
These CDs can be found at the singers’ sites (click on the links shown above), and at Amazon among on-line stores.
June 30, 2015
A word of warning: a wave of nostalgia is approaching. Why? Because this post is about the Mills Brothers. In my life there was music before jazz (that came in at about age 14) and it was quite a mixture, including as it did music listened to on radio and records by parents, sister and brother (both older than me), grandparents, friends and neighbors. Thus there was grand opera alongside music hall ribaldry, musical comedy segueing into brass band music (this was in the north of England), there was operetta, dance band and chamber music, and intertwined with all of this were popular songs of the day. All of this perhaps explains why, even today, I know the words to many songs popular in British music halls many decades before I was born. My brother was a jazz fan and he and his pals crept secretly from house to house, 78s under their arms, to indulge themselves in whatever corner happened to be temporarily free of supervising and disapproving grown-ups. It was a few years before I was admitted to this secret society and began my own journey into the world of jazz. Until then, I followed most of those other musical paths and I recall some instances where an artist or perhaps a particular song would overcome the artificial boundaries we imposed and appeal to all of us. Among these artists and songs, Paul Robeson’s Old Man River comes to mind; the singer being something of a hero for factors that lay outside his musical life. Surprisingly, from time to time there were touches of jazz. Ella Fitzgerald’s A-Tisket, A-Tasket is one example; another is the vocal group, The Mills Brothers, especially with their versions of Paper Doll and The Glow-Worm. It was therefore with delight that I found among recent releases that came to me for review in Jazz Journal a double CD:
The Mills Brothers Paper Doll (Retrospective RTS 4263/4)
For those whose memories do not go back so far, the Mills Brothers formed their singing group in Piqua, Ohio, around 1925. They were real-life brothers, Herbert, Harry, Donald and John Jr., and they soon gained popularity and began making records at the start of the 1930s. Sadly, John died in 1936 and was replaced by the brothers’ father, John Sr., who stayed on until 1957 when he retired and thereafter the group was a trio. Perhaps a side effect of the need to make themselves self-sufficient, from the outset the group did not need accompaniment. In their original format, John Jr. played guitar while some of his brothers imitated musical instruments, creating vocal representations of trumpet or trombone or bass. Following John Jr.’s death, Bernard Addison played guitar for the group for about two years, and was succeeded by Norman Brown. This double album, which covers the years 1931 to 1952, includes all the Mills Brothers’ hits and they had many. In addition to Paper Doll and The Glow-Worm there are also Sleepy Head, Lazy River, Chinatown, My Chinatown and You Always Hurt The One You Love. The unmistakeable vocal sounds of the group is a beguiling melding of many vocal styles, notably early minstrelsy and barbershop singing, but all cloaked in sophisticated harmonization. The brothers sings with a relaxed swing and a strong feeling for jazz. This last quality meant that many leading jazz artists of the day were happy to join them in the recording studio or on radio shows, while their broad appeal brought in artists from the wider world of popular music. Among examples on this release are Louis Armstrong on Carry Me Back To Old Virginny, Cherry and Marie; Duke Ellington on It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing; Ella Fitzgerald, Dedicated To You; Tommy Dorsey, Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone; Sy Oliver, Be My Life’s Companion; Bing Crosby Dinah and Shine; Al Jolson, Is It True What They Say About Dixie?.
As mentioned, after John Sr.’s retirement, Herbert, Harry and Donald continued as a trio, touring and recording with remarkable success through succeeding decades. Harry died in 1982 and another singer was brought in for a while, the first time that a non-family member was in the group. Even Herbert’s death, in 1989, was not the end as Donald teamed up with his son, John III, to sing on as a duo. Early hit singles by the quartet notwithstanding, in my view, the best of the Mills Brothers’ recordings come from 1967 and 1968, the years in which the surviving trio made two albums with Count Basie and his orchestra. These are outstanding recordings and richly deserve their regular reissue.
The Mills Brothers and Count Basie The Board Of Directors & Annual Report (Universal MCLD 19366)
and Complete Recordings (Gambit 69223)
To be clear, small differences in track sequencing apart, these releases are the same, the Universal appearing in 1998 and the Gambit in 2005. Any doubts anyone might hold about the jazz content of the Mills Brothers’ work must surely go out the window on hearing these swinging sets. All the qualities the group had demonstrated consistently through the preceding three-plus decades are evident in abundance. Indeed, the brothers are clearly invigorated by the Basie band as they swing through old and new favorites, injecting newly-sparked enthusiasm into familiar songs and reveling in songs rarely if ever sung before. Among the 21 tracks are Lazy River, Cherry, Sunny, The Glow-Worm, April In Paris, The Whiffenpoof Song, Cielito Lindo, Blue And Sentimental, I’ll Be Around, Release Me, April In Paris and Gentle On My Mind. Several Basie soloists can be heard while the charts, Dick Hyman on Annual Report, Chico O’Farrill on The Board Of Directors, match the best of Basie. Altogether, this a meeting of minds and the resulting music is wonderful.
The Mills Brothers Story (Storyville Films)
This 2007 film documentary is a real treat. Mixing insightful interviews with numerous vocal performances, this film allows today’s audience to see as well as hear these remarkable singers. Indeed, it is inspiring to see excerpts from one of the last concert performances by the trio of brothers, Donald, Herbert and Harry. This was filmed in Copenhagen in 1981 and with the backing of a big band they turn in exceptional versions of You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You and Bye Bye Blackbird.
So, the Retrospective double or the Basie set? Hard to choose, but if forced into a corner I would take the later brothers in company with the Count. Then again, maybe not. I know quantity is no way to judge but the overall quality is so good that it is hard to turn away from the 56 tracks that trace the Mills Brothers through their earlier years. Maybe go for both. You won’t be disappointed. Oh, and don’t forget the unmissable film, available on DVD.
All these CDs and the DVD can be easily found, not least at Amazon.
April 5, 2015
With more and more of us turning to e-books, this is a good time to note that some of my now out-of-print books are available in this format. They include:
Singing Jazz: the Singers and Their Styles by Bruce Crowther & Mike Pinfold
This book explores the lives, words, and music of vocalists past and present to portray the diverse and stimulating world of the jazz singer. Singing Jazz examines the ups and downs of a tough profession: the learning process, on the road and in school; the problems of building a repertoire, finding work, traveling, performing in often difficult circumstances; and the struggle for recognition in the world of popular music, where talent and dedication are sometimes not enough.
Comments on this book (print edition):
“The text is enriched with extensive anecdotal material and an encyclopedic-styled biographical section.” – Don Heckman – Los Angeles Times
“. . . interviewed especially for Singing Jazz – some of today’s best performers illustrate the contemporary view of jazz singing. Kitty Margolis, Mark Murphy, Helen Merrill, Mark Porter, Christine Tyrrell, and many others discuss the influences and experiences that have shaped their singing careers, and share insights on how their art is still evolving today.” – goodreads.com
“In addition to biographies of jazz singers of yesterday and today, this is a how-to book for singers.” – JazzStandards.com
“(The world) where the voice itself is an instrument, and the art of improvisation and self-expression reigns–is explored in this illuminating book.” – Indigo.ca
“The scintillating story of a vibrant and exciting art form. Illuminating profiles of legendary artists, including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Louis Armstrong, and many more.” – JazzScript.co.uk
Gene Krupa: His Life & Times by Bruce Crowther
With his handsome, overwrought, gesticulating presence both on-stage and on-screen, Gene Krupa (1909-1973) changed beyond recognition the role of the jazz drummer and provided a lasting visual image of the Swing Era. Despite his spectacular drumming with the Benny Goodman band, the drummer’s sensationalized, phony drug bust in California in the 1940s secured his reputation, in the public’s mind, as a drug addict. In fact, underneath his glamorous stage persona, he was a quiet, reflective, and deeply religious man, as well as a dedicated, professional musician. Bruce Crowther sheds new light on Krupa’s Polish immigrant background in Chicago, the places he lived and worked, and the musicians he learned from and played with. In exploring that background, the book evokes the inspiration Krupa provided for his own and succeeding generations of drummers.
Louis Armstrong: His Life & Times by Mike Pinfold
The most famous jazz trumpeter of all time, Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) will also be remembered as a band leader, film star, comedian, and the first jazz personality to become an international celebrity. Born in New Orleans, he played in marching bands and on Mississippi riverboats but became famous with the Chicago band of ‛King’ Oliver. With his extraordinary instrumental range, gift for variations, distinctive ‛scat’ vocals and extroverted performance style, he succeeded in bringing jazz to audiences who had never before cared for the music. Mike Pinfold sheds new light on Armstrong’s New Orleans background and the unparalleled position he holds in American cultural history.
Bunk Johnson: His Life & Times by Christopher Hillman
Of all the figures to be associated with the revival of early New Orleans jazz in the 1940s, Bunk Johnson (1889-1949) was the most influential and the most controversial. A survivor of the pioneering days of jazz, and hailed in his last years as a ‛grand old man’, Bunk became the symbol of a primitive and simple style of music, with which his own strongly held views were at odds. Jazz critics and enthusiasts divided into those who hailed him as a sage, and those who dismissed him entirely. Christopher Hillman has sifted through the known facts about Bunk’s life, and a mass of documentary evidence, to produce this new account of Johnson’s career. The story which emerges, about the music and about Bunk’s own complicated personality, is a fascinating examination of one of the legends of jazz history.
(Interested in early jazz? Then visit Christopher Hillman’s website.)
Billie Holiday: Her Life & Times by John White
Billie Holiday (1915-1959) was one of the greatest artists in the history of jazz, a legend in her own lifetime and, nearly thirty years after her untimely death, a persistent and profound influence on popular music. Frank Sinatra said of her in 1958, “With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the U.S. during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday . . . who was and still remains the greatest single musical influence on me.” Long before her death, she had achieved notoriety as a drug addict as well as a performer. Although the motion picture Lady Sings the Blues (1972), starring Diana Ross, presented a simplified, often distorted image of her life, it also aroused the continuing interest of a younger generation in her peerless recordings. This book examines her tumultuous life and career, and offers a new perspective on Holiday’s legend by focusing on the early years in Baltimore and her breakthrough role as the first black woman to sing with an all-white band in a segregated society.
Also available as e-books are Bruce Crowther’s:
– stage play, The Colors Of Your Life
– the 1989 Edgar-nominated, Film Noir: Reflections In A Dark Mirror
– five new (2012-2014) crime novels, Dead Man Running, Dark Echoes, Penitence, Harlem Nocturne, All Cut Up
– and look out for the forthcoming sequel to Harlem Nocturne. Set four years later, Harlem Madness again features Black private detective Daniel Leland, this time pitting his wits against gangsters, Black and White, in the days and nights surrounding the 1943 Harlem riots.