Miss Justine: The Many Moods of a Philly Jazz Treasure
MJ: It's sad now that there aren't many places where people really listen to jazz. There's so much else going on. Gerald and I would often work in restaurants, etc, where we were not the main focus, but we would give a concert once a year. We did it at the Philadelphia Art Museum and elsewhere. We'd sell it out, and the people were there for the music. And we would just have a ball. And that kind of rejuvenated me to continue on.
Recently, I started doing a living room series. We go to people's homes. It's so nice. You have a limited number of people. I've enjoyed it so very much. You have to try different things to keep this music going.
AAJ: Do you have any recollections of Johnny Hartman one of the greatest singers, in the opinion of many?
MJ: The only thing I could say about Johnny is that the way he comes over in his music, the soft demeanor, the gentleness that's the way he really seemed to be. He was very warm, always had a smile. I just loved his voice. I got "I Just Dropped By to Say Hello from him it's on my new CD.
AAJ: When I heard you at L-2 the other night, I noticed you sang several of the tunes he recorded.
MJ: They weren't songs he wrote, but he inspired me to sing them by the way he did them.
AAJ: You've performed in the Philadelphia area with many of the guys. Who are some of your favorites to have worked with?
MJ: Gerald, of course. Don Wilson. And, of course, Tom Lawton. I also love Jimmy Gaskins. Eddie Green. They're all pianists.
AAJ: Other instruments?
MJ: I go for the bass solos. Darryl Hall.
AAJ: Did you ever play with Al Stauffer?
MJ: No, but I did know Al. There's Matt Parrish he's on the CD. And Lee Smith.
AAJ: The Many Moods of Miss Justine is a marvelous recording. How did the idea develop to do it?
MJ: Actually, it just came out of my head. I thought, you know, people hear me with a big band, or just a pianist. Each group gives a different feel many phrases, many moods. I tried to give the feeling of what it's like to work with the different instruments. It affects the way you approach the music, the tunes. It was great to add the horns, which I love, but I don't usually have the chance to work with them now.
AAJ: Related to what you're saying, one of the things that impresses me about the album is the feeling of a spontaneous, live performance as opposed to a "canned recording. One thinks of Rudy Van Gelder, the famous sound engineer, who had a knack for helping the musicians loosen up and really groove. How did you get the recording to have that live feel?
MJ: Well, first of all, it's the closeness we have- the musicians. We can have fun together. We're laughing, talking, everybody's supportive and jumping into the music. When we recorded the tune, "I'll be Seeing You (in All the Old Familiar Places) with just the guitar, it was a tribute to my late husband, Jimmie Keeys. So Twig [Gerald Smith - Eds.] and I were doing it. I was filling up with emotion as I was singing, and just trying to get through it without breaking up. When I finished it, I said, "O God, I really blew that! Guys, we're gonna have to that over again. And as I turned around, the whole group is all there with me. They all put their arms around me, and said, "Nope. We're gonna leave it just like that! That's perfect!
So, I think the spontaneity comes from the friendship and intimacy that we have together. I've been very fortunate in my musical career to work with many wonderful musicians. People think the singer is the star, but no, it's the group that does it. It takes all of us to make it sound good. And if any singer thinks they're rising above that, they're wrong. They have a lot to learn.
AAJ: I agree the best jazz vocalists sing as if they're jamming with the group. They tend not to over-dominate.
MJ: When Gerald and I had our group, we would dress alike, even me. Even when I wore a dress or a gown, I'd get the tailor to make ties out of that material for the guys! We were all coordinated and we were all together. The message was, "We're working together, members of the team. I think that's very important.
AAJ: Do you ever do duets with other singers?
MJ: You know, not really.
AAJ: If you were to do so, who would you choose to do it with?
MJ: I'm a little different, and it may not blend with many other women vocalists. But there's one young woman coming up, whom I really like and relate to that's Joanna Pascal.
AAJ: She's marvelous. I reviewed her recent album. She's very talented.
MJ: She really does a good job.
AAJ: By the way, if you were to give advice to an up and coming woman vocalist who really wants to be faithful to the music, what would you tell her?