Johnny Smith with Friends Mark Holzinger and Chris Justin: San Francisco Bay Jazz (2006)
As advertised, Johnny Smith is a self-taught guitarist who sings and plays the harmonica with his two musical associates, guitarist Mark Holzinger and bassist Chris Justin. Although Smith recorded an earlier album, Just A Man (Napa Rain Publishing, 2002), this is his first venture into the Great American Songbook and other tunes.
The nature of many of the songs and the instrumentation of the group is similar to that of the John Pizzarelli trio, but there are some major differences. Smith seems very comfortable with the material, but is the material comfortable with him? Insofar as vocals are concerned, classic titles like Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin," Burton Lane's "Old Devil Moon" and Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon" are usually favored by crooners or belters. Johnny Smith's interpretation of them is relies on a relaxed but sometimes gruff delivery that detracts from our preconceived notions of how these songs ought to sound.
Even more indicative is Johnny Smith's preference for the blues. On songs like his vocal version of the Joe Zawinul jazz classic "Mercy Mercy Mercy," featuring the Larry Williams/Johnny Watson lyrics, he fits in perfectly. Likewise, a unique version of the Miles Davis standard "All Blues" is treated as just that... a harmonica country blues version with original lyrics by Jess Raphael. Smith thrives on the shuffle tempo of the Louis Jordan piece "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't (Ma' Baby)," delivering it in a comfortable manner. Other jazz material covered on this album includes Horace Silver's "Song For My Father" and Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'."
Some of the pleasures of this recording include the instrumental performances of the Great American Songbook selections. The group swings best on the shuffle tempo of the Mitchell Parish piece "Deep Purple," 'Riz Ortolani's early '60s film theme "More," and the Warren/Gordon classic "There Will Never Be Another You."
Visit Johnny Smith on the web.
Track Listing: I've Got You Under My Skin; Old Devil Moon; All Blues; Is You Is Or Is You Ain't (Ma'Baby); Fly Me To The Moon; Mercy,Mercy,Mercy; There Will Never Be Another You; Come Rain or Come Shine; Moanin'; More; Song For My Father; Deep Purple.
Personnel: Johnny Smith: lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica; Mark Holzinger: lead guitar, backing vocals; Chris Justin: bass.
Record Label: Self Produced