Love Songs by Champian Fulton
New York City, USA
December 16, 2010
"Please welcome Champian Fulton," Birdland's proprietor, John Valente, announced at six o'clock on Thursday night, December 16th, 2010. Why the unusual early start time? Hush, hush, Fulton had arranged to showcase her trio for Palmetto Records.
Opening with "No One Loves Me, Exactly Like You," and Cole Porter's "If It's All Right with You," with its startling change in tempo, there's was no doubt: she's alright!
Just like a singer sittin' in at a smoky saloon, Fulton updated the formerly overdone "Won't You Be My Melancholy Baby" with her own refreshingly lyrical brand of piano swing, à la Hampton Hawes.
Fulton's version of "Pennies from Heaven," which Louis Armstrong did definitively years ago, was a set favorite, her piano solo going on a single-note trip through the melody that evoked its familiar lyrics. The trio showed its stuff, Hide Tanaka on bowed bass fiddle and Fukushi Tainaka, up-tempo on drums. "Yesterday we decided to do 'Tenderly.' It's our first time," Fulton quipped, on a surprisingly up-tempo version that was not at all like Johnny Mathis' original. It was uncanny, as Fulton sang directly into the mic, appearing to accompany herself without looking at the keys.
On the title tune to The Breeze and I (Gut String, 2010), Fulton's block chords were interspersed with a hard right hand, her single notes melodic and consistently backed by Tainaka's boppish rhythm and Tanaka's swinging bass.
Sam Jones' "If You Never Fall in Love With Me" (possibly a subliminal choice for this audition), and an up-tempo "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," were followed by another personal favorite composed in 1926 by stride pianist James P. Johnson, "If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight." And what a delightful hour of meaningful lyrics, with Fulton's fresh approach on piano.
The evening was also a family occasion. As Fulton's mother, Susan, proudly watched, her father, Stephen, sat in on flugelhorn for a fast "Day in Day Out," but overpowered the mike and fidgeted during Champian's solo as she showed off her piano chops, while intoning Clifford Brown on "It's Too Late."
My companion, Jackie-Lynne Wax, a gem of a gemologist, described Champian's cute-as-a button outfit as follows: a Jennifer Simpson strapless bustiere, full-flowered ruffled taffeta crinoline dress with a sparkling sequined hairpiece shaped like a wing, finished with lace stockings and gladiator heels. Her guest, Myron Marinbach, a Diamond District jeweler, thought Champian was "girlish, light-hearted, aggressive, laidback and comical in her voicing."
If Cupid were a gal that could play a jazzy piano, swing and sing at the same time, then Champian Fulton would be that singer of love songs.