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Some Newer Guys I Listen To

I have been writing a lot about the Big Band & Swing eras and, consequently, featuring a lot of performers who did their best work many, many years ago. I have been pushing Hoagy Carmichael‘s Stardust, Swing bands like those led by Larry Elgart and Walt Levinsky. I do love the old stuff, and play a lot of Dizzy, Brubeck, Benny Goodman and Satchmo.

But I have been asked a few times, recently, if I don’t listen to any “new stuff,” anybody young who is writing arranging and recording now. I do. I definitely do. So, over the next few days, or weeks, I am going to try to feature some of the newer stuff I like to listen to. In no particular order of preference, just beginning with what is closest at hand today, I like:

LEE RITENOUR

I have been listening to Jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour for several years. I first knew about him as one of the founding members, along with pianist Bob James, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason, of the top Jazz group Fourplay. But, in truth, I had been hearing Ritenour play long before I knew his name. he worked as a key session guitarist with talents as diverse as Pink Floyd, Steely Dan (on Aja, which has been a recent topic), Dizzy Gillespie, B.B. King, Peggy lee, and Herbie Hancock. How good do you have to be on the guitar to be requested by B.B. King?

Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour

I have several Fourplay CDs, my favorite being Between the Sheets. Of Lee’s solo CDs, I like This Is Love, from which the song Ooh-Yeah has continued to get major play on jazz radio.

My favorite Ritenour effort, however, is his collaboration with Dave Grusin on the CD Two Worlds. These two have done a good bit of work together, producing several albums. Two Worlds is a thing apart because of the musical selections AND the involvement other talented collaborators, like soprano Renee Fleming, violinist Gil Shaham and cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. The album opens with J.S. Bach’s Concerto in A Minor for Four Keyboards and Strings:

Concerto in A Minor

Dave Grusin

Dave Grusin

Track 3 – Sonatina is, according to the Album Notes, “an homage to the genius of Andres Segovia (1893-1987) the Spanish guitarist whose artistry was almost single-handedly responsible for the 20th Century revival of the guitar as a ‘classical’ instrument.” Segovia’s legacy is well-served here. Listen up:

Sonatina

Track 11 _ Siciliana has cellist Julian Lloyd Webber joining ‘our boys’ for another Bach piece, as transcribed by Dave Grusin. This is nice:

Siciliana

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Disk 2 of my Jazz & Swing Collection

Cover of "Quiet Nights"
Cover of Quiet Nights

Following up on last week’s post of Disk 1, here is the playlist from the 2-CD mix I compiled for some family members and friends. My intent was to provide a sampler of some newer performers mixed in with classic recordings by some of the greats of Jazz and the Big Band era. The liner notes encompass a little bit of background information and some of my personal thoughts on the songs, lyrics, composers and performers presented. My thinking was that the oldsters (all my brothers are even older than me) likely would not know the new people, like Gota. And the young folks might not be too familiar with Hoagy Carmichael and Artie Shaw. Here are the notes for Disk 2:

thejazzmonger’s Jazz & Big Band Mix 3

Disk 2

1. Corcovado – Antonio Carlos Jobim – Antonio Carlos Jobim –  Bossa Nova

The lovely Astrud Gilberto on vocals. Jobim is rightfully recognized as a composer, songwriter, lyricist, arranger, singer, guitarist and pianist. Small wonder he is a favorite of mine considering the Latin rhythms and his citing Maurice Ravel (one of my all-time favorites) as a major influence. He is credited as major founder of the bossa nova sound and was first widely recognized as the composer of Desafinado.  Jobim collaborated with many major musical stars such as Joao Gilberto, Stan Getz, Sergio Mendes and Eumir Deodato. He composed many of Getz’s major hits and made Astrud Gilberto a top recording star in American music with the hits Girl From Ipanema and Corcovado, offered here.

2. Deep Purple – Artie Shaw  – Mitchell Parish; Peter de Rose – Big Band

The incomparable band leader Artie Shaw again and he is not too bad a clarinetist, I might add. This version features Helen Forrest on vocals. She had a strong career logging time with several of the top Big Bands. Deep Purple is another of my all-time favorite songs. With its intricate, syncopated melody and catchy lyrics, it is almost like a Hoagy Carmichael song written by someone else. You will notice that Mitchell Parish, the lyricist on Carmichael’s Stardust is also credited here. He is, one would infer, responsible for the similarity. Those of MY era may remember the Rock ‘n Roll version done by Nino Tempo and April Stevens, where April spoke part of the lyrics in an incredibly sexy voice. Nice!

3. All Would Envy – Chris Botti – Sting – New

Yeah, Sting. How about that? Here is the very talented Chris Botti again. It is not surprising to find him collaborating with the aging rocker, as he is good friend of Sting (and Mrs. Sting). Botti’s early career was given a big boost by the Stinger. The vocals are courtesy of young talent Shawn Colvin who does a great job .

4. Cruisin’ Your Way –  Gota –  Gota Yashiki; J. Templeman; James Wiltshire – New

Gota Yashiki is an incredible young talent from Japan. He composes almost all the tunes on his albums, sometimes with collaboration, as is the case here. He also usually plays multiple instruments on each recording. Production values are always the highest and you will be amply rewarded when you play his CDs on high-end audio equipment. The better the equipment, especially speakers, the more you will hear. Gota’s tunes are usually upbeat in tempo, with complex rhythms and overlaid tracks. He creates some of the very best of new wave, orchestral jazz.

5. Peel Me a Grape –  Diana Krall – Dave Frishberg – New

Diana Krall, again, doing one of her characteristically top-notch “lounge-singer” performances of an old tune. This song has been fairly widely recorded by female singers and is all about clever lyrics. Let yourself listen to this one two or three times in a row to get how cleverly the poetry works within the theme. Nice songwriting.

6. Medley: Moonglow/Picnic – Chet Atkins & Les Paul – Hudson-DeLange-Mills; Geo. W. Duning – Big Band

This is one of my favorite tracks, from one of my favorite CDs. This is a recording of a studio session that is the only time that the two greatest guitarists in the history of guitars, Les Paul & Chet Atkins, played together. I had never heard of this recording but saw it mentioned in a bio piece that PBS did on Chet Atkins (watch it if you ever get a chance). Not only do you have incredible music here but the CD includes some of the hilarious by-play between these two great musicians. You get to hear a little bit of how a song gets worked out and “laid down” on tape. Listen to the production values. Get this onto a really good setup and listen. Trust me, folks, this CD is worth the price of having original source material.

7. Someone to Watch Over Me –  Keely Smith – George Gershwin; Ira Gershwin –  Big Band

I talked about the song at some length with the Ronstadt version on Disk 1. This is Keely Smith’s version and it is one of my favorites. Her strong, deeper tones seem to work well. Dorothy Jacqueline Keely was born in Norfolk, VA. Her part-Irish, part-Cherokee Indian descent gave her dark eyes and stunning good looks. At 14 she was singing with a band at the local navy base. At 15 she had a paying job with a local orchestra, and at 16 she became the full-time singer with the nationally popular Louie Prima orchestra. Listen closely to the lyrics and you will hear Keely’s distinct southern accent.

8. Venus of the Sea – Keiko Matsui – Keiko  Matsui –  New

Keiko again, with one of her more upbeat compositions. I really like this lady’s music. You can listen straight through a whole CD of hers without growing tired of the sound. Great music to cook to, or clean, or read, or….

9. Take Five – Dave Brubeck – Paul Desmond – Jazz

Talk about a jazz classic! How many movies has this tune been used in? One of the more recent uses was in the movie Pleasantville. This is a cute flick, with some points to make about nostalgia, prejudice the importance of individuality. After the whole movie having been dominated by the really old stuff, Take Five plays on the morning after “the fire” as Bud heads into the diner. It accompanies the scene where the other kids ask about, “What’s outside of Pleasantville?” What a perfect metaphor this free-form jazz is for the slow unraveling of the limitations of the past.

10. Over the Rainbow – Jane Monheit – E. Y. “Yip” Harburg; Harold Arlen – Big Band

I alluded to Jane’s version of Over the Rainbow in the notes on Disk 1. Well, here it is. Judge for yourself. You should hear her do this live.

11. How Long Has This Been Goin’ On – Rosemary Clooney – George & Ira Gershwin –  Big Band

This is a hilarious song that always makes me think of the scene in Thelma & Louise where Thelma shows up in the diner after her night with the drifter (a very young Brad Pitt). She points to a big hickey on her neck and the two ladies have a little cackle about how great her night was. Perhaps the funniest line in the whole movie is when Thelma says, in reference to her life with her dud husband, “I finally understand what all the fuss is about.”

12. They Can’t Take That Away From MeStacey Kent – George & Ira Gershwin –  Big Band

Broke my little rule again about stacking vocals on top of one another and THEN put two Gershwin tunes back-to-back. So shoot me! This is good stuff. Stacey Kent is a Canadian artist whose style and voice I really like. The production values are always top-drawer on her CDs and I love to play them, any time, anywhere, under any circumstances. I have a couple of hers and there is really not a bad track in the bunch. You need to be buying her music.

13. Mountain Dance –  Dave Grusin – Dave Grusin – NEW

Dave Grusin is a HUGE talent, and this is my favorite of all his work. Give this tune your complete attention and let him take you on a really fun ride. It builds and builds, kind of like Ravel’s Bolero (another of my real favorites). Grusin has composed music for hundreds of movies but what you will know best of all is the Theme from St. Elsewhere. If you saw The Fabulous Baker Boys, he did all the piano work in that film. If you haven’t seen this movie, get it, especially you guys. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the girl singer they add to their lounge act. Michelle sings all her own stuff and she is GOOD! Fellas, you need to see (not just hear) her rendition of Makin’ Whoopee. I have three Grusin CDs. I love them all. You can’t go wrong with this guy. Check out his personal website: http://www.grusin.net/

14. Unforgettable – Nat King Cole & Natalie Cole – Irving Gordon –  Big Band

I simply love this song. Great tune, great lyrics. It is one that really says something. Why did I go with the Nat & Natalie duet, instead of Nat’s well-known solo track, you might ask? Well, as great as his solo is, I really like what she adds to this, and the production values on his re-mastered tracks are much better than any solo version I have. Plus, what a sweet dad & daughter moment and, having two wonderful daughters myself, that is something I appreciate. I think this is good music-making.

15. I Wanna Be Loved – Peggy Lee – Billy Rose; Edward Heyman; Johnny Green –  Big Band

Miss Peggy Lee, as they always used to introduce her. This was recorded later in her career, after she had really settled into her own personal style and was such a star that nobody in the music business was going to tell her how to work. Given the  “hard knocks”  early life and some of the rest of Peggy’s history,  it is a wonder that this song is not one of her many personal compositions.

16. It Had To Be You –  Chet Atkins & Les Paul – Gus Kahn; Isham Jones  –  Big Band

This is an oldie originally performed in the 1920s. You may remember it being performed by Dooley Wilson, playing Sam (just Sam, no last name), in Casablanca. It was also a factor in the more recent movie A League of Their Own as the ugly wallflower Marla blossoms during the girls’ night out at the Suds Bucket and, more than slightly drunk, sings this from the stage to her newfound beau. I really, really love what these two great musicians have done with this excellent tune.

17. What’ll I do – Linda Ronstadt – Irving Berlin  –  Broadway

What a combination! Irving Berlin’s music and lyrics, Nelson Riddle’s orchestra and arrangement and Linda Ronstadt’s vocals. We can’t miss with ingredients like that. Irving Berlin was one of less than a handful from the days of the Tin Pan Alley composers who wrote his own lyrics. It is, in fact, hard decide if he was a composer who wrote lyrics too, OR a lyricist who put his words to music. I like this as an evocative sign off for Disk 2.

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Some tunes from my “special mix”

Hoagy at the piano

I have made a pair of CDs as a sampler of some of my favorite performances and I have given copies to each of my brothers and a couple of friends. It is an eclectic mix of current, and some ancient, performers and tunes. You will find Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter mixed in with a tune from Earth Wind & Fire. There are multiple performances of some of my favorite songs (like Stardust).  I wanted to share with people close to me some of the music from which I draw so much pleasure, and to possibly introduce them to someone they may not have heard before.

I have decided to post my “liner notes” from these CDs to share some of my personal thoughts on music I am listening to.  Here is Disk 1:

the jazzmonger’s Jazz & Big Band Mix 3

Disk 1

1.   When I Fall In Love – Chris Botti – Edward Heymann; Victor Young        NEW

This young trumpeter is classically trained but specializes in old standards, Big Band classics and smooth jazz. He has partneredwith such talents as Sting, Paula Cole, Andrea Bocelli & Mary J. Blige to create some memorable performances. Everything this guy does is high production values and musically sound. You can’t go wrong with a Chris Botti album.

2.   They Can’t Take That Away From Me – Diana Krall – George Gershwin; Ira Gershwin      NEW

Diana has become one of the few mega-stars of the jazz. For a long time she specialized in jazz classics and old standards. Since her marriage to Elvis Costello, she has put out an album of personal compositions and other all new material. All her early albums are great.

3.   ‘S Wonderful – Bill Charlap – George Gershwin; Ira Gershwin             NEW

Bill Charlap performs and records mostly with a small combo. He likes very upbeat arrangements of classic standards, as you will see here in this stepped up tempo version of a classic Gershwin tune. I have seen him live and it is a great show. Never heard a bad track from this guy.

4.   At Last – Etta James – Harry Warren; Mack Gordon                        OLDIE

Try not to think of Jaguar motor cars when you hear this song. They used it in their commercials for a couple of years. It also was used to great effect in the movie Pleasantville as Bud is driving Margaret in a classic ’50s Buick convertible down a leaf-strewn road to Lover’s Lane. Nice! Etta James is one of the really terrific and powerful voices of popular music in the ’50s and ’60s. She still performs live today. Her other really big hit was Sunday Kind of Love.

5.   That’s The Way of the World – Jeff Golub – Charles Stepney; Maurice &Verdine White                 NEW

We jump to the really modern with a song made popular by Earth Wind & Fire, the exceptional music and performance machine that was primarily the product of the genius of Maurice White. EWF charted fifteen hit singles and twenty-six gold and platinum albums. In addition, they put on one of the most entertaining stage performances in the history of music. Although Maurice stopped performing with the group in 1995 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, brother Verdine White, Phillip Bailey and others still give one of the greatest shows ever. Get the original version of this great song and listen to the lyrics. “Child is born, with a heart of gold, Way of the world makes his heart grow cold…..”

6.   Stardust – Nat ‘King’ Cole – Hoagy Carmichael; Mitchell Parish          Big Band

Now we come to the greatest popular song ever written. Lyrics with a haunting message about lost love coupled with the syncopated rhythms of Hoagy Carmichael. Play this one over a couple of times in a row and just enjoy the magic of rhyming free-verse pushed through Hoagy’s unique musical phrasing. Not to mention the excellent talents of Nat ‘King’ Cole. Nat’s may very well be the definitive version of this great song. His enunciation, clear phrasing and impeccable timing make the most of Hoagy’s distinctive rhythms.. Stardust is going to show up again in this collection. One should not go too long without hearing it.

7.   Begin the Beguine – Artie Shaw – Cole Porter                    Big Band

Cole Porter, almost as good as Hoagy, may be the most popular composer of popular music. If you like clever lyrics (I do) set to the most memorable tunes (I do), the kind that really stick in your head, then Cole Porter is your man. Artie Shaw is about the only exception to my rule against buying and playing the music of people who were “jerks” in real life. I don’t play Sinatra, or Miles Davis. (Or Motley Crue, for that matter.) Artie had trouble getting along with people. He was married to Ava Gardner in her real prime and walked away, so he was obviously somewhat crazy. In fact, Artie was married eight times so he was even worse at being a husband than me. Musically, he was not only talented but a genius and an all-around good guy. He defied convention in hiring Billie Holiday and refused to take his orchestra anywhere that would not let her perform. He was the first to regularly include strings in his orchestra. He helped launch the careers of Buddy Rich, Mel Torme, Helen Forrest and Tal Farlow. Artie quit performing at the height of his career at the relatively young age of 44. His version of Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine is considered the definitive performance.

8.   You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To – Julie London  – Cole Porter                  BIG BAND

Not sure how I ended up with two Cole Porter songs back-to-back, except he was pretty prolific and the attempt to alternate instrumental with vocal sort of took preference to spacing out songwriters. This is a nice little tune, but it is in here because it so fits the style of the beautiful Julie London. Come on, guys, you remember watching Julie London every time she was on Ed Sullivan. If you don’t recall her, do yourself a favor and watch this video. You will hear her sing Sway and see a great photo montage.

. Or watch this live performance from a concert in Japan, late in her singing career, and tell me how that guy managed to keep playing the bass:

. Julie appeared on TV in the ’70s as nurse Dixie McCall in the hit series Emergency.

9.   AS – Najee – Stevie Wonder                            NEW

Here is another taste of the new. Najee is a very versatile jazz-man who specializes in the wind instruments, especially the flute. He has several excellent albums. This song is off Songs From the Key of Life which is all Stevie Wonder tunes from his album of similar name. Najee does it as a bouncy jazz tune with a sizable orchestra. Get the Stevie Wonder version and listen to the lyrics. Very thought provoking.

10. Hey There – Rosemary Clooney – Jerry Ross; Richard Adler               BIG BAND

What a great performer lovely Rosemary was. Not only was she a talented singer, and host of a popular TV show for a while, she was also a pretty good actress who was in a number of very popular films. Next time you are watching White Christmas, notice how tiny her waist was. This was one of her biggest hits. Adler & Ross wrote many top hits (Steam Heat, Hernando’s Hideaway, Whatever Lola Wants) and also successful Broadway shows (Pajama Game, Damn Yankees).

11. The Ring – Keiko Matsui – Keiko Matsui                           NEW

This is new stuff, and Keiko is usually stocked in the “New Age” section of your local music purveyor. She is a talented pianist and composes most of her own music. She tends toward complex melodies. She has whole albums that make excellent background music for reading, cocktail parties, writing, painting or any kind of artistic endeavor. If you like this tune, at all, you can’t go wrong with one of her albums. I have three.

12. Fly Me to the Moon – Peggy Lee – Bart Howard                          BIG BAND

Ah, Peggy Lee. One of the best and this is one of her really big hits. Peggy had a very rough childhood and was singing professionally from a very early age. She was central to a number of big bands, including Benny Goodman at the tender age of 21. She is considered one of the 20th Century’s major influences of singing style. No less a light than Duke Ellington said, “If I’m the Duke, then Peggy’s the Queen.” Peggy was also a very talented songwriter. Just a few of the hits on which she collaborated are: Fever, It’s a Good Day, Johnny Guitar, What’s New, He’s a Tramp and The Siamese Cat Song. The latter two from the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp.

13. After Hours – Ronny Jordan – Ronny Jordan                     NEW

Ronny is one of the new jazz-men. He normally records with band rather than small combo. This tune is from the album The Antidote,which is a good album overall but this is the cream. I really like this song. His style tends toward fast, bouncy, big sound jazz.

14. I’ll Be Seeing You – Jane Monheit – Irving Kahal; Sammy Fain                      WW II

Jane Monheit is a terrific young talent. If you like this song, at all, do yourself a favor and go online or get to a store with listening stations and hear more of her work. Her version of Over the Rainbow is the only one that gets mentioned in favorable terms when compared to Judy Garland’s. The production values are always top-notch on her recordings and, when played on really good equipment, you won’t believe how clear her voice is. I have seen her live, in a small venue, and it was really terrific. She appears with a small combo of very talented musicians. She is now married to the leader who does all the arrangements. Monheit is a BIG talent. This song is one of those tunes that was popularized during World War II because of its message. Listen to it thinking about a young war bride singing it to her man who has gone off to fight. I’m not joking when I say it brings a tear to my eye.

15. Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)  – Bill Charlap – George Gershwin; Gus Khan                   BROADWAY

Bill Charlap again, and again he is stepping up the tempo. This song was the closing number of the Broadway show Show Girl, a Florenz Ziegfeld production that introduced Ruby Keeler as its star. In addition to the singing and dancing of Ruby Keeler, a real beauty, the cast included Jimmy Durante and Eddie Foy, Jr. and the orchestra was conducted by Duke Ellington. How would you like to see THAT performance live? The song also became a recording hit for Al Jolson who married Keeler shortly before the show opened and used to join the final chorus to serenade her from the audience.

16. Someone to Watch Over Me – Linda Ronstadt  – George Gershwin; Ira Gershwin                     BROADWAY

Staying with Gershwin for one of my absolute favorites. Are you surprised to hear Little Linda singing this kind of song? Don’t be. This little dark-eyed doll can sing anything, from her barefoot days with the Stone Ponies, through her haunting version of Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou, to her Canciones de Mi Padre album of traditional Mexican songs, she can handle it all. Here, she is teamed with the incomparable Nelson Riddle and his full orchestra. It is a two-disk album called Round Midnight and it is terrific from start to finish. The highest production values possible and Linda shows reverence for all these old standards. The song is another one of those where the lyrics say so much. Yearning young love, this time unmistakably a girl. If you want to hear, and see, a fantastic performance of this song by a talented young lady get the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. The message of the song actually figures into the story line, and watching this young girl ‘s performance is really amazing.

17. Raise the Roof  –

18. (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons – Nat King Cole – Derek Watson; William Best                     BIG BAND

Can’t beat “the real King” to close out Disk 1. I wanted something soft and smooth for the sign-off and this guy can always deliver that. Nicely backed up by a small combo, Nat’s uniquely smooth voice and clear phrasing are just nonpareil. You will note, Nat is the only male singer who made it into this collection. That is no accident.

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