On average, 15 to 20 new jazz CDs cross my desk each week. Not surprisingly, a fair number of them are by female vocalists. For some strange reason, the track list is almost always heavy with tired standards. For instance, songs on CDs that just came in include That's All, Smile, The Very Thought of You, My Funny Valentine, Night and Day, Let's Call the Whole Thing Off, and other weary American songbook fare. [Pictured: Eleanor by Harry Callahan, circa 1947]
Why do so many good singers insist on diving straight into the clutter by choosing such weary numbers—all but ensuring that their albums won't matter? What makes singers think that selecting exhausted material is a sure-fire road to fame and fortune? And what makes them think they have something new to offer that Nat Cole, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee or Frank Sinatra missed? Do they really believe the world is waiting eagerly for yet another version of I've Got a Crush on You?
Add Lady Gaga to the list. On the Today show on Friday, the Warholian holdover attempted to Lady Day her way through, of all songs, Someone to Watch Over Me. I thought the art-house sensation had more of an imagination. (Missed it? Go here.)
The root of the problem for unknown singers, I assume, is Svengali-like managers or producers who claim to have the secret formula for a hit album. If I were a singer hoping to be hip, the last song I'd want to record is I've Got You Under My Skin or Nice Work If You Can Get It. They're dated and predictable, and quite frankly they're lazy choices.
Note to singers: The person in your inner circle who insists you sing My Funny Valentine is doing little for your career. Do yourself a favor and take on the task of choosing songs yourself. Carmen McRae and Chris Connor did. So did Blossom Dearie. All were famous for their deep knowledge of song and for finding fabulous, offbeat gems.
Of course, choosing great, lesser-known songs requires curiosity and some research. Which doesn't take long today. When I was a kid back in the 1970s, if you heard a jazz track on the radio that you loved, chances are you wouldn't be able to find it for years. Most older material was out of print on LP, and if you really wanted the record, you had to pay a lot of money for it at a collector's shop.
Today, virtually everything is available in seconds for $1 a download. All you have to do is some digging, ask people who know, and develop a gut for what's right for your technique and style. You may like Star Dust, but trust me, we already have all the Star Dust we'll ever want or need.
Nat Hentoff and JazzWax—live! If you're in New York City this Wednesday (July 14), I will be interviewing jazz literary giant Nat Hentoff at Barnes & Noble on 82nd St. and Broadway at 7 p.m. We'll be talking about his career, jazz, musicians and other topics. Nat will be signing copies of his wonderful new book, At the Jazz Band Ball: 60 Years on the Jazz Scene.
George Wein. Well-Rounded Radio host and producer Charles McEnerney recently conducted an interview with Newport Jazz Festival producer and pianist George Wein. You can find the podcast of the interview here.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk. If you're down in Austin, TX, on August 6, stop by the Elephant Room (512-473-2279). In honor of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's 75th birthday anniversary, the saxophonist's family and friends and musicians will celebrate the life of the late jazz giant. Proceeds from the evening will go to The Austin Jazz Workshop, a nonprofit organization that brings jazz musicians directly into public schools. For more information, go here.
Patricia Scot. Back in the 1950s, vocalist and songwriter Patricia Scot recorded Once Around the Clock with the Creed Taylor Orchestra for ABC Paramount. She also recorded in the Midwest with several jazz artists. Her son, Adam Pace, has created a tribute site to Scot, who's still on the scene. You'll find the site here.
Bob Dorough. A New York City film crew currently is filming a documentary about singer-composer Bob Dorough. But the crew is in need of funds to complete the project. To see a clip from the documentary and make a contribution to help the team raise funds and wrap up the project, go here.
Paul Slaughter. Jazz photographer Paul Slaughter will be interviewed by John Greenspan on KSFR in Santa Fe, N.M. on Wednesday, July 14 at 10 a.m. (Mountain Time). They will be talking about Paul's new book, Paul Slaughter: Jazz Photographs 1969-2010. Go here to listen from anywhere in the world. Go here to preview and buy Paul's book.
Charlie Barnet. Reader Tom Fine sent along a link to a post at Hans Koert's Keep Swinging on Charlie Barnet's V-Discs found on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. Go here.
CD discoveries of the week. By having the electric guitar run unison lines with the saxophone, Ratko Zjaca has produced a fascinating fusion-hard bop feel. The electric and acoustic guitarist leads a quintet on Continental Talk that includes bassist John Patitucci, drummer Steve Gadd, saxophonist Stanislav Mitrovic and trumpeter Randy Brecker. The group blends together perfectly, working through intricate melody lines like the ones on Kurosawa and Correspondence or on more tender pieces like At the Crossroads and Home Again. This is jazz fusion with a heart. You'll find Continental Talk at iTunes or here
Pianist Gwilym Simcock is a delight to listen to. He devotes much of Blues Vignette (a two-disc set) to original compositions. No matter what he takes on, Simcock dives in with authority and a jazz-classical technique that rises in intensity and falls off gently like a spring thunderstorm. What's also remarkable is how tender he can be when romping through songs like his Little People or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's On Broadway. You'll find Blues Vignette at iTunes or here.
Oddball album cover of the week. It's nice to see that some album producers and art directors back in the 1950s tried to level the sexual playing field. Jazz for Playgirls from 1957 featured the Billy VerPlanck Orchestra with Phil Woods, Joe Wilder, Bill Harris and others. But based on the lighting, it appears our model is undergoing interrogation at some seedy Los Angeles police station where cops play jazz when they're through giving suspects the third degree. Or is she at home under the sun lamp?