Monday, August 27, 2007

Bobbi






































I was asked to write the liner notes for the great new CD by Bobbi Rogers. And through the courtesy of Victoria Records I have been given permission to not only reprint the notes here, but to also present a track from this hot-off-the press recording. No offense meant to pianist Ray Kennedy, but because I'm such a sucker for singer-bass duets, it was not a difficult choice: Bobbi and bassist Tom Kennedy's "Oh, Look at Me Now" is one of two such tracks on Some Little Something.

"No singer has better demonstrated the fine results that can happen with a less-is-more approach than Connecticut-based Bobbi Rogers, first heard on two LPs from the early 1980s. She’s back on records now after more than a twenty-year hiatus.

It’s not just a simple matter of economics; it could well be that if a jazz singer possesses, in sufficient quantities, pitch, personal style, a genial voice, and swing---as does Bobbi---then the addition of a cavalry charge of players behind him or her doesn't necessarily add all that much to the overall impact of the music. It’s a lesson whose basic principles were laid down in a big way by Julie London on her 1955 minimalist (guitar, bass) masterpiece, Julie is Her Name.

Bobbi’s second LP, in ’81, found her solely supported by the great guitarist Gene Bertoncini. The year before, she recorded her debut album with a small group led by longtime professional and personal associate Chic Cicchetti. With Some Little Something, once again she’s recording with a band that could comfortably fit into the back seat of a small Italian sports car.

It’s not that Bobbi isn't capable of holding her own in a large crowd of players. Witness her many years of performing “live,” mostly with big bands, in the Hartford, CN area. But never having heard Rogers in such surroundings, it’s hard for me to imagine her any other way than hanging out in the recording studio with just a few of the guys. (Truth to tell, there is a limited issue album by Bobbi with a big band, Live at the Mohegan Sun, by Chic Cicchetti and the Hartford Jazz Orchestra. Recorded in 2000, she sings on 4 of the 14 tracks.)

Although Bobbi has been plying the vocalist’s trade since the 1950s---she toured the U.S., performed at the upstairs lounge at New York’s Copa, did TV in the 1970s and even sang in France with a big band----it wasn't until the early eighties that she gained her first shot at the national spotlight with the two aforementioned LPs, 1980’s Tommy Wolf Can Really Hang You Up the Most and the following year’s Crystal and Velvet. The subject of the first album was ostensibly songwriter Wolf, but it also operated as a salute to his longtime lyricist partner, Fran Landesman. Together, the twosome penned such late-blooming standards as “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” and “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” It would be nice if someday Jackie Cain and Roy Kral's various recordings of Wolf and Landesman were gathered together under one roof, but until then Bobbi’s salute will do quite nicely thank you very much.

Both of Bobbi’s recordings were produced by NYC dee-jay Mort Fega who first heard her, singing with Cicchetti, in 1979 at a Waterbury, CN restaurant. In addition to his radio activities, Fega was also a record producer of no little distinction, having overseen sessions by the likes of Bob Dorough (Just About Everything) and Carmen McRae (Bittersweet). He also had his own label, Focus. And although the recordings he made with Rogers have been out of print for some time now (except in Japan), that hasn't stopped dee-jays of a more refined sensibility from continuing to spin them on a regular basis.

The Wolf album earned Rogers the seal of approval from John S. Wilson, Rex Reed and Dick Sudhalter, as well as a shot on Good Morning America and a passel of gigs at NYC’s Michael’s Pub. That’s where, until 1996, Woody Allen held down a clarinet gig almost every Monday night for almost as long as anyone could remember. Upon hearing an advance copy of this CD, Reed remarked: “When I first discovered Bobbi Rogers in 1980, I wrote that she has a voice soft and perfect as a peach blossom in May. I am so happy to discover she has not changed a bit. Time and the weather have only added dimples of depth and wisdom to her already innately unique interpretations of lyrics.“

Some Little Something finds Bobbi ensconced in a comfortable duo format, except for a few even more scaled-down tracks with just piano, or in the case of “Oh, Look at Me Now“ and “I Thought About You“ just bass (not since Helen Merrill and Sheila Jordan!). And what a duo it is! Until very recently pianist Ray Kennedy appeared regularly in support of guitarist-singer John Pizzarelli, and his bassist brother Tom can be heard on over 200 recordings, in addition to two under his own name. Recently, one of Ray's solo outings, a jazz “take” on Mozart, was a hit CD in Japan, And considering his great fondness for that nation’s kakino-tane, i.e. hot spicy rice crackers, he most likely considers it a fortunate turn of events indeed.

The idea for this recording came about as the result of a party held by the Erroll Garner Society a short while back. Bobbi sat in with Ray and before the evening was over, the wheels were already in motion. And its actual making was almost as smooth and swift; a few of the tracks were even accomplished in one take. The only bone of contention arose when Bobbi wanted equal billing for the boys, but Tom and Ray insisted: “No, Bobbi, this is your CD.” As is apparent from the object in your hands, eventually the brothers “won.” Otherwise it was beer and skittles, clear skies and green lights all the way.

“The first time I sang a tune with Ray Kennedy,” says Bobbi, “I knew within four measures that here was a rare sensitive musician that a singer could trust. The warmth of his playing made me connect with him immediately. He deserves a lot of credit for keeping the recording sessions so spontaneous. Set the key, set the tempo let‘s go.“ As for Tom: ”He did more than just account for the bottom line, brilliant bassist that he is. It was a shared thing, each of us contributing an equal voice to the music. When the bass is right you can feel it in your solar plexus, and Tom was right there.“

And so what has Rogers been up to in the near quarter-century since Crystal and Velvet and this one? Until her retirement not so long ago, she was engaged in twin day gigs of teaching and practicing pediatric nursing. But she could then, and can continue to be always found doing what she’s been up to ever since she was a mere slip of a thing (and practically still is). Singing! She has performed with Dave McKenna (a good friend), Tony Monte (another good friend), Joe Raposo, Gray Sargent, Bucky Pizzarelli, Brian Torff, Harry Allen, et al. And especially with the Hartford Jazz Orchestra, an extension of the big band once led by Bobbi‘s guy, Chick Cicchetti (he died in 2000), and now overseen by Donn Trenner, formerly of the Steve Allen TV show. And in the 1970s Bobbi worked with Charlie Ventura. Some might call her a “weekend singer,” but most often she’s been deemed a “singer’s singer.“
Bobbi Rogers treats her songs the way that their composers (and nature) intended. She just sings them straight---well, almost---no muss, no fuss, and goes home. And so, I’ll leave you with further words of Rex Reed regarding Some Little Something:

“I have never heard ‘I See You Face Before Me’ sung with such delicacy, ‘You'll Never Know‘ is so fresh and warm I am sure that somewhere Alice Faye is smiling with approval, and I am in love with ‘Something To Remember You By.’ With this musical embrace, a wonderful singer has indeed rewarded passionate followers of the Great American Songbook with something special to remember HER by."

I couldn’t have put it any better (mayhap, maybe, and perhaps not even as well) myself."
---Bill Reed
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Here's a link to the Victoria Records page. Bobbi's CD is not listed on the order form yet, but there's a space to write in the name and the catalogue number, which is VC 4368.

6 comments:

chris said...

The album's cover reminds me of a song from WHEN DINAH SHORE RULED THE EARTH (authors: Wendy Wasserstein, Christopher Durang). It was a version of "Tammy," with a new refrain: "Marilyn, Marilyn ... she needed love!"

One part of the lyric, which took Monroe as its subject, went:

" ... her heart was true!
"She needed tenderness,
"A Kennedy or two ..."

David Federman said...

I have long wondered what happened to Bobbi Rodgers. I found her wonderful Tommy Wolf album reissued in Japan. So nice to have a new album by her. Thanks for calling it to our attention.

Jerry said...

Can you please also reissue her "Crystal and Velvet" on CD?

Bill Reed said...

I'll see what I can do. There is a master of the album. Maybe if Bobbi's new one attracts some attention, I can secure some reissue interest.

David Federman said...

I second the motion to reissue "Crystal and Velvet." I used to have the vinyl. Jonathan Schwartz, then at WNEW, would play her albums all the time and rave about her. Thanks to him, I went to the ends of the earth to find Bobbi's records. Just the gesture of a tribute to Tommy Wolf was enough to make me love her. But her performances were astonishing. I'm glad she is back. Can somebody please videotape the concert on September 15th, so those of us who can't be there will know what we missed.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful commets on Bobbi's singing. You captured her style perfectly. Also, Connecticut is CT not CN.