Roseanna Vitro: Following Her Muse
While some might automatically expect that an artist like "Fathead" would deliver a deep-down, bluesy, "Texas Tenor" sound for this type of record, he surprised many people, including Vitro, with a different tonal response. "I expected that from 'Fathead,'" Vitro states, "and I did not get that. I got a beautiful, more Stan Getz/Benny Golson-type of player. 'Fathead' resented that anybody should assume that he'd be a dirty blues player, just because he's from Texas and just because he'd played with Ray Charles. 'Fathead' played some of the most beautiful solosgentle, sweet, [and] very intellectual. I can only really compare it to Stan Getz and Benny Golson. They are the two that come to mind. I worked with Benny Golson on a couple of gigs, and studied his music, and just love him, and how articulate he is, and what he has offered to our idiom. Stan Getz is another one that comes to mind, with the beauty in his tone and the amazing solos that he played. Fathead was more from that school, and on the road he was the kind of guy that I could really trust to do what he said he was going to do... [and] I loved getting to know him, and I loved touring with him."
As the Twentieth Century was drawing to a close, so, too, was Vitro's relationship with Telarc Records but as one door closed, many others opened. Vitro took her varied experiences and hard-earned wisdom from the clubs into the classroom, to pay-it-forward to the next generation of aspiring vocalists. While her work as the Chair of the Vocal Jazz Department at New Jersey City University, a position she has held since 1998, and other roles in jazz education gave her an opportunity to inspire and instruct from inside brick-and-mortar institutions, she continued to break through walls in her own music. First, she tackled the legacy of pianist Bill Evans on Conviction: Thoughts Of Bill Evans (A Records, 2001) and she followed that record up with a sun-soaked, Brazilian-based journey on Tropical Postcards (Challenge Records, 2004).
While her follow-up to Tropical Postcards, Live At The Kennedy Center (Challenge, 2006), came out a good two records and five years before The Music Of Randy Newman, this album provided an early glimpse into Vitro's strong connection to Newman's music. Vitro and her solid working band covered a large variety of jazz-friendly material on this recording, but the emotional and literal centerpiece of the album is Newman's "I Think It's Going To Rain Today," and the inclusion of this piece now seems like foreshadowing for Vitro's stunning collection of Newman's music.
While certain difficulties existed in bridging the gap between jazz-leaning ideals and Newman's picturesque pieces, Vitro found an additional challenge in the process. "I'm always looking for a great melody, a great story, and then [an] arrangement [that] suits the song," Vitro notes. "That was one of the hardest things with Randy Newman." "Like Bob Dylan, a lot of his songs, are not of great melodic value. They're stories, and you can even imagine an orchestra [behind them], because for so much of his writing he's had an orchestra," she notes. "You could imagine that for this whole record, I could have filled it out with an orchestra. But I'm way into great melodies, and that was a challenge for meto find songs that say something that I'm about, but then, also have a melody."
The ten songs that appear on The Music Of Randy Newman are tightly arranged vehicles that usually fall within the four-to-six minute range, but Vitro has been using her mini-tour for this album as an opportunity to expand on the original arrangements, allowing the music to grow and evolve on the bandstand. She notes, "There's something that you really get in a live setting that you don't get from records, even with my Randy Newman Project. Live, what's happened even over only four or five gigs, the band has taken this music to a completely different level." While Vitro found artistic satisfaction with the recording, she notes, "Now, I've had a chance, and the band's had a chance, to really play the music and develop the music, and with jazz musicians, that's what happens. You keep developing. Only at Trumpet's [Jazz Club], last Saturday [July 9, 2011], I started new improvisations that I've been hearing as I've been going along and I started changing my singing of the melody. I wanted to be sure to be true to Randy Newman's lyrics and melodies on the album, because that's what a good singer does in respect to a composer. I'm from the old school, in that you pay tribute to the melody and the lyrics, and then, in the second chorus you blast off. On this particular record, I seldom took a second chorus and, only now and then did I stretch out a little bit."