Marlene VerPlanck

January 21, 2018

Marlene VerPlanck

An exceptionally gifted singer, Marlene VerPlanck died on Sunday, 14 January 2018. Comfortable in almost any setting, Marlene was a superb interpreter of the great standards and she also happily integrated with jazz musicians, performing live and on record with small groups and big bands. She was born Marlene Pampinella on 11 November 1933 in Newark, New Jersey. Starting to sing at the end of her teens, during the 1950s she worked with the big bands of Tex Beneke, Charlie Spivak and Tommy Dorsey. Also on these last two bands was trombonist-arranger J. ‘Billy’ VerPlanck (1930-2009) and they soon married. Settling in the New York area, they worked as studio musicians during the 1960s and 1970s, Marlene singing on hundreds of commercials and also as a studio back-up singer for many artists (including Frank Sinatra). She also sang in jazz clubs and began recording as a solo artist, with her husband as arranger. From the 1980s onward, Marlene toured internationally as a solo artist, gaining a wide following, and she also recorded extensively, mostly for Audiophile Records. The first of her albums I heard – and reviewed for Jazz Journal – was entitled Pure and Natural, a phrase that aptly defined Marlene’s vocal sound. Not long after that first hearing, I met and interviewed Marlene and Billy – also for JJ – and a lasting friendship was formed. Among musicians with whom she recorded are Loonis McGlohon, Harry Allen, Warren Vaché Jnr, Tedd Firth and John Pearce and she also worked with Glenn Francke’s Big Band in the USA, the French band, Saxomania, and the UK’s Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra. Most unusually, her voice never appeared to age, and on her last engagements in 2017 (which included her 27th UK tour) her sound remained as clear and as true as always. Marlene’s interpretation of lyrics was profound and while her ballad singing was her greatest achievement, she also sang mid- and up-tempo songs with rhythmic flair. In an email in December 2017, she said how much she was looking forward to her upcoming tour of the UK but she succumbed to pancreatic cancer.

Jazz CD Reviews – early February 2016

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.MVP 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 stanley 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.pedersen 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:-

Vintage BandstandJazz FlashesJazz Wax

And Amazon is the place to go for these albums.

Marlene VerPlanck – Ballads . . mostly

May 18, 2013

The world of popular music is increasingly imperfect. Audiences tolerate (if indeed they are aware of) singers who cannot sing in tune but whose performances are subject to technical ‘adjustment’. Songs have lyrics that, if it is possible to hear them, have little or no meaning. Occasionally, a latterday singer will choose to sing songs from bygone days but in doing so prove that they understand neither the lyrics nor the essence of the period in which the songs were created. Well now, I am sure that you don’t need me to tell you any of this; it is, after all, a situation that has existed for several years now. But there is a reason for these opening remarks – okay, so maybe it’s become a rant – that might be summarized thus:

What we get in popular music today is seldom what we might expect from the packaging.

This is one of the reasons why a new album from Marlene VerPlanck is something to celebrate. All of us who love popular song know by now that when such an album appears our eager anticipation is always satisfied. Everything is as close to perfection as can happen. The choice of songs is always thoughtful – some are familiar, yet not overworked by other singers, others are not heard as often as they deserve, and there are occasional new songs that fit perfectly with their better-known companions. Then there are the arrangements, most often by Billy VerPlanck, Marlene’s husband for so many years, whose death in 2009 left a hole in music and in life that is impossible to fill. When it comes to accompaniment, Marlene always chooses to work with front-rank instrumentalists, finding rhythm sections well versed in those special skills that cushion and carry a singer, alongside soloists who can add special luster to a song without overpowering the vocal line. And then there is the voice. Astonishingly, given the number of years she has performed, Marlene still retains the gorgeously fluid crystal-clear sound that has always been a distinctive hallmark of her timeless work.


For this, her 22nd album, Marlene’s choice of songs was sparked by the discovery of several arrangements made by Billy but forgotten about. These were compositions by Cy Coleman and there are eight of them here, including Witchcraft, You Fascinate Me So, The Rules Of The Road, and I Walk A Little Faster. Five of the Coleman songs have lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, one by Dorothy Fields and two by Joseph A McCarthy. There are four songs composed by Harry Warren, I Wish I Knew, My Dream Is Yours, I Only Have Eyes For You, and There Will Never Be Another You. Two of these were written with lyricist Mack Gordon and one each with Ralph Blaine and Al Dubin. There is also a lovely original, composed by Billy VerPlanck with lyrics by Leon Nock; their collaborations came late in Billy’s life and other examples have enhanced previous albums by Marlene.

Two separate rhythm sections are heard here; one has pianist Tedd Firth, double-bassist Boots Maleson, and drummer Ron Vincent; the other is led by pianist Mike Renzi, with double-bassist Jay Leonhart, while Ron Vincent is again the drummer. On some tracks interweaving with singer and rhythm section are two distinguished guest soloists: trumpeter Claudio Roditi and tenor saxophonist Houston Person.

All the tracks on Ballads . . mostly are gems and any can be considered in assessing the album’s superiority. For example, It Amazes Me is one of the Coleman-Leigh songs; written way back in the 1950s, the song has not attracted many recording artists although listening to Marlene’s delightful interpretation this is hard to understand when, accompanied by the trio of Renzi, Leonhart and Vincent, she explores its melodic and lyrical charm. Another song by the same composing duo is Witchcraft; this song, which dates from the same decade has found many admirers, with perhaps three dozen recordings. Despite this, Marlene brings a fresh touch for which the same rhythm section is on hand, this time joined by Claudio Roditi whose trumpet playing (usually muted on this date) provides an elegant backdrop with deft solo touches. On I Wish I Knew, one of the Harry Warren-Mack Gordon songs, Marlene is backed by the Firth, Maleson, Vincent trio, who are joined here by Houston Person. The tenor saxophonist adds his trademark earthy tones to the songs on which he solos. The closing track on the album is the VerPlanck-Nock original, Why Was I Thinking Of Springtime. This song, with its pleasing melody and meaningful lyric, provides a fitting curtain to this exceptional album.

All who are familiar with Marlene VerPlanck’s work will need no urging to rush to buy this album and, as I remarked earlier, all expectations will be fully met. Anyone who is unfamiliar with this singer has a real treat in store.

Flick back to my Jazz CDs reviews in mid-July 2012, which includes Marlene’s One Dream At A Time.

Marlene-VerPlanck cd

Reviews of many other albums by this exceptional singer have appeared over the years in Jazz Journal.

To buy any of these albums, try good walk-in stores or go online – Amazon

Jazz CDs reviewed – mid-July 2012

July 17, 2012

Claire Martin Too Much In Love To Care (Linn AKD 390)

As Claire Martin’s many fans will know, on her recording sessions this exceptional singer usually steers clear of the Great American Songbook. This is not because she dislikes these songs; far from it, in fact and she sings them often, as those fortunate enough to hear her live will know. Here, Claire devotes a complete album to this kind of music and it is an absolute delight. It will come as no surprise to the aforementioned fans that Claire’s treatment is extraordinary; her burnished sound is allied here to an exquisitely tasteful touch in her interpretations. If all this were not enough, Claire is accompanied here by Kenny Barron, Peter Washington and Kenny Washington together with Steve Wilson all of whom play with their customary flair and grace.  Claire-Martin CDLast year, Claire teamed up with classical composer Richard Rodney Bennett in a thoroughly enjoyable set of songs composed by Cy Coleman. On Witchcraft (Linn AKD 359) the duo demonstrate some of the artful explorations into many aspects of popular song they have performed together for several years in London and New York (and beyond). This set is a vivid demonstration of how skilled musicians from whatever field can work together with superb results when hearts and minds are in the right place. Not a weak moment on this CD, which seems likely to be a joy forever.


Ian Shaw Drawn To All Things (Linn AKD 276)

Always seeking a different approach, Ian Shaw has chosen his material for this set from the work of an artist not usually associated with jazz. The subtitle, The Songs Of Joni Mitchell, tells us who that is and Ian’s admiration for this artist is vividly apparent in his fluent exploration of the singer-songwriter’s exceptional talent. Immensely enjoyable, this set contains many moments of sublime singing and it is clear with every song that this is a major singer at the very top of his game. Ian Shaw’s many fans will need no urging to buy this CD; if you are unfamiliar with his work or have yet to pay him the attention he deserves, will find this a delightful way to rectify this omission.  Ian-Shaw cdIf you happened to miss it, his earlier Soho Stories (Milestone MCD 9316 2) is another admirable and engagingly varied selection of songs recorded in New York City with Ian backed by seriously talented jazzmen, including Eric Alexander, Lew Soloff and Cedar Walton. Everywhere on these wholly admirable CDs the reason why Ian garners much acclaim from fans and fellow musicians is immediately apparent: Class tells.


Carol Sloane We’ll Meet Again (Arbors ARCD 19400)

On this 2009 release, Carol Sloane is joined by tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Peplowski, the pair being backed with great empathy by Bucky Piazzarelli and Steve LaSpina. The song selection draws upon familiar yet by no means overused items from Carol’s lovely repertoire. The quality of singing and instrumental playing is so high that it would be easy to fall into superlatives. And why not? After all, Carol Sloane is one of the very finest singers of the Great American Song Book active today and we should be grateful for sharing the same time and space. Of all the many jazz singers performing today, very few have the enormous talent that Carol displays in everything that she does. Anything that bears her name is an assurance of jazz singing at its very best. She is, in a word, superb.  Carol-Sloane cdA 2007 release, Dearest Duke (Arbors ARCD 19350), is dedicated, of course, to Duke Ellington. Here, Carol’s partner is again Ken Peplowski. this time with Brad Hatfield. As is her clear preference, Carol has selected ballads, but there are a few tracks with the languid bounce that marked so many of Ellington’s compositions. Everything is performed with stylish elegance; the instrumental solos, the accompaniment, and Carol’s impeccable singing.


Marlene VerPlanck One Dream At A Time (Audiophile ACD 340)

Never less than very good indeed, Marlene VerPlanck’s albums are often breathtakingly excellent. Released early in 2011, One Dream At A Time is typical in that Marlene has selected her songs with admirable care, interspersing standards with overlooked gems from the past and original material presented here for the first time. Marlene’s accompanists include Tedd Firth and Steve LaSpina, Tomoko Ohno and Ed Vodicka. As for Marlene’s singing, her flawless sound, a bell-like freshness that has always marked her work, suggests a miracle.  Marlene-VerPlanck cdIndeed, a newcomer to Marlene VerPlanck’s work might well expect her to be a new kid on the block. The difference, though, lies in the assured maturity of her interpretations, which are as close to perfection as it gets. A little while ago, Marlene released Once There Was A Moon (Audiophile ACD 338) on which she was also accompanied by Tedd and Steve, this time with Richard DeRosa. Also present are the imaginative treatments Marlene’s late husband, Billy VerPlanck, brought to his concepts for the songs. And, as always, these songs are exceptionally well-chosen, if seldom-heard gems from some of the finest composers of American popular music.


Carol Kidd & Nigel Clark Tell Me Once Again (Linn AKD 377)

There has been a long enforced gap since Carol Kidd’s last recording and during that time her vocal sound has taken on a subtle maturity that sits very well indeed with her ability to reach the heart and soul of any song she sings. Her recent welcome return to the music scene has also brought another change; now, she works in duo with the fine guitarist, Nigel Clark. As Carol’s many fans will recall, during her concerts in the past she always offered a few moments when she sang with only guitar accompaniment and the delight this brought to audiences has now been built upon with enormous success. Carol’s repertoire here, as always, presents a comfortable mix of mainly standards with a few items of the best of contemporary pop. There is also an original, composed by Nigel to Carol’s lyric, Tell Me Once Again, and very good it is too. Carol’s lovely vocal sound has never been better and is superbly showcased by Nigel’s fluent guitar.

Carol-Kidd cd



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