Clare Fischer: This is Always

“This is Always” is a gem of a song, one of those ‘unknown standards’ by Harry Warren that gets played and recorded every once in a great while. Fischer’s version is unforgettable, primarily because Fischer is a master of orchestral color and of alternate harmony. Jimmy Zito plays the melody with the organ taking over, and the band changes key as the organ continues. The last section of the song as written for the full band is one of those four-bar phrases that could only have been written by Fischer; dramatic, full-textured, harmonically fascinating and beautiful to hear. In fact, I admit I have heard this short track hundreds of times and always finding something new to appreciate. Such is the art of Clare Fischer.

May 20, 2009 · 0 comments


Susannah McCorkle: Chattanooga Choo-Choo

Recorded to fill out the U.S. release of a Harry Warren collection, Susannah McCorkle’s version of the chestnut “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” strips away the familiar Glenn Miller arrangement and places it in the realm of boogie woogie. Keith Ingham, who was Susannah’s husband and musical director, is the sole accompanist here, and he uses his fine sense of jazz history to integrate the two styles. After an intro that seems inspired by the Clifford Brown/Max Roach version of “Take The 'A' Train,” Ingham goes into a boogie background as Susannah glides in with a slightly adapted version of the lyric. Susannah’s interpretive gifts grew as she matured, but even at this early stage of her career, she was able to float lines above the beat. At the end of the first chorus, Ingham effortlessly segues into Meade “Lux” Lewis’s “Honky Tonk Train” and because of the boogie pattern he played earlier, there is no jolt as he changes from a pop song to the blues and back again. Susannah’s final chorus includes some of the same interpretive figures she had used earlier, but the coda is very effective with Susannah singing the “whoo-whoo” as a train whistle and Ingham continuing the boogie figure as the track fades out.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy: I Only Have Eyes For You

Trumpeter Lester Bowie's love for '50s pop found an outlet in his Brass Fantasy, a nonet consisting of four trumpets, two trombones, a French horn, tuba and drums. The music the group made for ECM in the '80s was, in general, good-humored without being jokey, reasonably demanding without being pedantic. "I Only Have Eyes For You" was written for the 1934 Hollywood film Dames and sung by the then-famous screen couple, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell. Bowie's arrangement draws on the 1959 version by The Flamingos—easily the best known, thanks to its inclusion on the soundtrack of George Lucas's 1973 film, American Graffiti. The notoriously wacky Bowie is respectful in his treatment, his arrangement following the general outline of The Flamingos' version with only the faintest hint of tongue in cheek. Indeed, the performance is straightforward to the point of being a bit dull, with only Bowie's pliable improvising being of much interest. The music is adequately performed—you'd expect nothing less from a group that includes the likes of Steve Turre, Bob Stewart and the leader—but it lacks anything resembling a spark. Brass Fantasy could (and did) do better elsewhere.

March 01, 2009 · 0 comments


David Berger Octet: Jeepers Creepers

I can't remember the last time I heard such a dance-able big band chart. David Berger's version of "Jeepers Creepers" will get everyone out on the dance floor. But your Charleston skills will be seriously challenged when Harry Allen and Joe Temperley get into their sax battle. These two soloists fly over the changes, but never lose the swing. This piece perfectly captures the jazz ethos of the glory days. I wish my late father, who won many dance contests back in the Swing Era (only to have his disapproving mother throw away the trophies), were still around so I could play this for him. Heck, even grandma might have started snapping her fingers to this track.

July 17, 2008 · 1 comment


Frank Sinatra: September in the Rain

One of the best things the jazz community ever did was to claim Sinatra as one of its own. We should be doing more of that these days – claiming credit for music and musicians in other popular genres because their art emanated from the constructs of the jazz world. If we did more of that there wouldn't be all of these alarmist idiots running around claiming jazz was dead.

Actually, a good way to really try to kill jazz, or any music, is to try and explain it in any concrete detail. Sinatra's voice, his timing and his phrasing have all been analyzed to death. Musicians need more than these skills to become great. We should not overlook the fact that at every turn of the road, Sinatra was either surrounded by or surrounded himself with the greatest talent available. That is a very jazz-like thing to do. Tommy Dorsey, Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Martin, Fitzgerald and many other collaborators were music giants in their own right. But the confident Sinatra was not one to be intimidated by great musical talent in others. He embraced it. It helped him grow into the consummate performer. This was not playing it safe. It was taking risks. In the end, all jazz is about risk taking.

"September in the Rain" was apparently rarely performed by Sinatra in concert. If it had been, it would have undoubtedly reached the status of some of his more famous tunes. Its fond wistfulness is the perfect vehicle for master storyteller Sinatra. The balladeer tells us another tale of found love. It is not clear whether he lost this love as he would in the "Summer Wind." But there is no doubt that he will love the next September in the rain just as much, regardless of what happened.

Even the most beautiful of songs need the best interpreters to make them truly come to life. Nelson Riddle fits that bill. And when it comes to singing the words with meaning, no one has been better than Sinatra. He may have had some dubious connections in his real life. But I never once question whether Sinatra is telling the truth in his songs. I believe every word he says. That is the true testament of his transcendent artistry.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Dianne Reeves: Lullaby of Broadway

Singers usually approach this song somewhere between a lullaby and a belting Broadway show tune, but more towards the latter. This Romero Lubambo arrangement has probably resulted in more than one singer saying "why didn't I think of that?" Reeves begins with rich-toned wordless chanting, backed only by Lubambo's acoustic guitar. Reeves then starts singing the lyrics with a vocal inflection, reverence and deliberate pace that recall Harry Belafonte's "Jamaica Farewell," as the piece takes on the flavor of a subdued calypso. The sustained purity of Reeves' voice is simply ravishing throughout. Martin contributes a melodic solo, and Rogers and Hutchinson deliver tasteful and sensitive support. After a series of overproduced and/or largely unfocused recordings by her, this CD was a breath of fresh air – the outstanding Reeves singing just standards with a small, sympathetic group. This track stands out for the cleverness of its arrangement.

March 11, 2008 · 0 comments


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