Before and After
Listening Like A Lyricist
By Thomas Conrad
Lorraine Feather is a uniquely appropriate subject for a “Before & After.” She is the daughter of the eminent jazz critic and historian Leonard Feather, who invented the format for Metronome and later took it to Downbeat as the “Blindfold Test.” When he moved to JazzTimes in the 1980’s, Feather further refined the concept as the “Before And After,” allowing musicians to expand upon their comments after they knew who was playing. Lorraine remembers helping her father by transcribing his recordings of “Blindfold Test” interviews. “There were some people who would talk a blue streak, but others would take five minutes to answer. I would have to sit back in my chair at the typewriter (it was still a typewriter in those days) and wait for something to happen.” Today Lorraine is a vocalist who sings her own material almost exclusively. She writes the wittiest, sharpest, most literate lyrics since Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg. Her new album is Ages, on Jazz Media.
1. CARMEN MCRAE
“It Never Entered My Mind” (from Live At Sugar Hill, San Francisco, Time) Carmen McRae, vocal; Norman Simmons, piano; Victor Sproles, bass; Stu Martin, drums. Richard Rodgers, music. Lorenz Hart, lyrics. Recorded in 1962.
BEFORE: That was obviously Carmen. Thanks for starting me out with an easy one. When I was a young waitress in New York I used to go to a place called the Hip Bagel. “It Never Entered My Mind” was on the jukebox—the Bud Powell version. I just thought it was the moodiest, most haunting song ever written. I love the arrangement on this track. I don’t know who the bass player was but he was incredible. I went to Carmen’s house once with my dad. She was very down home and funny.
AFTER: I saw her at the Parisian Room in L.A. when I moved back to Southern California from New York. She had a phrasing that was like no one else at the time. It was completely natural, but really left field from what any other singer was doing. It’s been copied a lot, but she was the original. I loved seeing her live. She didn’t take any guff from the audience. She was strict. That was part of her mystique.
2. DIANA KRALL WITH ANTHONY WILSON
“Looking Back” (from Power Of Nine, Groove Note) Diana Krall, vocal; Anthony Wilson, leader, guitar, arrangement; Matt Otto, tenor saxophone; Matt Zebley, alto saxophone; Adam Schroeder, baritone saxophone; Gilbert Castellanos, trumpet; Alan Ferber, trombone; Donald Vega, piano; Darek Oleszkiewicz, bass; Mark Ferber, drums. Jimmy Rowles, music. Cheryl Ernst, lyrics. Recorded in 2006.
BEFORE: That was a sumptuous arrangement. Really nice vocal. I loved the low notes.
AFTER: No way. Wow. I’m surprised that I didn’t recognize Diana Krall because I’m a fan. But I’ve never heard her in that setting. The huskiness and the vibrato and the intimacy sounded familiar but I wouldn’t have guessed Diana Krall. I first became aware of her, as many people did, with the Nat “King” Cole album. [All For You, GRP] I happen to think she’s richly deserving of the stardom she’s achieved because she really has it all. She can play; she’s got a great recognizable voice; she happens to be beautiful. She connects with the lyric, every time. What a trip, that it was Diana Krall, of all the people for me not to know. I was really caught up in the story of the song and I’m wondering who wrote it. Was it called “House In The Country”?
No. It is “Looking Back.” Music by Jimmy Rowles. Lyrics by Cheryl Ernst, who was a teenager when she wrote them. No. It is “Looking Back.” Music by Jimmy Rowles. Lyrics by Cheryl Ernst, who was a teenager when she wrote them.
Amazing that a teenager would know so much. Great song. When Diana finally got to that line, “And wherever I go, and the grayer I grow, I’ll remember that house in the country,” I thought it was one of those songs that withholds the title until almost the end.
3. LAMBERT, HENDRICKS AND BAVAN
“One O’Clock Jump” (from At Newport ‘63, RCA Victor) Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, Yolande Bavan, vocals; Gildo Mahones, piano; George Tucker, bass; Jimmy Smith, drums. William “Count” Basie, music. Jon Hendricks, lyrics (uncredited). Recorded in 1963.
BEFORE: [When Jon Hendricks says “Here’s one that needs no introduction…” Lorraine completes the sentence with him: “…so we ain’t gonna give it none.”] That was Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan, right?
AFTER: Annie Ross had such an identifiable sound. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross is the first music that I ever remember hearing. The first music I remember singing along with. I forget whether it was The Hottest New Group In Jazz or The Swingers! My mother [big band singer Jane Feather] and I used to try to sing along, which is just impossible. But this piece of course was with Yolande Bavan and I liked them so much with her, as well. She was a beautiful, elegant lady. We used to see them throughout my childhood, at various festivals. Then my husband and I saw Jon Hendricks with Annie Ross in Half Moon Bay when we lived there, at a place called the Bach Dancing And Dynamite Society. Jon was in his eighties by then, and he sang his ass off. He’s one of the only singers who can scat a bass solo.
4. CASSANDRA WILSON
“Run The VooDoo Down” (from Traveling Miles, Blue Note) Cassandra Wilson, vocal; Olu Dara, cornet; Marvin Sewell, Kevin Breit, electric guitar; Eric Lewis, piano; Dave Holland, bass; Marcus Baylor, drums; Jeffrey Haynes, percussion. Miles Davis, music. Cassandra Wilson, lyrics. Recorded in 1997.
BEFORE: I’m not going to guess because I could be just stupidly wrong. But if you tell me, I might know what album it is. I love the arrangement. I thought it was extremely exciting and really different and I loved the way the vocal floated over it. It was mysterious and really nice.
AFTER: Oh for God’s sake. I’ve listened more to her more recent stuff. I know the Grammy album [Loverly, Blue Note], and I have seen her live. I thought that was a really great treatment and I should have known it was Cassandra because it’s typical of the kind of thing she does. It’s not neatly fit into any category but it’s wonderful in its own special hybrid way.
5. BLOSSOM DEARIE
“Once Upon A Summertime” (from Once Upon A Summertime, Verve) Blossom Dearie, vocal, piano; Mundell Lowe, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums. Michel Legrand, music. Johnny Mercer, lyrics. Recorded in 1958.
BEFORE: That was the incomparable Blossom Dearie.
AFTER: I used to love her version of the Dave Frishberg song “I’m Hip.” It was so cool and cute the way she sang “I even call my girlfriend ‘man,’” my favorite line. She had residence at a club in New York called Danny’s Skylight Room. It doesn’t exist anymore. She was ensconced in that club for a while. She had such a special career and was so beloved by all jazz people. Rightly so. Nobody else sounded like that: little girllike but not coy at all. Her instrument was completely distinctive. I’m so sad that she’s gone.
Are there any new singers who you think have a “distinctive instrument”?
Well, Gretchen Parlato. I can tell it’s her in two notes. That’s something you either have or you don’t: a totally recognizable sound.
6. PATRICIA BARBER
“Too Rich For My Blood” (from Café Blue, Premonition) Patricia Barber, vocal, piano, composition; John McLean, guitar; Michael Arnopol, bass; Mark Walker, drums. Recorded in 1994.
BEFORE: I’m not very familiar with her but it reminds me of the vibe of something Patricia Barber might do. But I don’t really know her voice by heart. I liked the song, the “too rich for my blood” hook. Very relaxed vocal.
AFTER: I was listening to “What Is This Thing Called Love” from her Cole Porter album [The Cole Porter Mix, Blue Note], and it was funny listening to her do the song and then listening to someone do it like Ann Hampton Callaway, whose version to my ears was more “bewitched” sounding. Both of them were wonderful but Patricia Barber’s rendition was a bit…darker, and kind of…edgier. This is her song, right? She wrote a piece with one of the coolest titles I’ve ever heard: “I Could Eat Your Words.” “Too Rich For My Blood” is what the musicians would call “vibey.” Extremely vibey. I loved it.
7. MADELINE EASTMAN
“Calling You (Theme from Baghdad Café)” (from Point Of Departure, Mad-Kat) Madeline Eastman, vocal; Paul Potyen, piano. R. Telson, composition. Recorded in 1989.
BEFORE: I don’t know who it is, but it’s spellbinding.
AFTER: Dammit! You’re not going to believe me but I was going to say Madeline Eastman. I was gonna go “M…” I swear to you on my dogs I was going to say “Madeline Eastman” but I just didn’t quite have the moxie to do it. I thought the track was just incredible. Every time she got to the hook it was so powerful I almost choked up. That was something.
8. BOB DOROUGH
“Whatever Happened To Love Songs?” (from Right On My Way Home, Blue Note) Bob Dorough, vocal, piano; Bill Takas, bass; Grady Tate, drums. B. Loughborough, music. Bob Dorough, lyrics. Recorded in 1997.
BEFORE: [during piano introduction] It’s either Dave Frishberg or Bob Dorough. [vocal begins] It’s Bob Dorough.
AFTER: Yeah, Frishberg and Dorough, for any jazz lyricist, are it. And Bob’s voice hasso much charm and personality. You can’t compare him to anybody else.
Did you listen to Dorough back when you were getting started?
Yeah. I used to sing “I’ve Got Just About Everything,” for years. I never intended to be a singer. It’s like “Young Frankenstein.” It was always kind of waiting to grab me because I don’t have a big phenomenal voice. I’m not someone like Patti Austin. There are no pictures of me standing up on a chair at five years old singing into a microphone. I fell into singing because I was out of work so much as an actress, and I was a terrible waitress. I had a great memory for songs. I’d audition for Top 40 bands and usually get the gig. Then eventually, when I began writing lyrics, which I didn’t do until my early thirties, it just completely took over and it was, much more than singing, the thing I felt I was put on this earth to do.
9. MADELEINE PEYROUX
“Dance Me To The End Of Love” (from Careless Love, Rounder) Madeleine Peyroux, vocal, acoustic guitar; Larry Goldings, piano; Dean Parks, guitar; David Piltch, bass; Jay Bellerose, drums. Leonard Cohen, composition. Recorded in 2003.
BEFORE: Madeleine Peyroux. That was her hit of course, the great Leonard Cohen song. But I think I would have known Madeleine Peyroux anyway because her voice is very recognizable. She does sound a lot like Billie Holiday but I think it’s entirely organic. It’s almost like a pentimento: when there’s a painting over another painting. Billie Holiday is just underneath the surface but Madeleine is herself. That Billie Holiday sound is an intrinsic part of her instrument. This is a fantastic track. What’s the instrumentation?
AFTER: The band is killer. This is an example, like the cut on the Norah Jones album, “Don’t Know Why”—it’s just perfect in every way. I love the line “Touch me with your naked hand, touch me with your glove.” Perfect for her. The band is smokin’.
10. JODY SANDHAUS
“I’d Like To Hate Myself In The Morning” (from Afterglow, Jody Sandhaus) Jody Sandhaus, vocal; Pete Malinverni, piano. John Meyer, composition. Recorded in 2009.
BEFORE: I kept thinking that there was going to be a clue. Her voice seems familiar to me. But it was just escaping me. That’s a funny tune. I’d never heard it before.
AFTER: I don’t know her. The song really appeals to me. There was an echo of an older time singer in there, but I knew it was a new album. There was a little touch of Helen Merrill at one point…her instrument.
11. ROBERTA GAMBARINI
“On The Sunny Side Of The Street” (from Easy To Love, Groovin High/Kindred Rhythm) Roberta Gambarini, vocal; Tamir Handelman, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums. Jimmy McHugh, music. Dorothy Fields, lyrics. Recorded in 2004.
BEFORE: The vocal quality reminds me of Jackie Ryan but I’ve never heard Jackie Ryan scat like that. [laughs] Really spectacular scatting and I’m not necessarily a big scatting fan. What she did was not the usual. And she went into it early on in the song, when you wouldn’t have expected it. It was very musical.
AFTER: Oh wow. That was really something. I have heard her new album [So In Love,Emarcy] and I have heard her scat, but that was in the stratosphere, beyond what I’veheard her do before.
12. JIMMY SCOTT
“My Foolish Heart” (from All The Way, Sire/Warner Bros./Blue Horizon) Jimmy Scott, vocal; Kenny Barron, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Grady Tate, drums; unidentified strings. Ned Washington, music. Victor Young, lyrics. Recorded circa 1991.
BEFORE: Abbey Lincoln?
AFTER: I had a passing moment when I wondered if it was a man. The guys that I work with, who have co-produced all of my albums in the past decade—Carlos Del Rosario and Geoff Gillette—have been working on a Jimmy Scott project for some time, an album of duets with people like Dee Dee Bridgewater and Diane Schuur. So I have heard a lot about Jimmy Scott from them but I don’t think I have ever listened to him. It sounded like a woman who kind of…is a little bit mannish. But it was the other way around. I was wondering if you had pulled a fast one. The voice is very haunting. The reason I said Abbey Lincoln is that they both have a little touch of Billie Holiday in there. And yet that kind of aggressive little tossing out of some of the syllables that Billie Holiday would never have done is something I associate with Abbey Lincoln, who is another very interesting artist.
Whom do you wish I’d played?
I wish you’d played the Gretchen Parlato album [In A Dream, ObliqSound] because I would have recognized it right away! I wish you had played something from the new Tierney Sutton album [Desire, Telarc] because I’m a big fan. She’s at the highest level of what a singer can do, that’s original and intelligent and musical. On the way over I was thinking you might play a singer from long ago who was lesser known, but somebody I happen to know, like Helen Humes.
Name three records that changed your life.
Court And Spark by Joni Mitchell. The Swingers! by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. Sketches Of Spain [Miles Davis]. I went through a period as a lot of people did of not wanting to be into what my parents were into. But Sketches Of Spain brought me back. That first track [“Concierto De Aranjuez”] hypnotized me and I never got over it. I had already mentioned my early exposure to Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. That music leapt into my psyche and then it emerged again many years later as something that was part of what I was trying to do creatively. Court And Spark is one of the most perfect albums ever. I used to sing along with it every day for months. The lyrics are so personal, her voice is so unusual and also an example of somebody who has a light instrument, not a big power singer but someone who is expressive beyond belief with what she has. It changed my life and made me want to write.