Kurt Weill (1900-50) was the consummate crossover composer. Born in Dessau, Germany, he immigrated to the United States in 1933 prior to the antisemitic National Socialist wave during the period. Primarily a composer for the stage, Weill worked with such disparate talents as Bertolt Brecht (The Threepenny Opera
, 1928) and Langston Hughes (Street Scene
Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin made Weill an American household name with their respective recordings of "Mack the Knife ("Die Moritat von Mackie Messer," from The Threepenny Opera). Weill was esteemed among the jazz elite, as evidenced by "Moritat from Sonny Rollins' landmark Saxophone Colossus. Weill's music, like that of the Gershwin brothers, found a home on both the stage and with the jazz combo.
Most recently, the premier recordings of Weill songs by a female vocalist were Ute Lemper's Decca recordings, Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill (1988), Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill, Volume 2 (1993), Berlin Cabaret Songs (1996; sung in German and English) and The Threepenny Opera (1990). These recordings provide a gold standard for performance of Weill's music.
Enter Anne Kerry Ford. The native Texan blew into performance at the Academy of the Washington Ballet for high school before graduating from the Juilliard School of Drama. Ford has broad experience in theater and stage, having appeared on Broadway and in movies. She's married to guitarist Robben Ford, who makes an appearance on this recording, recorded with the WDR Big Band under the direction and arrangement of Roger Kellaway.
If that seems to be a dizzying array of talent, it is. The music is also dizzying for its immediacy and fine craft. Pianist and composer Roger Kellaway provided new arrangements for the Weill pieces, ranging from "I'm a Stranger Here Myself (from One Touch of Venus, 1943) to "Lost in the Stars (from Lost in the Stars, 1949). This recital concentrates on Weill's later output.
A note for orientation: this is not a jazz recital. In spite of Kellaway's superb jazz bona fides, this is very much a cabaret performance. Kellaway's arrangements polish the patina of pre-war Berlin, giving it a 21st Century sound. Kellaway coaxes the most out of the lower reeds and brass, allowing John Boswell's informed piano to provide the harmonic underpinning. Ford displays an expansive vocal range. She begins this live recital with "I'm a Stranger Here Myself, where she puts the "amp in vamp while reflecting lyrics of confusing love. "My Ship offers an opportunity to better understand Miles Davis when he recorded the same for his now-famous Miles Ahead.
Weill contains three compositions from the famous Threepenny Opera: "Pirate Jenny, "Tango Ballad and "Solomon Song. These songs challenge Ford's range, but she easily meets that challenge. Kellaway's orchestration provides the perfect backdrop for Ford, together making Weill a successful recording.
Personnel: WDR Big Band, Cologne, Germany; Arranged and conducted by Roger Kellaway; Robben Ford: guitar; John
Boswell: piano; Vanessa Freebairn-Smith: cello; William Artope: trumpet; Dan Higgins, Gary Meek: woodwinds;
John Boswell, Brian Lane Green: vocals.