Roseanna Vitro: Following Her Muse
While the ten songs on this album cover a broad cross-section of Newman's material, Vitro notes that his catalog provides endless riches. "As I've said to other people, there were about three albums worth of songs I could do, that are not on this record. When I'm on the road, people keep mentioning songs to me that I still haven't heard and I studied five books worth of his music and I listened to everything I've got that's been recorded. It's crazy, but, I've worked up 'Political Science' and I've worked up 'Burn On Big River.'" Vitro is quick to point out how timely, politically speaking, both of these songs still are. Even a song as humorous as "Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear" has found its way into live performances of this group.
Roseanna Vitro's Randy Newman Project, from left:
Mark Soskin, Dean Johnson, Sara Caswell, Roseanna Vitro, Tim Horner
While Vitro continues to develop the very concept and musical outlines that define the live presentation of the Randy Newman Project Band's performances, she also has the future of this project to contend with. "Jana Herzen [of Motéma Music] asked me to make a Volume 2," notes Vitro, "and I said I don't know that I'm going to do that right now, but, for the people who would like to hear the Randy Newman Project Band, I'm always going to be adding Randy Newman songs because I can't just sing the same songs all the time. I just will go out of my mind, so, I'm definitely adding new material to the project."
The Music Of Randy Newman has received plenty of critical accolades since its release, but the best endorsement of all came from Newman himself, even though it took Vitro quite some time to track him down. "The first attempt I made to reach out to Randy Newman," Vitro notes, "was in January [of 2011]. I was giving a workshop and concert in New Orleans at the JEN [Jazz Educators Network] Convention. I was at the JEN convention and I didn't realize it in advance, but Randy Newman was in concert with an orchestra in New Orleans, and it turns out that Rosana Eckert, who is a wonderful young teacher and singer down at North Texas State, was going to see the concert and sit with the conductor of his orchestra. I gave her a copy of the CD and said, 'Listen, if there is any way you can do it, give a copy to Randy.' So, I didn't even know how to reach Randy Newman. How does somebody like me, a little teacher in New Jersey, reach Randy Newman? You know, I'm not Linda Ronstadt or Etta James or Nina Simone, who are some of the people, some of the artists, who have recorded his songs."
While Eckert informed Vitro that she met Newman and gave him a copy of the record, no comment appeared to be forthcoming. Vitro notes that "Months go by, the record is going to come out, [and] Jana Herzen from Motéma is saying, 'Can you get a quote from Randy Newman?' and I said 'He got a record and I haven't heard anything.' So, then, I find out who his manager is, and then it turns out that Ruth Price, who is a wonderful singer that has run the Jazz Bakery in L.A. for years, loves the Randy Newman record and she knows Randy. So she calls up his manager, she calls up Randy. She says, 'Listen, you've got to check this out. This girl has done a record of your music,' and she [Price] says, 'Well, he's going to be in Australia when you're gigging here.'"
While that seemed to be another failed attempt, it wasn't the end of the story. It proved to be quite a struggle to get Newman's thoughts on this record, but the pianist-composer finally weighed in on it just a few days prior to Vitro's interview with All About Jazz, and his response was as positive as can be. The pianist-composer noted, "It's a great honor to have musicians of this quality devote themselves to doing these really great versions of some of my songs. I feel about it much the way I did when Harry Nilsson did an album of my songs. Roseanna is a great artist."
While this quote is certainly a feather in her cap, and validation for a project that might put off some jazz purists, Vitro understands that taking artistic risks and following her own path outside of the jazz mainstream won't always result in positive press. She states, "Even though every artist always wishes that everybody could love them and you always wish that everybody could get you, it's just not going to happen. And the one comfort that I have is that nobody made me do this. I picked everything, I love the music, I knew what I was doing, I went into it with my eyes open, and I know that some people don't like me and some people don't like my singing and, I wish they did; I wish they loved me, but it's not going to happen, as an artist. It's just not. So, being strong about your choices is very important."