Saturday, February 23, 2008

THE Simpson

Singer-pianist Carole Simpson suffered a stroke prior to the 1999 recording of her "Remembering" CD. It didn't cause much change in her wonderful playing. But it DID alter her voice. Since then, she has been a bit self-conscious about singing, but WILL do it. Frankly, I love her "new sound." It's got all the necessary elements: pitch , swing, conception, etc. Her version of "Have I Been Too Long at the Fair" on the aforementioned collection---and with her "new" voice---is, arguably, definitive.

Simpson came on the scene in 1957 with a fine album on the Capitol label. She was not only a terrific singer and pianist but also glamourous to the max. As the notes for "All About Carole" inform, she was "born in Anna, Illinois, not too many Octobers ago, Carole began her career with classical studies in both voice and piano. Turning to popular music she became the sensation of such places as Chicago's Black Orchid, Las Vegas' Desert Inn, and Manhattan's Pierre Hotel." (Carole once told me that while "All About" has always remained in print somewhere in the world, she has never earned so much as a single penny from it. But that is a remark best saved for discussions about "creative" bookkeeping in the record biz.)

Not long after the album's release, though, marriage and motherhood's gain turned out to be the national music scene's loss. Note the "national," however; and for the last x number of years or so, Carole has remained extremely active on the local L.A. music scene. Until recently she had a long-running gig in a now-defunct restaurant, The Georgia, on the city's trendoid artery, Melrose Avenue (actually not so trendoid anymore).

Carole has also been involved in a number of projects with inarguable L.A. music legend, songwriter-pianist-singer-whistler Howlett Smith. One of their pasttimes is a duo-piano act in which they trade off singing and playing, and engaging, in between songs, in good-natured carping over correct keys, interpretations, etc. Leading one local wag (guess who) to dub them "the post-bop Bickersons."

I caught their act again last night at a fund-raiser for L.A.'s St. Paul's Presbyterian Church. The highlights, per usual, were too numerous to mention. Howlett, once again, demonstrated why he was able to hold down a single gig---at Santa Monica's late-lamented Bob Burns Restaurant---for more than two decades.

And I'm happy to report that Carole's playing is as strong as ever, and her singing, what it might lack in power (wish they'd upped the volume on the mic just a tad last night), is, more than ever, a lesson in how important it is to fully inhabit a song rather than just parroting the words.

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