Sunday, May 28, 2017

A "Voyage" with Stan Getz

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


With so much of the late, great tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s recorded music available, it is understandable that his 1986 recording Voyage on the Blackhawk Records label [BKH 51101-1-D] has gone largely unrecognized.

But while this oversight is comprehensible, it is unacceptable, at least from my perspective, as I consider it to be one of the best recordings that Stan ever made.

Mercifully, it is still available both as a CD and on vinyl so if you haven’t added it to your Getz collection, you should give serious consideration to doing so.

A subsidiary of Aspen Records based in San Francisco, CA, Blackhawk Records issued a number of superb recordings by Phil Woods, Jessica Williams, Kenny Barron, the Elvin Jones - McCoy Tyner Quintet, Steve Kuhn the Gil Evans Orchestra, Sonny Stitt with the Hank Jones Trio, Roland Hanna, Hal Galper, Eddie Gomez, John Scofield, Chico Freeman, Maynard Ferguson, Shelia Jordan, Jimmy Knepper, Dizzy Gillespie and The Mitchell-Ruff Duo and Abdullah Ibrahim before doing the typical here-today-gone-tomorrow small Jazz recording company fade at the end of the decade of the 1980s.


Voyage is largely an outgrowth of the time that Stan and his then quartet consisting of pianist Kenny Barron, bassist George Mraz and drummer Victor Lewis spent as part of the Artist in Residence Program at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Ca [about 30 miles south of San Francisco, CA].

The recording was made at the Music Annex Recording Studio in nearby Menlo Park, CA and features Stan and the band in peak performance after playing the six tunes that comprise the LP on an almost regular basis throughout the period of the Stanford Jazz Program residency.

The distinguished Jazz author and scholar, Dr. Herb Wong had an ownership position in Blackhawk and wrote the following insert notes which explain the significance of Voyage at this point in Stan’s career as well as its place in the Getz discography.

“A  gap of four long years has separated Stan Getz last quartet recording and this latest voyage. As one of the first magnitude stars of the pantheon of jazz. Stan carries special significance to every one of his performances, regardless of the context. The quartet, however, is admittedly his favorite environment. Logically, a new Getz quartet recording promptly generates eventful interest.

It has quickly stimulated vigorous applause from those who have had the opportunity to preview it. After recording on literally several hundred albums, reams of copy and a trail of awards, you'd think he might have reached a complacent comfort zone.

Au contraire. Stan persists in his dynamic process of improvised inventiveness, shaping the bed of creativity through his enchantingly lyrical and virile personal sound and style. It's a style on the tenor saxophone that spurs and triggers a listener's imagination to roam and to discover aural images.

Apprehension of how original ideas pop up at a given moment from the unconscious is difficult to explain. Stan's genius is perceivable as a pathway to truth and ecstatic beauty. Noted psychoanalyst Rollo May in his scholarly discourse on the nature of creativity, insists that ecstasy is the intensity of consciousness that occurs in the creative act... involving the total person. "It brings intellectual, volitional, and emotional functions into play all together." Under Dr. May's framework. Stan Getz' music, in my opinion, expresses a union of form and passion with order and vitality.

Recently I asked pianist Kenny Barron about the specialness he experienced in playing with Stan, and Kenny was quick to say. "His attitude is open to growth. Stan welcomes ideas of younger players, including new tunes." And. indeed, there is fresh literature on this album—the opener. "I Wanted to Say" is contributed by drummer Victor Lewis and there is an infectious pair by Kenny—"Dreams" and the title selection. "Voyage." Pianist Victor Feldman. who has played with Stan on a number of stints through the years, composed the lovely "Falling in Love." a perfect vehicle for the warm romanticism of Stan and his group.

Balancing original pieces are the 1939 evergreen ballad penned by Jimmy Van Heusen. "I Thought About You." and the Jerome Kern diamond. "Yesterdays." recut by Stan with some surprises that just sparkle. (Dig how Kenny Barren picks up on Stan's solo!  It's like an orchestrated thing, and it just happened at the moment; Kenny plays the Milt Buckner-inspired block chords, and they are a beautiful fit I was. as well as everyone else, knocked out by the unexpected gem.)

Speaking admirably about Kenny, bassist George Mraz and Victor Lewis, Stan asserts that "they are the kind of musicians who almost sound as if they are classically trained because everything they touch is correct. Even though they have the drive of a jazz band, they have the touch of pure classicists.

"The band is like a classical string quartet. If I had another horn, it would get in my way and it would almost be like playing arrangements. In a quartet, I'm able to phrase differently every night. I'm up there and I can freely do whatever I wish to do. And a quartet is small enough for everyone to solo; I like to hear everyone in the band solo. It's essentially a classical-jazz approach to music."

In reality, the band on this album is Stan's working band. It's plain they fit into his paradigm of empathic values. All three rhythm section mates play what's needed for each individual tune, giving to the whole. "Kenny, for instance, plays every piece, wanting to give Kenny Barron to the piece, and not make the piece Kenny Barron." notes Stan. "Like George and Victor, too. he's ego-less like the Taoist philosophy of removing all self."

Not incidentally, this quartet has been the official band Stan has been leading during his current Artist-in-Residency at Stanford University-a position from which he has been deriving much pleasure, having invested much time and expertise into the experience.

Besides concertizing on campus, he works with the university big band, a cluster of jazz combos, plus other facets of the jazz education curriculum. Residing in nearby Menlo Park, moments from Stanford's campus. Stan finds this peripheral enjoyment a part of the total positive perspective of his living. He is a veritable super folk hero on campus and in the community. As the director of the Stanford jazz ensemble, Joseph Bowen, says: "When Stan walks into class, the students are in awel"

Stan speaks through the eloquence of his horn to illustrate theoretical aspects, always with the fluid, emotional heat he brings. "My area of the curriculum is feelings. When I was asked about my reaction regarding modes in a jazz theory class. I said: 'I don't care much for modes. It's not the mode that counts, it's the mood!" Man, that is succinctness

Here. then, are four brilliant magician/musicians sharing their spiritual and organic soulfulness. delivering their messages. Personally I have had a lifetime love affair with Stan's music and emotional art. and so have countless others

One of these generalized others is Aiko Suzuki of Toronto whose striking art piece adorns the album cover. Her fan letter to Stan includes associative responses illustrating the influence of his music:

"Your artistry is compelling for so many reasons, at many levels... intense serenity ... from out of ancient lonely primeval caves to dazzlingly positive humanism ... rich and at times minimalist —hence spiritual and emotional dynamism ... you dignify our carnal spirit. . no rhetoric, clear, clean ... crystalline ... elegantly romantic and sensuous."

The music on "Voyage" will stick in your memories. It should enjoy an unlimited life span.”

—Dr. Herb Wong
You can check out the title track on the following video:


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Madeline Eastman - "The Dolphin Lady"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“‘The definition of a jazz singer is a singer who sings jazz,’ said Mark Murphy with tongue-in-cheek, although, actually, he's a definitive jazz singer himself.

He scats with bravado. He improvises melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, and with the lyrics. He writes vocalese lyrics to jazz instrumentals and also writes his own songs. He can break hearts on a ballad, plumb the deepest blues, bossa like a Brazilian, or wing harder and hipper than just about anyone. [Emphasis Mine]

‘A lot of singers attempt to sing jazz, use aspects of jazz in their arrangements, but without really getting into the whole thing,’  …

‘l think the test is The Jazz Singer Test.  You take a singer and three musicians and you put them in a room, or a pub like I used to do in London. I had this trio. The piano player couldn't read. The bass player couldn't read. The drummer read, but it didn't matter. I gave them a list of tunes. We never rehearsed. We just got up. I gave them the keys, and I counted off, and it happened. Because we were all Jazz musicians. I think that's the test. If a singer can get up and cut that, he's really doing it."
- Mark Murphy as told to DJ Michael Bourne

“In this world of ordinary singers, of overrated singers, I’m glad there is Madeline.”
- Leonard Feather, Jazz author, scholar and critic

Michael G. Nastos in his artist biography about Madeline Eastman for all about jazz asserts: “

“In her career as a jazz singer, Madeline Eastman has remained close to home while establishing a worldwide presence without recording for a major label, instead releasing a series of independently produced, critically acclaimed recordings.”

Remarkable in itself, what makes this statement border on the incredulous is that “close to home” is the greater San Francisco Bay Area, which in recent years has not exactly been known as a hotbed of Jazz.

But for those of us who have ready access to the SF bay area, catching Madeline in performance in either a club or a concert venue is one of Life’s great Jazz experiences for nothing compares to the vocal renderings of Mad [an explicable nickname that comes about by shortening her first name; you are gonna have to wait for an explanation of “The Dolphin Lady” until you read the Mark Murphy insert notes to her Point of Departure CD that close this piece].

I mean, where else can you hear vocalese lyrics to tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge, or vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's Little B’s Poem - both of which she wrote [!]- or a scat chorus sung in unison with Phil Woods on Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance, or a heart-stopping rendition of the ballad theme to the movie Baghdad Cafe?

Perhaps Madeline’s greatest gift to us goes beyond her interpretative skills as a vocalist and points directly to the quality of her voice which is magnificent in and of itself. Madeline’s voice is the ultimate “point of departure.”

Madeline’s voice is pure and it is powerful and I for one have to take it in small doses because it simply overpowers my emotions.

By way of background, Mad was born June 27, 1954, in San Francisco, CA, where she grew up listening to pop tunes on the radio, including those sung by Barbra Streisand, Jack Jones, Vic Damone, and Eydie Gorme, among others. In her senior year of high school, she viewed the film Lady Sings the Blues and discovered Billie Holiday, then enrolled in college music classes at San Francisco State University, and also attended various local jam sessions during her academic years.

Finding her calling as a “legitimate” jazz singer through early voice coach Charles Richards, Eastman made her recording debut with the Full Faith & Credit Big Band; began collaborating with Palo Alto-based trumpeter Tom Harrell; and over the years worked with internationally known veterans like Phil Woods, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Mike Wofford, the Turtle Island String Quartet, Tony Williams, Rufus Reid, Matt Wilson, and vocal mentor Mark Murphy. Barron and Eastman teamed up for a recording project with the legendary 50-member Amsterdam-based Netherlands Metropole Orchestra.

In 1990, Eastman and Kitty Margolis co-founded their Mad-Kat record label, through which they were able to make their own music with no commercial or artistic constraints. She has also been a member of the administrative staff for the San Francisco Jazz Festival.

Aside from performing, she has conducted many clinics, is director of the Stanford Jazz Workshop, is artistic director of Jazzcamp West, conducts mobile touring Monterey Jazz Festival programs, and does her own Voice Shop retreats.  She now serves as Department Chair of Jazz Vocal Studies at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, CA.

A pivotal recording, influential for her in terms of composition, arrangements, and phrasings, was Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro. After hearing it, Eastman's approach to time, dynamics, and pitch changed her into a jazz vocalist more interested in taking chances than in toeing conventional standard lines. Her debut recording, Point of Departure from 1990, was followed by Mad About Madeline! in 1991, Art Attack in 1994, and the 2001 CD Bare, which concentrated on ballads. While broadening her repertoire, Eastman added Brazilian and soul/R&B tunes along the way for the 2003 effort Speed of Life, featuring Reid, Akira Tana, pianist Randy Porter, percussionist Michael Spiro, and trumpeter Mike Olmos. All of her recordings are available through her website: www.madelineeastman.com.

Along the way, Eastman has picked up awards from Down Beat magazine critics in their annual Talent Deserving Wider Recognition poll, and has twice been named one of the top female jazz vocalists.

She has toured worldwide, from Japan, Finland, Sweden, Germany, and Scotland to New York City nightclubs and festivals close to her West Coast home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Eastman has also become a prominent lyricist, writing her own song lines to several modern jazz classics, and has arranged more than a fair share of her repertoire.

As promised. here’s Mark Murphy’s insert notes to Mad’s Point of Departure CD.

“Just a few years ago I was doing my three or four hips at the local "Y" pool here in San Francisco. This particular afternoon my snail's pace kept being interrupted by a lithe, fishlike lady slipping past me like a dolphin. I stopped after the sixteenth splash and took a pause. Who pops up out of the chlorine from another lane in the pool but the great drummer Vince Lateano. of jazz and latin fame. We shout "Hey..." and begin the rebop that is inevitable between musicians anywhere: what's doing and where etc… Suddenly the dolphin lady surfaces dripping and grinning to join us. It's Mad! I mean Madeline Eastman, the swimmer. She and Vince know one another 'real well,' and the rebop gets louder among us.

So, you might ask, what's doing with Mad? Madeline Eastman has just recently given me one of the best, most stylish and cool album-tapes of contemporary vocal jazz.  I hear them all and this is the best in a long time. The dolphin lady certainly does more than swim...she sings.

Wherever I perform, I'm constantly given tapes from songwriters and jazz singers, all over the world, really. I love singers. Jazz singers and all their problems especially. I know them all. (You should have heard my concert in Sydney of the Australian Vocal Jazz Summit a few years ago. Wow.) But, we're talking Madeline Eastman here.

I first heard Mad on my long gig at Jim and Mary Lou Quinlavin's The Dock - in Marin County's stylish Tiburon [north across the Golden Gate Bridge]. Even then Mad was cool, as she belted out Four all the way through, and she lets you do some of the work, making you listen. Now, of course, with that swimmer's bod and her stylish clothes that remind you what a looker she is...you might be distracted from her vocal artistry. But not for long.

Cool, but intense is our Mad. She means it. She did not compromise, and this radiant tape is the result.

Like I say, for years singers have given me tapes, and Madeline Eastman's is just about the freshest, coolest, most interesting of them all.

You'll pick your own favorites of course, but dig the bittersweet heartbreak of "No More" — all those bop lines she sings with such ease. She even makes sense of the silly English lyrics to two gorgeous Ivan Lins songs. And then the brilliant You Are My Sunshine. I could go on.

Special, SPECIAL applause for the charts by Paul Potyen! Hey Paul!...All right! And she's got some good company in trumpeter Tommy Harrell, pianist Mike Wofford and bassist Rufus Reid. Remember the other swimmer? Vince Lateano? Playing here, too. But as for you Madeline Eastman, baby...you did it right!”

— Mark Murphy





Friday, May 26, 2017

"Standards in Silhouettes" - the Kenton-Mathieu Alliance

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“... the sound of Kenton is the battle cry of a squadron of stratosphere-scraping trumpeters blowing with such fury that athletic cups must have been far more necessary than cup mutes; the grunt of a platoon of trombones exploring a hundred new degrees between low and very low; the soaring and searing sax stars, especially his succession of alto giants, who defined themselves by their own particular "take" on Charlie Parker (just as dozens of Woody Herman "Four Brothers" tenor stars defined themselves by their angles in relation to Lester Young); the killer drummers, who responded to the accusations of over-intellectualism by pounding with enough primitive force to knead all the pizza dough in Brooklyn - and parts of Staten Island.”
- Will Friedwald, Jazz author and critic

“Kenton recalled that : "Bill Mathieu was a young guy when I first met him. When he was only 16 years old he had written a first arrangement that he showed me. I was very impressed with his talents, and later on we brought him into the band as a writer. He was also in the trumpet section for a little while, but he didn't really play well enough, and it didn't work out. Bill had a very difficult time writing rhythm music ; he wrote a few swing things to pace STANDARDS IN SILHOUETTE, but they weren't very good, so I finally said : 'Bill, let's not worry about that, let's make it entirely a mood album.'"
- Michael Sparke, Peter Venudor, Stan Kenton: The Studio Sessions

Returning to the episodic favorite recordings theme, there are many albums by the Stan Kenton Orchestra that fit into this category especially those like Contemporary Concepts and Back to Balboa with Mel Lewis on drums.

But other favorites by the band such as Cuban Fire, New Concepts, and Innovations feature the band’s orchestral prowess rather than its swinging pulse and along these lines,  Standards in Silhouette sort of fits into this category but with a heavy element of “mood music” underscoring the texture of the arrangements by Bill Mathieu.

Stan’s was always an arranger’s band and writers like Rugolo, Russo, Holman, Mulligan, Graettinger, Roland, Paich, Niehaus, Barton, Levy, Hanna and many others walked in and out of the orchestra each contributing to the Kenton oeuvre along the way.

Bill Mathieu’s short time with the band produced primarily nine tracks that have been combined to make up one album and which have been variously described as “scholarly orchestrations” and “elegant structures” in the reviews that greeted  Standards in Silhouette which was recorded on September 21 and 22, 1959 in the ballroom of Riverside Plaza Hotel in New York City.

By way of background, here is how this landmark LP came about as described in the following excerpts from Stan Kenton - This Is An Orchestra! By Michael Sparke, [pp. 156-159].

“Also taped by the Stan Kenton Orchestra at the Tropicana/Las Vegas in 1959 was the first-recorded arrangement by newcomer Bill Mathieu of "This Is Always." Mathieu differed in many ways from your average jazzman: a well-educated, highly literate, intellectually minded philosopher, he would soon produce one of the most enduringly efficacious albums in the Kenton oeuvre. …

Stan was paying Bill Mathieu $60 plus bed and board, but Bill was finding it hard to meet his own aspirations. He longed to write rhythmic music and join the arranging elite of Mulligan and Holman, but nothing seemed to come out quite right, and rather than try to fix the faults, Stan preferred to simply junk the charts altogether. An exception was the Latin "What Is This Thing Called Love," heard on Tantara's Revelations, a good arrangement, but a genre already well exploited by Johnny Richards and others.

Jim Amlotte explained why Bill's early pieces didn't make it: "Stan made up his mind about a piece of music very fast. One take, one play-through, and that was it." Bill's breakthrough came when Mathieu found his own voice in San Francisco, though not in the swing style he had been aiming for. Recomposition [disguising standard melodies with an arranger’s own additional themes] was certainly not new to the Kenton band.


Graettinger had practiced the art in 1948, Russo (Mathieu's friend and mentor) in 1953, and Holman in 1955. But Bill discovered an entirely new approach to recomposing standard ballads at the same time as he discovered San Francisco: "Separated from the band and on my own in an enchanted city, an innate joy broke the surface like a gulping fish. Music poured through. I wrote an arrangement of 'The Thrill Is Gone' that I knew was good." Kenton too knew a good score when he heard one. "That's a beautiful thing, Bill," he said. "What's next?"

Mathieu remained behind in Chicago after an engagement at the Blue Note to continue his writing. "Willow Weep for Me" and "Lazy Afternoon" joined the growing number of arrangements, and one afternoon in the well of the band bus Stan casually remarked, "Bill, why don't you start thinking in terms of a record of your music?" At just 22 years old, Mathieu would be Kenton's youngest arranger to have an album of his own charts.

With such an incentive, Bill's inspiration took wings. During a two-week stay at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, the band rehearsed "I Get Along without You Very Well," "Django," "Lonely Woman," and "Ill Wind": "Stan is genuinely pleased. Everyone has a seaside glow. The band is swinging. Charged layers of cymbals and brass sift through the ocean air. Success is easy!" These were the halcyon days, before realization set in. By August the material was complete. ...

Standards in Silhouette was a triumph, different from anything else the band had ever played, yet uniquely Kenton in sound and style. The album rates alongside Cuban Fire, New Concepts, and Innovations as one of Stan's indispensable, all-time, great orchestral achievements. Mathieu has reconstructed these popular melodies with intricate care and detail. He extracts fragments from the songs and weaves these themes with his own motifs, using both sections and soloists, often in counterpoint. Short fill-ins by individual instruments (as well as featured soloists) are used as an integral part of the structural jigsaw. Especially exciting is the way the brass crescendos arise unpredictably, and often end unexpectedly, allowing a more peaceful but always appropriate statement to emerge from the melee. And the momentum is sustained without a lull over nine songs of concert duration, affording a consistency, a unity of style, that gives the music its own identity, so that it resembles a Suite.

Many elements fitted together to make Silhouette so perfect. Mathieu's charts are of course the foundation, but the music could not have come together the way it did without Stan's experience and expertise, and the orchestra's understanding of Bill's intentions. Every credit is due the principal soloists, who loved this music to a man. "Absolutely gorgeous," said Bill Trujillo. And Archie LeCoque (outstanding on my own favorite: "I Get Along without You Very Well") confirms: "I think my solos on Standards in Silhouette were the best work I did with Kenton. Bill Mathieu wrote such beautiful charts you didn't really have to stretch out too much, you just stuck close to the melody and the arrangements took care of everything else." And Bill himself adds: "I was very happy with all the soloists, but particularly Charlie [Mariano]. His playing, especially on 'Django,' provided the spark and the jazz authenticity that the album needed."

The above excerpts are a re-working in book form of the following insert notes that Michael wrote for Standards in Silhouettes - Stan Kenton: The Kenton Touch in A Warm Blue Mood Capitol Jazz CD CDP 7243 4 94503 2 5], and while some of the language may be the same as that used in the book, these notes also contain additional information.

“From the time he was 14 years old, Bill Mathieu knew he was going to write for Stan Kenton, a leader whose music he idolized with a fervor few ordinary fans could envisage. It wasn't an easy path to Kenton's door, and there were many setbacks along the way, but Bill Russo proved an effective teacher, with invaluable advice based on his own experiences of the Kenton psyche. It says much of Math ie us persistence that in January 1959, at 21 years of age and still something of an idealist, Bill Mathieu entered the real world as staff arranger for the Kenton band.

None of his first arrangements caught the Kenton imagination, until the time Bill discovered San Francisco. "Separated from the band and on my own in an enchanted city, an innate joy broke the surface like a gulping fish. Music poured through. J wrote an arrangement of "The Thrill Is Gone" that I knew was good. We rehearsed it one afternoon in Chicago, and Stan's ears perked up. "That's a beautiful thing, Bill," he said. "What's next?"

Mathleu's talent had enabled him to come up with the near-impossible, an original and especially beautiful slant on writing concert arrangements of popular ballads, that made them sound fresh and different. Kenton was genuinely impressed and eager for more, and as "Willow Weep For Me," "Lazy Afternoon" and others entered the book, suggested to Bill he should start thinking in terms of his own album—at just 22, the youngest Kenton arranger ever to be so honored.

Mathieu's special skill lay in almost recomposing standard melodies with his own additional themes, an art aspired to by many writers, but rarely accomplished with the flair and ingenuity that Mathieu achieves. Bill explained to me how he approached the task: "The trick is to locate the aspects of the original song that give you special pleasure, or that seem especially rewarding, and keep reworking them until a hybrid appears that is your own concept, but nevertheless allows your car to keep track of the source material. The 'aspects' might be a melodic phrase, a couple of chords, a characteristic rhythm, or even something in the lyrics, like the suppressed bitterness in "The Thrill Is Gone," the loss in "Willow Weep For Me," or the lethargy in "Lazy Afternoon." These are clues, and you run and spiral with them until your own ideas are braided with those of the composer and lyricist. Then you begin!"

There is a consistency, a unity of style about the orchestrations that give the music its own identity, so that it almost resembles a suite. Stan allowed Mathieu almost unfettered creative freedom, and together they decided the proper tempo for each piece, the appropriate soloists, and useful cuts and additions, right down to which titles actually belonged on the record and which should be omitted. At first Bill was doubtful about recording in a cavernous ballroom, as opposed to the intimacy and control of a studio, but he concluded: "Stan and producer Lee Gillette were absolutely right: the band sounds alive and awake {not always easy when recording many hours of slow-tempo music in a studio), and most importantly, the players could hear themselves well in the live room. The end result is that the band sounds strong and cohesive, and the album is well recorded."

Mathieu is well-served by his soloists, as he is quick to acknowledge: "To observe the guys endure the stress of recording with such a high degree of skill and accuracy made me feel very lucky. Their attitude to the music was quite positive as far as I could tell, and I was especially happy with the soloists, Roger, Rolf and most especially Archie. As for Charlie (Mariano), his playing, especially on "Django," provided the spark and authenticity the album needed." According to LeCoque (at his finest on "I Get Along Without You Very Well): "I think my solos on the Silhouette album were the best work I did with Kenton. Bill wrote such beautiful charts that you didn't really have to stretch out too much, you just stuck close to the melody, and the arrangements took care of everything else." There isn't a weak solo throughout, but note especially the trumpet cameo on "The Thrill Is Gone" by Roger Middleton, described by lead trumpet Bud Brisbois as: "The only solo Roger ever recorded with Stan. Roger was a very good jazz player, but he never got much of a chance with Rolf Ericson in the band."

In later years, Stan believed he had come up with the album title, but Bill remembers exactly how the name arose: "I had been walking the boardwalk in Atlantic City, trying to think of a title for the new album, something that carried forward the visual metaphor of Sketches on Standards and Portraits on Standards, when I paused to watch an attractive girl having her profile magically cut out of black paper by a silhouette artist. The title Standards in Silhouette occurred to me at that moment, and I suggested it to Stan in the well of the bus, 'That's a great title, Bill,' he said, genuinely pleased. 'Did you think of it yourself?' But it's OK with me that Stan recollects it as his own - that's an easy thing to do after many decades and uncountable miles."

Some hear a hint of Gil Evans in Mathieu's work, and Bill admits to an admiration for Gil's writing, among other composers who were striving to enrich the intellectual content of jazz without thinning its blood. Any Evans influence is tempered by Mathieu's highly inventive and scholarly orchestrations, and Bill has learned his Kenton lessons well; there is a wonderful contrast between the darkly brooding, low-keyed passages, and the high-powered trumpet climaxes. I certainly wish Mathieu had remained longer in the Kenton orbit, but instead he moved on to write for Duke Ellington, and then, such were Bill's intellectual abilities and interests, away from the jazz idiom into classical and other styles of music.

But it was Kenton's judgement that gave Mathieu his first chance, the legacy of this recording, as Bill recalls with gratitude: "I was a young, unknown and untested writer, and with Standards in Silhouette, Stan granted my truest wish: to bring my best work of 'concert' ballad arrangements into the public eye."
—MICHAEL SPARKE March 1998

Vinyl rip of Stan Kenton's 1959 record "Standards in Silhouette." Ripped with Audio Technica AT-LP60 USB turntable on Audacity.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Jeri Southern

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


The contributions that Orrin Keepnews and Gene Lees have made to Jazz over the past fifty years are immense and go well beyond anything that can be described in this brief introduction.  Orrin’s work in recording and reissuing the music and Gene’s in writing about it have made the world of Jazz a far richer place because they devoted so much of their talent and creative genius to it.

Teaming up to develop and describe this retrospective of Jeri Southern’s early recordings at Decca is certainly an indication of the respect and admiration that Orrin and Gene have for this member of the Jazz family, a female vocalist who was not accorded enough of either in her lifetime.

When the likes of Orrin Keepnews and Gene Lees have so much praise to offer about the song stylings of Jeri Southern, the least I can do is to listen to them and to recommend that you do so as well.

© -  Copyright protected; all rights reserved.


The Very Thought of You: The Decca Years, 1951-1957 [Decca GRP – 671]

“Here is a good clear look at one of the very best singers to emerge from the Pop/Jazz/Show-tune musical world that flourished in the mid-century years. By now this era can seem incredibly long ago and far away, but at its strongest it still retains all of its power to charm us and move us - and to demonstrate that, in the best of hands, this area of popular music is a true art form.

It has been my pleasure to work on this project with Kathryn King - a long-time friend with a solid track record of her own as a record producer, who has the considerable added incentive of being the daughter of the artist who is heard here in retrospect. Jeri Southern began her significant recording career with the half-dozen years at Decca from which this CD is drawn, As we picked our way through an extensive body of music, finding that our individual lists of preferred songs were looking remarkably similar, it did seem best to follow chronology in a general way, but without being excessive about it. As a result, tempo and instrumentation and the emotional content of these songs have led to a program that seems to pretty much set is own pace.

I knew Jeri Southern hardly at all; I only met her after she had ended her singing career. But I first heard her a long time ago, and have been fascinated over the years by what I consider to be a striking example of one of the major show-business paradoxes. This woman, a warm-voiced, sensitive, intelligent interpreter of the wonderful repertoire that a lot of us insist on capitalizing as The Great American Song Book, had all the qualities that I associate with two closely allied, important and consistently undervalued fields: being a jazz singer and being what for want of a better name is often called a cabaret singer. In Jeri's case this included the helpful fact that she was an excellent musician [among some attributes that in my view she shares with Carmen McRae is that she may well have been her own best accompanist]. But like so many of the best qualified female singers of the pre-rock days of the Fifties and early Sixties, she was typecast into a ‘pop vocalist’ category and as a result suffered through deliberate (although presumably quite well-intentioned) efforts to make her sound like everyone else and concentrate on the kind of lower-level Tin Pan Alley music that only a song-plugger or a music publisher could love.

The only two women I can think of who entirely fought their way through that mess and emerged as universally acknowledged major artists were obviously very strong, very tough, and supported by even tougher friends and associates. Ella Fitzgerald, who of course had Norman Granz as her all-American blocking back; and the totally indomitable Peggy Lee [who was a good friend of Jeri’s and, I’m inclined to suspect, would have been her role model if Ms. Southern had by nature been a more hard-shelled personality]. But that was not the way it worked out for Jeri; it should realty not be surprising to learn that her relatively early retreat from the show biz battlefront was basically the result of her being - to apply a phrase usually used to describe a jazz musician whose work goes sailing way over the heads of his audience – “too hip for the room.”


Way back when I first heard this voice, I was in Chicago visiting a World War II army buddy - it couldn’t have been past the very beginning of the Fifties, maybe earlier. He and his wife insisted on my listening to the laidback late night disc jockey who was The Man of the moment, Dave Garroway, soon to become one of the very first of the star night time (and subsequently early morning) casual television hosts. But all that lay ahead. What Garroway was doing at that particular time was shouting the praises of a great young locally-based singer by the name of Jeri Southern.

I became a fan at first hearing, then admittedly cooled off as her career seemed to be going in directions that I didn’t care for – you’ll note that we have not included one of her most popular recordings, a folksong tear-jerker called "Scarlet Ribbons.” Consequently, it took me much too long to become aware of some important factors. One was that her voice remained a great instrument, and another that she was singing a very high percentage of the right kind of songs -  merely note in passing that the writers represented here include Rodgers and Hart [four times], Cafe Porter [twice], Jerome Kerr [two more] and Kurt Weill.

It also seems apparent that she was doing battle energetically and in two ways against the kind of arrangements that were all too often in deadly vogue in those days. For one, in a period when a singer’s worth seemed to be measured by the size of the accompanying orchestra, she nevertheless succeeded fairly often in working on records in much the same setting as she would appear in clubs: backed only by a rhythm section, which on five of these numbers is led by guitarist/arranger Dave Barbour [long and closely a collaborator with Peggy Lee). It’s a formula that at times even allows her to be the piano player -  check out the Southern solos on Ray Noble's I HADN'T ANYONE ‘TILL YOU and her own I DON T KNOW WHERE TO TURN. And secondly, even when the writing behind her was lush and potentially overbearing, someone -- perhaps the artist herself, or a properly- motivated manager or other colleague  - often was able to keep the background writing under control. Or, when necessary, she seems to have been able simply to overcome it. I refer to my own listening notes on possibly my personal favorite in this collection, the magnificent Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin MY SHIP. It was a specific and private comment, not intended for publication, but it now strikes me as quiet generally applicable to this compilation, and indeed as a summation of the artistry of Jeri Southern. “The strings are a matter of taste  I wrote, "but it is such a great performance of a great song.”

-         0rrin Keepnews


Remembering Jeri – Gene Lees

"Once upon a time, America was blessed with any number of small nightclubs that featured excellent singers singing excellent songs, and even the' big record companies were interested in recording them. Some of the best of them played piano, ranging from the competent to the excellent, Most of them were women, and there was a glamour about them, superb singers such as Betty Bennett, Irene Kral, Ethel Ennis, Marge Dodson, Lurlean Hunter, Audrey Morris, Shirley Horn, and even regional singers, such as Kiz Harp of Dallas. Many of them are forgotten now; Shirley Horn alone has enjoyed a resurgence.

They were sometimes called jazz singers, although they were no such thing, or torch singers a term I found demeaning, not to mention horrendously inaccurate. Male singers were with equal condescension from an ignorant lay press called crooners.

The songs they sang were drawn from that superb classic repertoire that grew up in the United States between roughly 1920 and the 1950s, and had any of us been equipped with foresight, we’d have known that the era was ending, doomed by “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” and “Papa Loves Mambo” and “Music Music Music “even before the rise of Bill Haley and His Comets, Elvis Presley, arid the Rolling Stones.

Of all these singers, one of the greatest was Jeri Southern, born Genevieve Lillian Hering near Royal, Nebraska on August 5, 1926, the baby in a family of two boys and three girls. Her grandfather had come from Germany in 1868, and in 1879 built a water-powered mill on Verdigris Creek. His sons and grandsons, including Jeri’s father, worked there. I am indebted to Jeri’s sister, Helen Meuwissen), for this information about Jeri’s early life.

“She could play the piano by ear when she was three, Helen said. She started studying at six. I don t think she ever quit taking lessons. (I car confirm this Jeri was doing some formal study of piano to the end of her life.) She went to Notre Dame Academy in Omaha, and always credited the nuns there for her background. She took voice lessons in Omaha with Harry Cooper. It was her desire to be a classical singer.”

Jeri also studied classical piano in Omaha with a much beloved teacher, Karl Tunberg. But her ambitions in the classical world evaporated one evening when she walked into a nightclub and heard a pianist playing jazz. She loved this music, and the experience changed her life. After high school graduation, she moved to Chicago.

She started playing standards in clubs, and got more experience as a pianist in local Chicago big bands. Eventually, as her reputation grew, she was advised that she could make more money if she would sing, a standard casting for women pianists in those days: women were not supposed to be instrumentalists, they were supposed to sing, or, just maybe, play the harp. So she did start to sing, and accompanied herself at the piano. She abandoned her trained operatic voice and began singing in her speaking voice, which had a smoky sound, with a very soft enunciation and a haunting intimacy. And her career took off.

Her greatest popularity was in the 1950s. The first of her records I heard was YOU BETTER GO NOW, the oldest track on this CD. I was blown away by it: the simplicity, the exquisite lack of affectation or mannerism. She recorded it for Decca in late 1951, just after she turned 25. She then turned out a series of superb performances for Decca, through to the Rodgers and Hart gems she recorded November 26, 1957: YOU'RE NEARER and NOBODY’S HEART. I met Jeri probably two years later, in 1959. She eventually left Decca and went on to record for other labels.

Unlike many performers, her stage career represented a great struggle for Jeri. First, she was extremely shy. I remember her telling me during our Chicago friendship that the first time she arrived at a nightclub and saw her name on the marquee, it terrified her. She deeply felt the responsibility of drawing and pleasing an audience – she was intimidated by the look of expectation in their eyes.

There are performers who passionately crave the audience. They will climb over footlights, climb over the tables, do anything to claim the audience’s attention and, I suppose, love – or the illusion of love. Jeri wasn’t like that. She simply loved the music. The music was everything, She was almost too much a musician, and certainty a perfectionist. Her philosophy of performing was the diametrical opposite of Carmen McRae's, who not only wouldn't do a song the same way twice, but probably couldn’t remember how she did it the last time. Jeri worked on interpretation until she got it ‘right,' which is to say the way she wanted it. She would then stick with her chosen interpretation. She was also disinterested in scat singing. I have noticed an interesting thing about those with the harmonic and instrumental skills to scat-sing - they often don’t and won’t do it. Nat Cole was a classic example of this fidelity to the original melody; so was Jeri.


As her reputation grew, her handlers – the managers, agents, publicists, record company executives - set out to make her into a pop star. Certainty with her Germanic beauty, she had the basic material for it. They dressed her in fancy gowns.  They took her away from her beloved piano and stood her in front of a microphone with some else to play for her. Nothing could have been more diabolically designed to send her fleeing from the spotlight.  And so, like Jo Stafford [and for the record, Greta Garbo, Doris Day, and others], she simply quit. She walked away from the business and the discomfort it brought her.

But the musicianship was always there, and she took to teaching. She wrote a textbook, Interpreting Popular Music at the Keyboard.   She enjoyed composing, and over the years wrote pop songs with various partners [one of which, I Don’t Know Where to Turn is included here], and even ventured into other genres like orchestrating film scores and writing classical songs.

I used to drop by to visit her every once in a white at her apartment in Hollywood. Illustrating some point in a discussion of this song or that, she would go to the piano and play and sing for me. She simply got better throughout her life, and during these occasional private performances, I could only shake my head and think what the world was missing. Her piano playing in those last years was remarkable. It had grown richer harmonically, and the tone had evolved into a dark golden sound.

She was working on a book of piano arrangements of songs by her friend Peggy Lee, also a friend of mine. One sunny afternoon a few years age, I telephoned Peggy. How re you doing? I began.

‘I’m very sad,’ she said. ‘Jeri Southern died this morning.’

As I learned later, she succumbed to double pneumonia. The date was August 4, 1991. The next day, August 5, she would have turned sixty-five.

Once she told me that during those Chicago years, she considered me her closest friend in the world. It is an honor I will not forget. I truly loved Jeri, not only the singer but the person inside who through music so diffidently allowed us glimpses into her all-too-sensitive soul.”

-         Gene Lees

Jeri Southern at Home

"Jeri Southern was essentially an intensely private person whose talent for music thrust her into a public career. Since Gene Lees and Orrin Keepnews have done such a fine job of describing my mother's public life, I thought it would be of interest to her still devoted audience to learn something of her private life. as I knew it.

My mothers life was unusual in a number of respects, not the least of which was the fact that a great deal happened to her at a very early age. She started performing as a pianist while still in her teens, moved from Nebraska to Chicago, developed a following there, married, signed a record deal, had a baby, and had her first great commercial success as a recording artist, all by the time she was 25. At 36 she retired from her public career. For the next 30 years her time was as much taken up with music as it had been before, but as a teacher, a writer and a composer - she never went back to performing.


Shortly after recording YOU BETTER GO NOW, my mother moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, where she lived for the rest of her life. Taking the title of one of the songs she recorded perhaps a little too closely to heart ( Married I Can Always Get"), she married four times; three of her husbands were musicians, one a radio der5onatity. My earliest memories are from the house we had in Malibu, a wonderful place right on the water, where she and I would take daily "walks' with our hyperactive Irish Setter. The intellectual pursuits, the preoccupation, the pleasures my mother enjoyed at the Malibu house were the ones she carried with her throughout her Life – she loved reading, exploring the whole dimension of the mind, summoning the restorative powers of the sun, and most of all, playing the piano. 

She always practiced classical pieces, although she never performed them. Some of her favorite things to play were Beethoven sonatas, Grieg’s Holberg SuiteDebussy’s Images, and in later years the Brahms Intermezzi.  She would also compose and improvise at the piano. Because she suffered from what could only be described as a crippling case of performance anxiety, she hated to be observed while she played, and only really enjoyed herself when she thought that no one was listening. So it was that I got in the habit of sneaking

She had the most exquisite command of  harmony, so that when she played a tune, she would basically use it as a launching pad for an extended improvisation which often went very far afield harmonically.  Sometimes, as I sat surreptitiously listening  to these explorations of  hers, I would be certain she could never figure out how to get back to  the original key of the  piece, but she always did, and in the most spectacular way, with subtle and elegant voice leading and chord progressions that were simply stunning. For a period of years she also studied guitar with a fuzzy-voiced Italian whose greatest contribution to our lives, notwithstanding the guitar lessons was probably the killer spaghetti sauce recipe she induced him, after much cajoling, to surrender.

When she was at home she spent a lot of time reading. She was fascinated by the work of Carl Jung, whose ideas became an essential part of her world view. She was also very taken with Gurdjieff, and even got interested in numerology toward the end of her life. She found it exciting to contemplate both the innumerable possibilities of inner space, so to speak, and the complexities of the physical world.

Another pursuit of her life at home was listening to the work of other singers. Her perfectionism made her a tough audience, but there were a few to whom she would return again and again. As one can immediately discern from listening to her recordings, she felt that the most important criterion for a great singer was a reverence for and communication of the lyric. She was not swayed by technical brilliance; the only singer with astonishing vocal technique whose work she enjoyed was Mel Torme, and that was because he delivers a lyric so well. She also loved Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Lucy Reed, Jackie and Roy, and the Hi-Los.

Music was really the playing field for her entire life. And with a few important exceptions, all of her most important relationships were with musicians, with whom she could share her opinions, her discoveries, her delights. Though she lived in Hollywood most of her adult life, she was not involved in that world. To say that she was reticent socially would be a mammoth understatement.

She hated parties and social gatherings, and had the same small circle of friends the day she died that she’d had for decades before. But for those of us who were privileged to be close to her, she had that rarest of gifts - acceptance. She was a loving, supportive, non-judgmental friend and mother. She loved her family and, in an important part of her mind and heart, she never really left Nebraska.

I still miss her so much, but it fulfills the dream of a Lifetime to be able to put this package together, to remind the world of what a wonderful singer she was."


- Kathryn King