Is Billie Holiday the ultimate jazz singer? You might think so, listening to this commemorative anthology that draws from Lady Day’s early period. She performs tunes recorded between 1935 and 1945, either fronting pianist Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra or leading her own. These are timeless, defining songs that continue to feed into the myth, magic, and tragedy that is Ms. Holiday.
Billie Holiday singing “Sugar” with Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra, 1939:
Released to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Holiday’s birth (April 7, 1915), these essential tracks showcase the singer at her peak. As a cultural icon, she has no modern-day equivalent (Amy Winehouse deserves her own story).
Hearing Holiday sing these pop tunes, jazz songs, and jukebox tracks on this artfully prepared collection is not only a gift to music fans of all stripes, but a paean to a singer who ultimately transcends genres. (Billie Holiday: The Centennial Collection. Sony Legacy)
The notion that “everything old is new again” blossoms like spring on the charming self-titled debut record by the DUCHESS trio, and it’s altogether refreshing. With a sound inspired by songs sung by the Boswell Sisters and the Andrews Sisters—albeit with classy, updated arrangements—to charts that date back to the 1930s and '40s, Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou are three strong jazz and pop vocalists with their own solid careers. Here, they serve up sophisticated humor (Cy Coleman’s “A Doodlin’ Song”) and café society swing (Peggy Lee’s “Love Being Here With You”) with the cleverest wit.
Up close and personal, I heard them during their March CD release gig at the Jazz Standard in NYC, where the sold-out crowd was seduced by ballads like “Que Sera, Sera” and Johnny Mercer’s “P.S. I Love You.” Their warm, earthy harmonies hit you like Cupid’s arrow. That original blend of sauce and swing deservedly make DUCHESS stand out.
With a fine band in tow anchored by pianist Michael Cabe, bassist Paul Sikvie and ace drummer Matt Wilson, this completely delightful trio hearkens back to the era when performers like Bobby Short sang songs and entertainment was the priority.
There are jazz pianists who lead their own bands, and then there is the innovative Marcus Roberts, an Ellington acolyte and original Young Lion (along with his peer, bandleader and collaborator Wynton Marsalis). Though some critics shrugged when Roberts released his early opus, Deep in The Shed (1998), many—including me—found that work exhilarating and an essential jazz recording.
Trumpeter Duane Eubanks isn’t yet as well known as his brothers (trombonist Robin and guitarist Kevin), but his highly listenable album, Things Of A Particular Nature, should mitigate his under-the-radar status. This Philadelphia native is a top-notch musician, having fronted the horn section in the late pianist Mulgrew Miller’s group, Wingspan, and as a member of two-time Grammy-winning Dave Holland Big Band, while playing with many others.
The up-and-coming Michael Blum makes an impressive and vital debut with Initiation, and a persuasive case for straight-ahead guitar jazz. While this precocious 20-year-old New Hampshire native has forged an accessible modern sound with a rooted connection to jazz masters like Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel, and early George Benson, Blum embraces an intimacy with his material and dispatches a thoughtful set list with the surprising sureness of a more experienced musician.
Pianist Red Garland (1923-1984) was an integral member of the Miles Davis Quintet and a key collaborator with John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins, at a time when those leaders were swelling in popularity during the late ’50s and early ’60s. A hard-bop player, Garland also led his own bands mostly for the Prestige and Galaxy labels, with many of his recordings still available.
The first sound you hear on Beautiful Life is a home recording of Ana Marquez-Greene singing “Saludos” at a Christmas celebration in Puerto Rico with her mother, Nelba, and her father, Jimmy, playing saxophone in the background, - a year before her death at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. She was six years old.
As a cultural institution, the Blue Note in NYC's Greenwich Village is surprisingly small. It’s a long, shotgun room with a snug stage set midway down against the left wall - the jazz club’s glowing blue neon logo centered as a backdrop. Tables line up front in tight formation and fan out to the left and right with as many patrons squeezed into place as the room can hold.
Since it's always about the music, there’s a collective understanding why you’re there. And last February, it was all about the man of the hour—the one and only, bassist Ron Carter.
Rotem Sivan is one reason why listening to jazz is so rewarding. And without a doubt, Sivan's new release, For Emotional Use Only, is one of the great guitar albums in recent memory. Affable in the extreme, this Israeli-born, New York-based musician evokes the better balladry of Pat Metheny and relaxed swing of Kenny Burrell, two obvious inspirations, yet his confident playing style and refreshing compositions marry that astute sense of swing with unabashed romanticism.