Blues For Breakfast
, the third album from vocalist Mary Foster Conklin, is a tribute to the music of Matt Dennis, who died in 2002 at the age of 88. Although he was not as renowned as the members of the Great American Songbook circle (Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, et al.), Dennis did indeed contribute significantly many memorable songs, primarily during the second half of the Twentieth Century. In the liner notes, author James Gavin relates how in the 1953 film Jennifer
, a noirish potboiler, the ambiance is enhanced by the presence of a piano-singer mourning love lost per his recitation of the lyric "'Scuse me while I disappear." The musician was Matt Dennis performing his classic ballad composition "Angel Eyes."
Mary Foster Conklin is a well-regarded cabaret singer in the metropolitan New York area. She was acknowledged with the Best Jazz Singer award from MAC in 1999. She began researching Dennis as subject for this album in 2003 after her pianist/arranger, John di Martino, showed her the long-lost verse for "Angel Eyes." Conklin was wise enough to include several of Dennis' lesser-known compositions as well as his most famous tunes. Her voice is dramatically suited for the cabaret setting, and the album comes across as a combination of cabaret and jazz. Certainly the inclusion of artists like pianist/arranger John di Martino, tenor player Joel Frahm, guitarist Tony Romano, bassist Sean Smith and drummer Ron Vincent provides a jazz setting for the album.
Matt Dennis used a number of collaborators, insofar as lyrics were concerned. For the chosen tracks on this album, his most frequent partner was Thomas Adair, who penned the words for "Will You Still Be Mine," "The Night We Called It A Day," "Let's Get Away From It All" and "Violets For Your Furs." Combined with "Angel Eyes," this list is generous, and it's astounding to consider the number of vocalists and jazz players who have provided us with versions of these songs.
Bobby Troup also worked with Matt Dennis, and two of his lesser known efforts, "Where Am I To Go?" and "Learn to Love," are given a rare airing by Conklin. The title tune, a perfect B-movie theme, is given an appropriately noirish reading. That tune was co-written by Jerry Gladstone [no relation]. Cuban musician David Oquendo provides a Spanish translation of "It Wasn't The Stars That Thrilled Me" and sings in duet with Conklin.
I can't say enough about the musicianship of the group, led by John di Martino, who very recently provided a similar service for another cabaret artist, Barbara Fasano, on her Written In The Stars (Human Child, 2006). Surely, it can't be a coincidence that Di Martino has taken respected cabaret performers and provided jazz voicings for these albums.
Personnel: Mary Foster Conklin: vocals; John di Martino: piano, arrangements;
Tony Romano: guitar; Sean Smith: bass; Ron Vincent: drums; Joel Frahm: sax (1,3,13); Wilson
"Chembo" Corniel: percussion; Leo Traversa: electric bass (3,6); David Oquendo: vocals (6).