Deborah Harry: Stormy Weather / Ill Wind

In the mid-1990s, Debbie Harry picked up The Jazz Passengers for two CDs, and in 2002 gave them another lift for this track on a Harold Arlen tribute album. She didn't, however, quit her day jobs, still touring (in her early 60s) as Blondie's lead singer, pursuing a solo career and continuing HIV/AIDS activism. In contrast to other rockers (e.g., Rod Stewart), whose jazz detours have been discreetly middle-of-the-road, Harry's trips with The Jazz Passengers are edgy and adventurous, demanding exceptional concentration and serious vocal technique. Purists may call this medley a melee, but we think Debbie Harry has a heart of class.

January 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nancy Kelly: Stormy Weather

Who knew? "Stormy Weather" in Buffalo! Resisting the temptation to deconstruct and recompose a 64- year-old standard, Nancy Kelly meets it on its own terms. Admittedly, such plantation-era lines as "can’t get my poor self together" and "my man and I ain’t together"—already antiquated when introduced at the Cotton Club in 1933—pose a special challenge for a modern-day white woman. But Kelly's extra touches, such as a bluesy "gloom and misery everywhere," the quietly emphatic redundancy of "myself, my poor self," or bouncy "Baby, don't you know I can’t go on," legitimize an utterly convincing performance. Lake- effective platinum-blonde soul.

January 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Woody Shaw: Stormy Weather

Such eminent balladeers as Lester Young, Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon always looked to a song's lyrics as key to its interpretation. But Woody Shaw (formerly Dexter's sideman) is content to ignore the words and savor the tune. It's hard to fault his approach. Shaw's straight-ahead, medium-tempo "Stormy Weather" pairs his angelic open trumpet with Steve Turre's down-&-dirty plunger-muted trombone, the two complementing each other as naturally as saint and sinner, yin and yang, Ben & Gerry. (Why, Ben Webster and Gerry Mulligan, of course. Who did you think we meant?) His life was beclouded by stormy weather, but—Lord willing—Woody Shaw now strolls in the sun.

January 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Etta James: Stormy Weather

Hearing Etta James belt it, you wonder whether such grandes dames as Ethel Waters and Lena Horne could truly convey the essence of "Stormy Weather." Backed by strings and 1950s-style rock 'n' roll piano triplets, Etta cuts to the quick. From start to finish, her gutsy, rafter-rattling down-home voice grabs us, shakes us and won't let go. Like Bessie Smith, Etta doesn't so much sing as preach to us. And nobody leaves her sermons as a nonbeliever. Oh, some old-time front-parlor backsliding gents may prefer more compliant women. But, assuming such ladies still exist, where's the fun in that?

January 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather

No other Jazz Age singer rivaled her versatility. Combining the tony diction of London's posh Mayfair salons (although she actually grew up in Philadelphia poverty) with gospel sincerity and an ever-lurking earthy inflection, Ethel Waters exercised an unmatched artistic range. With the savvy dramaturgy of a seasoned stage actress, Miss Waters didn't simply sing a song, she enacted a minidrama replete with theatrical flourishes. Here, as she concludes, we want to rush the stage crying "Brava!" and strew bouquets at her feet. In 2003, when the Grammy folks enshrined this track in their Hall of Fame, they got it right.

November 24, 2007 · 1 comment

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Charles Mingus: Stormy Weather (1954)

Until the late 1940s, John LaPorta coulda been a contender. That's when he hooked up with Lennie Tristano. Talk about a one-way ticket to Palookaville! In 1954, LaPorta emerged from Tristano's training camp to spar with heavyweight Charles Mingus, then championing jazz Abstract Expressionism. LaPorta's modernistic arrangement of "Stormy Weather," featuring Thad Jones with eerie reverb and a lugubrious cello, undermines our expectations, using bitonality to create an illusion of suspended gravitation. This scheme, particularly applied to a familiar standard instead of an original composition, demonstrates how experimental New York jazzmen were half a decade before Ornette Coleman blew into town. Incidentally, the album title's "Jazzical" connoted jazz + classical two years before Gunther Schuller coined the artier Third Stream.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Billie Holiday: Stormy Weather

Possessing neither the theatricality of Ethel Waters nor the stateliness of Lena Horne, Billie Holiday eschews "Stormy Weather" as a torch song, and instead makes it a saloon song. You might fear that Billie's quarter-to-three, no-one-in-the-place-except-you-and-me barstool confidential would detract from the lyrics; with such a distinctive artist, a mere song risks becoming more about her than about its intended subject. Think again. Nobody ever served "Stormy Weather" better than Lady Day, who affords a whole new appreciation of Ted Koehler's words. Songs are a form of storytelling. And jazz never had a wiser, more believable storyteller than Billie Holiday.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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André Previn: Stormy Weather

Sometimes to see something clearly, you have to momentarily look away. We tested this once while practicing our Zen archery, and frankly the results were not altogether satisfactory. Our neighbor still bears a grudge about his plate-glass window. André Previn's "Stormy Weather," though, suggests the principle may be true. Moonlighting from his day job as an MGM staff composer, Previn doesn't so much reinterpret the song as recompose it à la Gershwin's Prelude No. 2 (1926), with echoes of Negro spirituals. Far from demeaning "Stormy Weather," this momentary distraction refreshes our insight into Harold Arlen's venerable song. A blindfolded bull's-eye.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: Stormy Weather

Erroll Garner didn't invent octave tremolos in jazz—fellow Pittsburgher Earl Hines gets credit for that. But Garner came up with an instantly recognizable application for them as part of his uniquely rippling style, sounding for all the world as though playing the piano underwater. Garner could execute these tremolos tirelessly at any tempo. But since, notwithstanding his irrepressible wit, Erroll was at heart a romantic, his tremolos were most gallantly tremulous in ballads. While his "Stormy Weather" isn't immaculate, Garner's art was more about setting the right mood than getting every note right. Here his mood is right as rain.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Golden Gate Quartet: Stormy Weather

Of the 1930s male vocal groups who sang Negro spirituals in a jazzy style called Jubilee, the most successful was Virginia's Golden Gate Quartet. Expanding their traditional repertoire, the GGC here universalizes the plight of a lovesick woman ("Since my man and I ain’t together") by cleverly changing five words: "Can't get my poor self together." Listeners may be reminded of the contemporaneous Mills Brothers—especially by the vocally imitated wah-wah "trumpet" solo—but the GGC spent more time in church than at the barbershop. If you doubt that gospel + jazz = doo-wop, check out this track.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lena Horne: Stormy Weather

Eight days after Pearl Harbor, the breathtaking Lena Horne correctly forecasts long-term war clouds. The following year, in Hollywood's Stormy Weather (1943), an all-black musical biopic of dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Horne co-starred and reprised the title song. Lip-synching at her apartment window opposite an El Train station, Lena misses her man so much she's oblivious to a virtual hurricane battering Harlem. The role made her a star, and "Stormy Weather" became her signature. Here, Ned Freeman's Harlem- Meets-Hollywood arrangement is a washout, discordantly mixing Ellington-style jungle growls with Vine Street violins. Still, Lena's star shines undimmed through the clouds.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments

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