Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007


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

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.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Page Cavanaugh alert

National treasure, as I prefer to deem him, Page Cavanaugh is coming along very nicely, but about two weeks ago he fell at his San Fernando Valley home and broke his hip. He is mending so well, in fact, that he's been performing at the grand piano in the lobby of the hopital. "Live from the Rehab Room!" Now. . .how "hip" is that?!

He'll be going home in a few days just in time to make his new Sunday afternoon gig at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach. He's charmed the nurses right off of their feet, so much so that I'm sure they'll miss him when he's discharged. The saltiest mouth since Julie London, but, coming from Page, the effect is simply one of great charm. Like the world's oldest debauched choirboy.

I visited him last weekend. I wanted to take him something along the lines of a F**k George Bush T shirt, but had to settle for a DVD of "Romance on the High Seas." Speaking of which, I uploaded a Page C. clip from that film a while back on youtube. It is contained in a short docu that I produced on the occasion of his 85th birthday back in January.

A word to the wise

For several days running I've had a serious problem with my PayPal account. For those happy few of you unfamiliar with PayPal, it's a service which allows you to pay over the internet to sellers who don't have credit card accounts. Recently, I sold some goods (original Soundies actually) and accumulated a fairly large balance in my account, but due to a screw-up on the other end, i.e. at PayPal, I can no longer log into said account. And even when I finally was able, after several days of automated phone hell, to speak to a somewhat seeming human being, and then, eventually to a half-dozen more PayPal androids (supervisors, techies, et al) they were not able to solve the log-in problem. The final party that I spoke with told me that they would transfer the funds to my bank account, but thus far they have not.

As for the log-in problem, the final PayPal pronunciamento was that I should keep trying to log-in and maybe they might be able to eventually solve the problem. Yeah, sure! And I was not able to close my account, because one could only do so via the process of logging in to do so. I couldn't believe my ears. Today, PayPal. Tomorrow, the California Department of Consumer Affairs. When I alluded to the PayPal rep that I was contemplating just such a next move, she advised me to "Go right ahead." Might as well have added, "See if I care."

PayPal: a handy service until a snafu arises. Just remember to always have a spare day or two held in abeyance for voice mail runaround, and a snifter of brandy, or better yet, a bottle of tranquilizers at the ready for just such an eventuality.

PayPal is the devil.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sue's new

Surfing around the net, I note that the terrific cyber commerce site, Dusty Groove has Sue Raney's fine new CD, "Heart's Desire," available at the unbelievable low price of only 12.99. That's a full five smackers less than . How can Dusty Groove do it?
volume . . . I suppose.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mystery singer.

Today, I played this for a friend whose reaction was, "My God, she sings worse than Alfalfa."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Memories 'o Merv

Jazz star Helen Merrill once sang an entire number on the Merv Griffin show, the theme from "All in the Family," which was written by pianist Roger Kellaway. I have always assumed that this might have been Merrill's only major U.S. TV appearance. Could that possibly be? Are we THAT un-hip a nation? It is one of the first things I archived from vhs when I bought my vid burner a while back.

I remember one particular Griffin quip that had me laughing long and hard. A five-year-old Janet Jackson (and her family) was a guest on his show. She kept looking up at him very quizically and he finally said, "You think I'm Big Bird, don't you?"

A pretty hip guy, but I just heard a posthumous anecdote related on TV a couple of nights ago to the effect that Merv recently opened an envelope that contained a rather large check for usage of the Jeopardy theme (which he wrote). He gazed at the check a beat and then asked an associate, "What's a ringtone?"

My friend, singer Bill Black, started out in music at just about the same time as Merv. In fact, Bill worked for him very early on in the latter's game show career. I always thought that if I could "get to" Merv that he would have great tales to tell about my off-the-wall late pal. But the idea of going through those layers and layers of "protection" surely surrounding Griffin proved too daunting for me.

My longtime saddle pal David Ehrenstein was a guest on Griffin's show onetime and has a recollection of Merv's entire musclebound male staff being clad in identical Izod shirts. (You do the math.) The appearance required David to wear a tux. And we were so destitute at the time that he had to roll pennies to pay for rental of the garment. That's how poor we were back then. And prrrrractically still are.

Max Roach

I have just heard the sad news that drummer Max Roach is dead.

I am forever quoting him on the subject of rap of which he once remarked, "Those who voted for defunding of music eduction programs in public schools are getting what they paid for." That pretty much sums it up.

Recently, I watched a restored version of filmmaker Oscar Micheaux's silent era "Within These Gates," which contained an entire wall-to-wall soundtrack played by just Max! The first thing that always leaps to mind when I hear his name is his TV "duet" with dancer Harold Nicholas on "Little David."

I believe that he had been instututionalized for the past few years suffering from Alzheimer's, the growing plague that is beginning to rival global warming in terms of its longterm, worldwide impact. When I heard about Max and the disease a while back, that really put a "face" on it for me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New to me

About twenty years ago I attended a Jimmy Rowles Christmas gig at Catalina's here in L.A. He sang a Ray Noble song that was new to me then, but which I have never forgotten, "Why Stars Come Out at Night." Originally, it was recorded in 1935 by Noble with the great British vocalist Al Bowlly, who died a few years later during a London blitz. But I digress. "Stars" was a song I've never been able to get out of my head after hearing it only once. Ever since then I've been on the lookout for one of the few recordings of the song, either Bowlly's or, perhaps, pianist Rowles' (I believe he made one in one of his all-too-few vocal outings on records). But it wasn't until the other day that I happened upon one, on the net. I secured the CD that it came from, by U.S. expat to Oz, John Harkins. Happily, the song is every bit as wonderful as I recalled its being; but, doubly nice, is the discovery of terrific new singer-pianist Harkins. Take a listen to his version of the long sought-after "Why Stars Come Out At Night." And if it knocks you out as much as it did me, make a visit to his website, where his debut CD is for sale. In the immortal words of Borat Sagdiyev, "Wo Wo We Wa!"

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Baby's First Compleat LP Download

I am beginning to sense that in even fairly recent times before travel to our 50th state was so plentiful, that a highly-charged, self-contained jazz scene existed there. My good friend Susan grew up in Hawaii and is forever dropping names of and turning me on to musicians who were household names there when she was in her formative years. Thus, she is the one who alerted me to the excellent singer-bassist of more recent times, Bruce Hamada.

And from a slightly earlier era, vocalist Ethel Azama. I came across a free download on the net last night of an album by her that is long out-of-print, very pricey in its original LP form, Cool Heat, and thus seems fair game for sharing on the net. Might even be out of copyright? (note: I have no knowledge of how long the link will remain active.)

Recorded in 1960, and arranged by Marty Paich with the participation of musician Art Pepper (one of the main reasons for its expensiveness), this is one of two LPs recorded by Azama for the Liberty label. The other is a somewhat less interesting affair, produced by Martin Denny ("cawww, cawww"), though "Speak Low," "Lazy Afternoon" and "Two Ladies in de Shade of de Banana Tree" are quite nice. (I also found a download of that LP last evening.)

I don't know too much more about Azama yet (oh, but I will, I will) except that she died in 1982 of a brain aneurysm, and the following info found on a myspace page:

"Hawaiian-born, of Japanese origin, Ethel Azama also appeared with Arthur Lyman in the early 1960's, and her version of "Lullaby of the Leaves" can be heard on the "The Leis of Jazz". She was also an actress who appeared in the TV-series "Hawaii Five-0" in 1975 and 1976."

She apparently didn't pursue her career too much after she had children in the mid sixties. Too bad. Based on the evidence of these two albums (her only ones?), she had already developed into a quite skillful singer by the time of her early twenties. Long-forgotten in the lower 48, she is still fondly remembered in her native state. Someone on the net even claims to be making a TV docu about Azama.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Mister First Nighter checks in

Last evening in L.A. I caught both sets of Jack Jones' opening night at Catalina. At one point, someone shouted out a request for his hoary old hit "The Impossible Dream." Quick as a flash, Jones shot back with an incredulous "In a jazz club?" Which is by way of my underscoring that this truly was a full-out jazz performance. The musicians, led by pianist Tom Garvin, were the same as those that accompanied him a while back in his tour of the British Isles. Jazzbos all. However, I was so taken aback by the sheer magnificense of what Jones was doing that I failed to jot down set lists. Somewhere in the remembered mist of it all I seem to recall a nearly unrecognizeable and new and improved "take" on "The Love Boat Theme," a slightly unfortunate signature tune for Jones. Also "Wives and Lovers," another of his money-makers.

Jones began the first set and for about the first half, he was displaying a mildly distracting rasp, a frog of some sort. But by the halfway point, the "frog" had been nearly done in. And come the second set, it was gone. Shoulda been the other way 'round. Go figger?

Jones in this jazzy environment was giving a pyrotechnical performance of the first order. Think more Mel Torme and less boy balladeer. The musical imagination he displayed was certainly the equal of any of the most playful and inventive of jazz singers who might leap to mind, Sarah, the aforementioned Torme, Betty Carter, et al. Bearing that in mind, then realize that he easily has twice the vocal power of almost any jazz/pop singer that you might think of. I was seated in the second row and at times he came nigh to blowing me out of my chair by the sheer force of his performance.

I could go on and on, but what I SHOULD be doing is heading back to Catalina later for Jones' closing night.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

It's Here!


Just received this month's batch of SSJ Records (Japan) releases, which the Blogspot Full Disclosure ACT of 2004 (or was it '05?) compels me to admit my participation in the production of same. The crown jewel of the lot, as far as I'm concerned, is the CD issue of the ultra-obscure 1950s vocal LP, "Here Comes Carole Creveling." Heretofore, I've only had access to copies of the LP that sound as if they'd been left out in the sun for a week and then run over by a Mack truck. But SSJ's crack engineering staff of one has done a terific job of restoring the recording and it's great to hear Creveling for the first time in all her full-blown vocal glory. And all I can say is. . .WOW! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Creveling lore, she is a singer who made one recording---and an excellent one it is---and then vanished from the face of the earth without a trace,

I've yet to crack the riddle of Creveling: the who, why, what, where, when of it all. And my ongoing attempts to solve the mystery of "The Case of the Phantom Singer" are detailed in my Japanese liner notes accompanying the CD. For those of you who might be interested in reading the original English text, I've uploaded it at the following site.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Yet another waxworks extravaganza

Tried to watch another one of those nostalgia specials on PBS the other night; this one had the Four Lads, Kay Starr, Tony Martin et al., but couldn't take much of it because of the unavoidable presence of its producer T.J. Lubinsky ,who simply gives me the screaming yips.

Probably comes by his dislikeability quite naturally. His grandfather was Savoy Records head Herman Lubinsky who is described, variously in David Ritz's bio of singer Jimmy Scott as "a human hemorrhoid" (Joel Dorn) and "a horror story, a wanna-be big shot, a cigar-chomping cartoon character [with] a heart of stone." (Lee Magid) Made the others of his ilk (Sid Nathan, Morris Levy et al) seem like pussycats by comparison. In other words, to know Herman Lubinsky was NOT to love him.

Ad hominism aside, the shows, especially those doo-wop and rock and roll revival things T.J. produces, are just a joke. The music purveyed on them---minus the record studio wizardry of the original recordings---mostly have no artistic merit whatsoever. And there he is up there on the screen making these outrageous claims for the timelessness of the stuff. Where is Dick Clark now that we need him? At least Clark, whatever else you might think of him, had the good sense to almost never to present his performing guests "live," but almost always lip-syncing.

Between Wayne Dyer, Suze Orman and T.J. Lubinsky, I've pretty much been driven away from PBS for good.

Have a good day.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Lee Wiley track played from an actual Liberty Music Shops 10" LP. Can't you tell?