Jazz CD Reviews – early April 2017

April 1, 2017

Cathy Segal-Garcia In2uition (Dash Hoffman DHR 1021)

When a singer chooses to perform songs accompanied only by a single instrument she or he is wide open to the closest examination. Quite simply, there’s no place to hide. Not that there is any need for Cathy Segal-Garcia to conceal her considerable talent on this exceptionally satisfying double album. The songs Cathy has chosen are especially meaningful to her, reflecting as they do relationships both musical and personal. Joined only by a pianist on twelve of the fourteen tracks, Cathy sings with eloquent charm and deep understanding of the lyrics; indeed, on some songs she brings to the surface qualities not always uncovered by other singers. Cathy’s accompanist’s are John Beasley (Ruby, My Dear), Gary Fukushima, (I Want To Be Happy and Sleep in Peace), Jane Getz (Ruby), Bevan Manson (Looking For Bill ), Llew Mathews (America), Dave Moscoe (It Never Entered My Mind and Small Hotel), Josh Nelson (I Love You and Song Of My Heart), Vardan Ovsepian (Something We May Never Know), Otmaro Ruiz (Bonita). On the remaining tracks, The Room and Mary O’Shaunessy, Cathy has with her pianist Karen Hammack and violinist Calabia Foti. Some of these songs are familiar but here sound fresh and engaging while the less well known songs include three of Cathy’s originals and one written with Gary Hoffman. There are also songs by Shelby Flint, Bevan Manson, and Samuel A. Ward and Kathryn Bates. The musical relationships explored here are those between singer and accompanist, although they are best described as collaborators. The importance and value of these collaborations is described by Cathy: “I really love the intimacy of performing as a duo, because it allows you to establish a deep musical dialogue.” This singer’s considerable talent allows her to explore and expose the underlying qualities of songs that reflect individuals lost to her in real life. She does this with grace, never descending into mawkishness. Instead there are many profound and moving moments to cherish. Cathy’s vocal sound is a warm contralto that brings added depths and maturity to performances that are of the highest quality. A wholly admirable set that will be admired by many.

For more information on Cathy Segal-Garcia as well as booking details, go to Mouthpiece Music.

Patrice Williamson+Jon Wheatley Comes Love (Riverlily 003)

Many musicians perform tributes to artists from an earlier generation but it needs talent and understanding to do it well, especially when the dedicatees are iconic figures. Fortunately, Patrice Williamson and Jon Wheatley are aware of the potential pitfalls in venturing into the special world of Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass and have taken considerable and loving care in developing this project. As a youngster, Patrice heard sacred and secular music at home, including records by Ella. While studying classical flute at the University of Tennessee she fell in with the jazz crowd and this brought back her early love for Ella’s singing.comes-love-cover She studied voice at New England Conservatory under jazz singer Dominique Eade, later joining the faculty at Berklee College of Music where her collaborator here, Jon, is also a faculty member. Patrice learned that experiences in her own life mirrored those of Ella who had once remarked: “I’ve had some wonderful love affairs and some that didn’t work out. I don’t want to dwell on that and I don’t want to put people down, but I think of all the fabulous places I’ve been, the wonderful things that have happened to me, the great people I’ve met – that ought to make a story.” Patrice and Jon have certainly made a story, and it is one that they tell through the lyrics of songs that include Comes Love; ’Tis Autumn, which ponders upon the maturing of a relationship; Take Love Easy, a cautionary tale for all who begin a love affair; Lush Life, a richly evocative story of a past affair. However familiar some songs might be, they are vividly re-imagined by Patrice, a fine singer with a creamily attractive voice, and Joe, a fluent guitarist with an unerring sense of swing. Patrice’s voice has a mature aural quality and an air of vibrancy. Added to this is her admirable interpretation of lyrics and the integrity she displays in always delivering a jazz performance. Perhaps Dominique Eade summed up her talent best when she said: “Patrice is a hard-swinging interpreter and a refreshingly accomplished jazz vocal improviser.” This very good album, released on the 100th anniversary of Ella’s birth, will appeal to all who love hearing good songs sung well.

For more information on Patrice Williamson as well as booking details, contact Braithwaite & Katz (Ann@bkmusicpr.com).

Buy now from Amazon.

Jazz CD reviews – early January 2017

January 16, 2017

Andrea Claburn Nightshade (own label)

On this, her debut album, Andrea Claburn sings an attractive selection of songs, some her own, others by notable composers mostly from the world of jazz. A trained and skillful musician, as a child Andrea studied piano and violin with the encouragement of her parents (her mother was a classical pianist), going on to study singing, composing and arranging. This culminated in her being awarded the California Jazz Conservatory’s Mark Murphy Vocal Scholarship. Five years later, in August 2015, she returned to the Conservatory to teach vocal technique, performance, and musicianship. Andrea’s sound is rich and warm, which is not only admirably suited to her interpretation of ballads but also brings depth and intensity to up-tempo songs.nightshade Importantly, Andrea’s treatment of the lyrics of the songs she sings shows understanding and empathy. Her own songs, words and music, are Lionheart, My Favorite Flavor, The Fall Of Man, Colors Of Light, and Steal Away. The others are Duke Ellingtons’s Echoes Of Harlem (with Andrea’s lyrics and retitled Infinite Wisdom), Bill Evans and Gene Lees’ Turn Out The Stars, Pat Metheny’s Bird On A Wire (Andrea’s lyrics), Turner Layton and Henry Creamer’s After You’ve Gone, Betty Carter’s I Can’t Help It, Mark Shelby’s Daybreak (Andrea’s lyrics), and Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s Skylark. Cushioning Andrea is the core trio of Matt Clark, piano and keyboards, Sam Bevan, bass, and Alan Hall, drums. Guests added on some tracks supplying support and soloing ably are percussionist John Santos, guitarist Terrence Brewer, trombonist Rob Ewing, trumpeter Erik Jekabsen, alto saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, tenor saxophonist Teddy Raven, violinist Mads Tolling, and cellist Joseph Hébert. A wholly admirable debut and it’s good to know that a new generation of singers is in good hands.

Ron Boustead Unlikely Valentine (Art-Rock Music)

Since the early 1980s, singer-songwriter Ron Boustead has been prominent on the Los Angeles jazz and contemporary music scene. An accomplished musician, Ron studied bass, piano and guitar but has concentrated on writing and singing. He has written lyrics to music composed by several jazz luminaries including Freddie Hubbard and Chick Corea. On Unlikely Valentine, Ron is joined by Bill Cunliffe and Mitchel Forman, who share the role of keyboard player (piano, Rhodes and Hammond B3), John Leftwich, bass, Pat Kelley, guitar, and Jake Reed, percussion. Also heard are instrumental guests Ron Stout, flugelhorn, Bob McChesney, trombone, and Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone and flute (the latter especially notable on Autumn Leaves). Vocally, Ron’s admiration of Mark Murphy is apparent in some of his work, in particular with his improvisational ability, and on some songs he builds his vocals in much the same way as a jazz instrumentalist performs. ron bouOn this album, apart from his own compositions, Ron has brought his lyric-writing skill to music by Pat Kelley, Til Now, Bill Cunliffe, Unlikely Valentine, and Bill Cantos, I Won’t Scat. There are also lesser-known songs by well-known composers: I Love My Wife, by Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart, Love Potion #9, by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Along Came Betty, by Benny Golson and Jon Hendricks. On one song, Til Now, Ron duets with vocalist Fabiana Passoni, whose delicate sound blends admirably with Ron’s edginess in a captivating duet. That toughness of Ron’s vocal sound brings depth and strength to this album and throughout he offers profound interpretations of the lyrics. Undoubtedly, this release places him in the front rank of male jazz singers around today.

For more on Andrea Claburn and Ron Boustead contact Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music.

These albums can be found at walk-in and on-line stores, including Amazon.

Jazz Journal’s Record of the Year Poll

Every year, around more than thirty contributors to Jazz Journal are invited to vote for ten favorite albums drawn from the 900+ reviewed in the magazine in the past twelve months, new releases and reissues being drawn upon at will. At the risk of sounding grumpy, I am not convinced that polls such as this are valid. Of course the opinions of the reviewers are interesting and informative and they often open ears to previously unheard artists, but the problem for me lies in the fact that every year there are reissues of outstanding material by the greatest names in jazz, among them albums that are cherished by collectors. How can I not vote for, say, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Seven; or Count Basie and Lester Young’s Classic Sessions; or Charlie Parker’s Savoy Masters? So, as can be seen in the January 2017 issue of Jazz Journal, I have risked incurring Editor Mark Gilbert’s wrath and have chosen not to vote for any of these and other masterpieces that were reissued in 2016. Here, in alphabetical order, is my list for JJ of the year’s top ten albums:

Cyrille Aimée Let’s Get Lost (Mack Avenue 1097)

Harry Allen The Candy Men (Arbord 19450)

Alan Barnes One For Moll (Woodville 144)

Ray Bryant Alone With The Blues (ooooo)

Don Byas New York – Paris (Frémeaux 5622)

Bob Cooper Four Classic Albums (Avid Jazz 1180)

Sinne Eeg Eeg Fonnesbæk (Stunt STUCD 15082)

Thad Jones-Mel Lewis All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Recordings At The Village Vanguard (Resonance 2023)

René Marie Sounds Of Red (Motéma 234231)

Sarah Vaughan Live At Rosy’s (Resonance 2017)

To see which albums attracted the votes of the other reviewers (from which emerged the Record of the Year), you can subscribe to the magazine via their website. The annual subscription for twelve issues including mailing will cost you no more than a cup of coffee a week – a whole lot less in some places – and is far more nourishing.

Jazz CD reviews – late October

October 25, 2016

Alyssa Allgood Out Of The Blue (Jeru Jazz JJR-5-CD)

Among the many new young vocalists who happily label themselves as ‘jazz singers’ are just a few who truly deserve the title. Unquestionably, Alyssa Allgood is one of these few. Based in Chicago, she has gained acclaim locally and has also attracted attention further afield while studying, then working with mentors including Jay Clayton and Madeline Eastman, and taking part in the 2015 Shure Montreaux Jazz Voice Competition.alyssa Alyssa’s love of jazz is immediately apparent from her choice of material, which includes Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, Hank Mobley’s Watch Me Walk Away (Dig Dis), Sam Rivers’ Beatrice, Joe Chambers Mirrors (all with lyrics by Alyssa), Only A Memory (Ceora) by Lee Morgan and Milton Suggs, Joe Henderson’s If, Horace Silver’s Peace, the Bobby Timmons-Jon Hendricks classic, Moanin’, as well as Noticing The Moment (Moment’s Notice) by John Coltrane, Peter Eldridge and Kim Nazarian. As the album title makes clear, the material and its originators are associated with the classic Blue Note label and that company’s ethos lies at the heart of Alyssa’s work. Indeed, all of the instrumentalists heard here are with the label today. These collaborators are saxophonist Chris Madsen, organist Dan Chase, guitarist Tim Fitzgerald, and drummer Matt Plaskota. All play with skill and the mutual empathy is apparent throughout, in ensemble, supporting the singer, as well as soloing with flair. The arrangements, by Alyssa and Dan, are crafted to allow ample space for inventive vocal and instrumental solos. Alyssa’s singing voice is light and true, she is rhythmically assured and has a clear understanding of the intentions of the originators of the music. As is apparent, most of this music began as instrumental pieces and in some instances Alyssa’s vocals follow the original solo lines. Vocalese is a difficult art, as is scat singing, but Alyssa displays her accomplishment in these areas. Not that these forms of jazz singing are overused; rather, they are blended into a wholly satisfying display of jazz singing. Contemporary in presentation, the blues are never far away; a comment that might also apply to Blue Note Records. Alyssa Allgood is a name to look out for and to remember.

Matthew Kaminski Live At Churchill Grounds (Chicken Coup CCP 7026)

Playing Hammond B3 organ, here Matthew Kaminski leads his quartet through a live date, recorded over two nights in Atlanta. Rounding out the quartet are Will Scruggs, tenor saxophone, Rod Harris Jr, guitar, and Chris Burroughs, drums, all of them playing with the spirit heard in Hammond-led groups of the past.kaminski Also featured here is vocalist Kimberly Gordon, who sings on If I Had You, I Love Being Here With You and So Danco Samba. Mixed in with the standards are pop songs, such as the Beach Boys’ Sail On Sailor, and jazz pieces, like Jimmy Smith’s Midnight Special, Duke Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me and It Shouldn’t Happen To A Dream, on both of which Kimberly sings, and Lou Donaldson’s Hot Dog. And then there’s the almost inevitable April In Paris, which started out as a popular song but gravitated into the world of the jazz organist by way of Wild Bill Davis (not forgetting Count Basie), here given a long workout by all five musicians. Throughout this album, the spotlight is mainly on Matthew and his solos are always interesting. So too are those by Will, playing with drive on the swingers and with sensitivity on ballads. A fine example of Rod’s playing comes on Jack McDuff’s A Real Goodun, which closes the album. A very entertaining occasion that swings from start to finish and leaves the listener wanting more. Speaking of which, this is Matthew’s third jazz release, the others being Swingin’ and Taking My Time. A footnote for those with a sporting inclination: Matthew has played organ for eight seasons at the home of the Atlanta Braves and has also released an album in this style.

Rebecca Dumaine Happy Madness (Summit DCD 687)

Singing with obvious delight in the material, here Rebecca Dumaine presents a selection that draws mainly upon the music of earlier times. Among the songs are standards but there a few from more recent times, all of them given a fresh outlook yet their treatment shows her respect.dumaine The songs include Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s Like Someone In Love, Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s The More I See You, Marvin Fisher’s Destination Moon, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer’s I’m Old Fashioned, Joe Bushkin and Joe Devries’s Nobody Else But Me and Cole Porter’s It’s All Right With Me, while the album takes its title from the song by Antonio Carlo Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes (with Gene Lees’ lyrics). Providing admirable support for Rebecca is the Dave Miller Trio, a longtime association. With Dave on piano are Perry Thoorsill, bass, and Bill Belasco, drums (Dave is Rebecca’s father). The trio is augmented on some tracks by guitarist Brad Beauthe and saxophonist Pete Cornell. Relaxed and happy music that is collectively a very pleasing set that will appeal to those who enjoy hearing good songs sung and played well by straightahead jazz performers who clearly admire this music. For details of an earlier album by Rebecca, The Consequence Of You, see my post in late-May 2015.

Joshua Breakstone 88 (Capri 74144-2)

Tributes paid by a jazz artist to others are by no means unusual, but this set from guitarist Joshua Breakstone takes an intriguing approach. One original by Joshua apart, the music heard here is written by jazz pianists and the fact that there is no pianist in the group means that an alternate view is taken of the music.joshua-88 Thus, aspects that might, perhaps, have been unobserved by the many fans of the composers concerned are revealed. Among the composer-pianists featured by Joshua are Cedar Walton, Black, Tadd Dameron, If You Could See Me Now, Lennie Tristano, Lennie’s Pennies, and Mal Waldron, Soul Eyes. Joshua’s collaborators here, collectively named The Cello Quartet, are cellist Mike Richmond, bassist Lisle Atkinson, and drummer Andy Watson. Although Joshua is the principal soloist, all make an important contribution and this is very much a collaborative venture. It is worth noting Joshua’s comment regarding the reason why he has chosen to perform pieces composed for (and at) the piano: “It’s merely the expression of one guitarist’s love and admiration for the instrument and those who happen to play the hell out of it and use it as a vehicle for composition.” Altogether, this a rewarding and entertaining album that will appeal to many.

Mili Bermejo & Dan Greenspan Arte del Duo (Ediciones Pentagrama APCD 707)

The music performed by this duo has an appealing freshness, which is, perhaps, surprising as singer Mili Bermejo and bassist Dan Greenspan have worked together for a quarter century.mili-bermejo Mili’s early years saw her move from Buenos Aires to Mexico City to Boston, where she has taught at Berklee College of Music since 1984; Dan started out in New Haven before moving to Boston where he became an in-demand session musician and more recently the couple have settled in New Hampshire. The music heard here ranges widely both stylistically and geographically with a handful of originals by Mili as well as songs by composers from Mexico, Armenia, Argentina, Uruguay and France. Melodically and rhythmically rich, this music is sung and played with emotional intensity and considerable technical expertise and will have widespread appeal.

Al Strong Love Strong Volume 1 (independent)

On his debut album, trumpeter Al Strong displays his technical skill and also his awareness of the paths taken by jazz in recent years. Although a relatively new name on the contemporary jazz scene, he plays with mature confidence.astrong Most of the music played here has been composed by Al and there is an emotional depth to the music, a quality not always present nowadays. There are also some well known themes, including Kenny Barron’s Voyage, Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favorite Things. Joining Al here are several musicians, some of whom also take solos, forming groups of different sizes. Among them are saxophonists Bluford Thompson and James ‘Saxmo’ Gates, keyboard players Ryan Hanseler and Lovell Bradford, and drummers Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons and Iahji Hampden. Contemporary jazz, played with sensitivity and always displaying an awareness of what has gone before.

Richard Sussman The Evolution Suite (Zoho ZM 201614)

sussmanA five-movement suite drawing upon pianist-composer Richard Sussman’s wide and eclectic interest in contemporary improvised and classical music. This album is reviewed elsewhere.

For more on Alyssa Allgood, Matthew Kaminski, and Rebecca Dumaine contact Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music; for Mili Bermejo & Dan Greenspan and Joshua Breakstone contact Braithwaite & Katz (Ann@bkmusicpr.com); and for Al Strong and Richard Sussman go to Jim Eigo’s Jazz Promo Services site.

Albums by these artists are available at the usual outlets, including Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – late July 2016

July 30, 2016

Anthony E. Nelson Jr Swift To Hear, Slow To Speak (Musicstand MSR 0005)

A fine instrumentalist and composer, Anthony E. Nelson is well established on the New York scene. On this album, his fourth as leader, Anthony plays soprano and tenor saxophones on a selection of his own compositions, all contemporary in style and execution and delightfully melodic. There are also hidden depths, deriving from an important and distinguishing aspect of his writing. In all that he does, Anthony is strongly influenced by his faith; indeed, each work is inspired by passages in the Bible.a e nelson Although this does not appear in an overt manner, in some of his compositions he holds up a reflective mirror to the gospel tradition. This form, which has appeared in jazz and other kindred musical genres over the years, is used by Anthony as a very subtle undercurrent beneath new styles and forms. Thus the music is of today and for today, yet contains within it profound statements for those who choose to hear them. Joining Anthony here are Josh Evans, trumpet, Bruce Williams, alto saxophone, Brandon McCune, piano, Kenny Davis, bass, and Chris Beck, drums. Among the tracks are Never Too Late, which draws upon the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-44), Blessed Are Those That Mourn, a moving piece, Consider It All Joy, which fully lives up to its title, and Swift To Hear, Slow To Speak. This is used appropriately as the album title because Anthony’s music continues to echo in the mind long after the first hearing.

Senri Oe Answer July (PND 88295 45908)

This interesting, entertaining and rewarding album presents a selection of compositions by Senri Oe, all of them melodically pleasing. There are various lyricists, some of them singing the songs themselves. Senri has performed in Japan for many years as a pop artist and has been active in jazz for a relatively short time.senri oe The songs heard here include Tiny Snow and Mischievous Mouse (lyrics: Jon Hendricks; vocal: Sheila Jordan), Just A Little Wine (lyrics: Hendricks; vocal: Theo Bleckmann), The Very Secret Spring (lyrics and vocal: Lauren Kinhan), Answer July (lyrics: and vocal: Becca Stevens), Without Any Moon Or Rain (lyrics: Kinhan, vocal: Kinhand and Dylan Pramuk). There is about this set a relaxed and intimate atmosphere that suggests these artists would be a joy to see and hear live in a nightclub. Unfortunately, I am sure that this much talent will be far beyond any club owner’s means. The core instrumental group consists of Senri Oe, piano, Yacine Boulares, saxophones, Jim Robertson, bass, Reggie Quinerly, drums, along with guests Paul Tafoya, trumpet, Olga Trofimova, trombone, and drummers Andy Watson and E.J. Strickland. Also heard are vocalists Travon Anderson and Junko Airta (on You And Me), both these last named also providing background vocals as do Mitch Wilson and The New School Singers. Very enjoyable music played and sung with skill and subtle flair.

Ricardo Bacelar Concerto Para Moviola/Ao Vivo (Bacelar AA 0001000)

The music heard here was recorded by Ricardo Bacelar live at the 2015 Guaramiranga Jazz and Blues Festival. The repertoire is drawn from the jazz world, Horace Silver’s Señor Blues, Joe Zawinul’s Birdland, Benny Golson’s Killer Joe, and Chick Corea’s Blue Miles; Brasiliana, Chico Buarque and Tom Jobim’ s Sabiá, and Jobim’s and Vinicius De Moraes’s Água De Beber, some pop material, Michel Legrand’s The Windmills Of Your Mind, as well as some of Ricardo’s originals.ricardo bacelar All is performed with warmth and intensity by a strong yet smooth group of musicians. On this occasion, Ricardo plays piano and keyboards and he is joined by Marcio Resende, soprano and tenor saxophones and flute, Marcus Vinicius Cardoso, violin, Ronaldo Pessoa, guitar, Miquéias Dos Santos, bass, Luizinho Duarte, drums, and Maria Helena Lage Pessoa and Hoto Júnior, percussion.

Rebekah Victoria & JazzKwest #OldFashionedTwitterTwit (Kwest Music)

It comes as a pleasant surprise to hear Rebekah Victoria & JazzKwest because not all, in fact not many, musicians today focus their repertoire on the Great American Songbook. Although this is a debut album, all on hand are experienced and have played professionally for many years, mainly in California. r victoriaThe fact that they have been together for a while now is apparent from their rapport throughout this set. Among the songs performed are Taking A Chance On Love, Our Day Will Come, Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, All The Things You Are, Speak Low and We’ll Be Together Again. Rebekah’s voice is clear, and her love for and understanding of the lyrics she sings is always evident. Accompanying Rebekah is the core trio of Chuck Mancini, guitar, Bob Steele, bass, and Bob Belanski, drums, and several guests also appear. These are John Copobianco and Warren Gale Jr, trumpets, Jules Rowell, trombone, Ian Willson, tenor saxophone, Sharman Duran, piano Rob Michael, guitar and Rob Fisher, bass. Although the singer is in the spotlight throughout there is never a suggestion that the instrumentalists are there only as a backing group, rather there is a sense of unity that bespeaks a working band. The title of one of the tracks, I’m Old Fashioned, allied with the repertoire should not lead anyone to imagine that Rebekah and JazzKwest are anything but artists of today.

Brazzamerica Brazzamerica (own label)

The trio of musicians who form Brazzamerica are pianist Didinho Teixeira, bass player Leco Reis and drummer Edson Ferreira, all originally from Brazil but long established in New York City. Together, they present a selection of music that includes Brazilian standards and originals by Didinho. brazzamAll the music is rhythmically rich and melodically satisfying and leans strongly toward the American jazz world in which these three musicians now work. Individually, Didinho, Leco and Edson are masters of their craft and inventive solos abound. Collectively, they play with complete understanding of the contrasting yet compatible genres and the set is replete with musical subtlety and invention.

Ron King Triumph (own label)

Very much a showcase for the playing and composing talent of Ron King, this album is a relaxed and pleasing experience. Playing trumpet and flugelhorn, with occasional turns on keyboards, Ron presents an eclectic mixture of music from several genres.ron king There are Latin touches, contemporary pop styling, even moments that impart a suggestion of classical music, and much that displays Ron’s delight in playing jazz. Among the other musicians joining the leader here are saxophonists Rob Lockhart and Bob Sheppard, pianists Andy Langham, Tom Ranier and Jeff Lorber, drummer Gary Novak and vocalist Vienna Spencer. Throughout, these artists play with sophisticated skill and the album will appeal to many.

More on Anthony E. Nelson Jr can be found at Mouthpiece Music. For all the other artists go to Jim Eigo’s Jazz Promo Services site and the albums are available at all usual outlets, including Amazon.

 

What is a ‘jazz singer’ ?

June 30, 2016

Easy to forget, but not many years ago the term ‛jazz singer’ meant something very different from what it means today. Back then, such artists were admired by few, derided or dismissed by many. Many of these nay-sayers were not members of the general public (who were not the least bit interested), but people in or closely connected to the jazz world: instrumentalists, journalists, promoters, fans. Even some songwriters expressed outrage at the way jazz singers sang their songs. Yes; even the insiders didn’t like singers and what’s more, they didn’t care who knew it. A look at some of the early books on the history of jazz will quickly demonstrate that this is no exaggeration. Chapter upon chapter about instrumentalists, only a few paragraphs on singers.

As any singer will tell you there are still people in today’s jazz world who cling to those outdated (and unfair and unreasonable) ideas, but overall things are very different. Jazz singers of today can be numbered, quite literally, in thousands.Jazz singer-stretched Among the reasons for today’s picture is a matter of terminology. Quite simply, the definition of the term ‛jazz singer’ has been radically altered. In the past, the term’s definition was so narrow it is hard to stretch a list of those who fit the bill into double figures. During the past few years the term ‛jazz singer’ has been sanitized and artists so labelled have become admired, lauded even, and can sell millions of records. Among the results of this is that while artists of the past might have shied away from being labelled as a jazz singer, today many eager wannabes adopt the label regardless of their qualifications.

Looking behind the label, what is the reality? I suspect that if those few accepted jazz singers from long ago were brought back, the chances are they would not recognize many of these new singers as kindred artists and those newcomers they did recognize would be counted in similarly small numbers to those of far-off days. What they would recognize, those past mistresses of jazz song (then, as now, women greatly outnumber men), is that they themselves were seriously influential on the careers of the newcomers either directly or channeled through singers of the in-between generations.

tina mayellen j cdRene-Marie-CD2-150x150It is not at all surprising that the term ‛jazz singer’ means something different today. After all, the same can be said of jazz itself. During the second half of its 100-year history the word jazz has stretched to cover an enormous range, one so wide that surely no one can like everything. Consider that range for a moment: Early jazz with its primitive style and technique yet shot through with the flawless musical jewels heard on the first records made by Louis Armstrong that remain as vivid today as they were ninety years ago; the swing era, when jazz first became commercial; the revolution of bebop; and then there is west coast cool, hard bop, mainstream, jazz-rock and other fusions, all the way through to today’s cutting edge improvised music. And then there are those many wonderful side turnings into the realms of gospel and soul and r&b. As for the blues, well that’s more than merely a side turning, it’s a highway. And in all of these roots and branches of jazz there have been and still are singers who are as stylistically different from one another as are the instrumentalists. Significantly though, many of today’s singers have succeeded in doing something achieved by only a handful of jazz musicians (singers and instrumentalists) of the past. They are commercial. And just as commercial success during the swing era was frowned upon by purists, popularity today is viewed with suspicion if not downright hostility. It shouldn’t be this way. Popularity might not be a condition of quality but the two are not mutually exclusive. To steal a comment from Duke Ellington: “There are two kinds of music. Good and bad.”

These thoughts started with a question: What is a jazz singer? If that is what drew you in then it might irritate you if this piece ends without attempting an answer. That said, as should be clear by now, there will not be a categorical answer. Readers of the two books written many years ago by myself and Mike Pinfold are unlikely to have learned a hard and fast definition. In one of these books, The Jazz Singers: from Ragtime to the New Wave (1986), we sought to recount the history of the form, while in the other, Singing Jazz: the Singers and Their Styles (1997), we looked at the subject through the lives and careers and words of several singers. Definitions were not an objective, but reading them might cast a little light and maybe open a few doors. Although long out of print, second-hand copies can be found in dusty corners of cyberspace, while the most recent of these titles can now be bought as a Kindle e-book.singing jazz 1

Through the vast resource of the Internet it is possible to see and hear musicians perform and get to know them through interviews or simply read the thoughts and opinions of others. Among many on-line sources, two excellent sites that have much to offer on jazz singers are those of Marc Meyers and Anton Garcia Fernandez. Marc writes for The Wall Street Journal and his countless interviews and essays can be seen on his JazzWax. Anton teaches Spanish at the University of Tennessee in Martin and his musical interests are pursued on two sites: Vintage Bandstand and Jazz Flashes. Both of these writers deal extensively and knowledgeably with singers and it is possible to learn a lot from their work.

But will you learn what it is that makes a jazz singer? Perhaps an answer is impossible. Enough of this prevarication. For me, a jazz singer is one who can improvise upon yet remain respectful of a composer’s conception, can reach into the heart of a lyricist’s message and convey this to a listener, can perform with rhythmical assurance, sings in tune, sings a song with honesty and integrity, who brings originality to the music, and, perhaps, leaves something of themselves therein. Any singer who does all (or most) of these things might well earn a place alongside those few unquestioned jazz singers of the past.

ddr-jazzstandardclaire martinIf you want to hear singers like this, where might you start? Well, here are a few names to start you off, but these are offered with some trepidation because five minutes after this list is done and up for all to see, other names will be remembered. Also, in listing jazz singers of today who sit comfortably in my reckoning with those giants of the past I am guilty of omitting a few of earlier generations still working admirably today. So, with these caveats in mind here they are, among them some reviewed either in Jazz Journal or elsewhere on this site. Listening to their work will delight and enlighten you: Tony Adamo, Karrin Allyson, April Barrows, Theo Bleckmann, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Leanne Carroll, Dena DeRose, Madeleine Eastman, Sinne Eeg, Connie Evingson, Roberta Gambarini, Allan Harris, Ellen Johnson, Nancy Kelly, Stacey Kent, Chris McNulty, Kitty Margolis, René Marie, Claire Martin, Tina May, Catherine Russell, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Ian Shaw, Daryl Sherman, Judi Silvano, Carol Sloane, Clare Teal, Roseanne Vitro, Cassandra Wilson.

Albums by all of these artists can be found at Amazon.

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