Roseanna Vitro: Following Her Muse
Vitro continued to hang out in New York hot spots, listening, observing, and improving her craft, while making the occasional album on small labels like Sea Breeze and Skyline, and occasionally touring in support of these records, but her recording career really took off in the '90s, with Softly (Concord, 1993) and a pair of albums for Telarc Records. While some artists sign contracts and then create a concept for an album, the process went the other way with her first record on Telarc. Vitro recalls, "My husband [Grammy-nominated producer/recording engineer Paul Wickliffe]'s studio, Skyline, was ending. I had never really been involved in my husband's studio [up to that point]. He owned two of the biggest studios in Manhattan, Skyline 1 and 2, and a who's who of the music world, including Al Jarreau, C&C Music Factory and Mariah Carey, who cut Vision Of Love (Columbia, 1990) there, and all of these great famous people [had recorded there]."
She continues, " I was always, sort of, the little jazz singer off doing my thing, and I was never really involved, but when the studio was closing, I literally called up Gary Bartz, Kevin Mahogany, Larry Willis, and all kinds of great musicians and I said we're going to have some jam sessions. Skyline is closing, and it's the end of an era for my husband Paul, and almost everybody knew him, so they came and played on these sessions with me and we had a blast, and that wound up turning into Passion Dance (Telarc, 1995). "
While the vibe behind these sessions might have made the recording a joy, selling the idea of this album to a label wasn't as much fun, but Vitro never wavered in her commitment to this music. "I'm sort of the optimist of the family," Vitro notes. "I'm usually surrounded by Virgos." Vitro's husband, sister and longtime bassistDean Johnsonall fall under this sign, which is often connected to people characterized as realists. She continues, "I guess that's kind of a reality check for a dreamer-Pisces-optimist, which I am. I pursued sending that album around to everybody and I got, probably, twenty rejections, and, of course, Paul [Wickliffe] was saying all the time, 'See, I told you nobody would want this record,' and I'd spent, probably, twenty-thousand dollars to get all of these people. Every penny I had, I spent chasing that particular project. Then, I got a letter from Telarc, from Bob Woods over there, saying, 'this is an amazing record, I love your singing.' Elaine Martone [from Telarc] sent me $20,000 dollars, signed me up, and then, all of a sudden, I had a really big shot at that moment. "
While Passion Dance proved to be an artistic success for Vitro, the music business has always thrived on commercial success. With this in mind, the people at Telarc came calling, and as Vitro recalls, they said, "Well, you're going to have to make something more commercial." While Vitro's initial reaction was "Oh god, what I could I possibly do that could be considered commercial," the light bulb went off, and the idea for Catchin' Some Rays: The Music Of Ray Charles (Telarc, 1997) took off.
Vitro's jazz vocal chops were always apparent to those who heard her early recordings, but her blues roots and the soulful side of her singing now had an opportunity to mingle comfortably with her jazz side. Vitro notes, "I'm an innate blues singer and I've just definitely had blues curdling through my being, and in the early days, when I could handle it, it was a nice bottle of tequila and Lightnin' Hopkins for me. Some of the jazz players cannot get next to early blues, they just don't hear it, and I understand that, but it's something that I'm completely comfortable with, so, I went on one of my journey's with the Ray Charles [catalog] and completely listened to everything he ever made, and just loved it. I didn't know that he'd played saxophone and I didn't know [about] some of his jazz roots or some of his history that came out later in the movie, after he'd died, and it was so much fun to talk to David "Fathead" Newman [about it], and tour with Fathead."
While some musicians never get a real glimpse into the realities and life of the figure they might be honoring on a tribute record, Fatheadlongtime saxophonist with Ray Charlesproved to be a direct lifeline to the man and his music, and Vitro found the whole experience with him to be a positive one. "That was really great," she begins. "With every tribute record I've done, which are only threeactually four if you count [the] Steve Allen recordI always look to speak with somebody [connected to the artist]. Eddie Gomez on my Bill Evans record, was sort of my conduit to real stories and what was happening, and what was he really like, and 'Fathead' was really great to tour with."