Bay Area singer Roberta Donnay has an usual past for a jazz vocalist. She already has several albums and a fan base, but according to her website these songs have been in the category of electro-chill-ambient jazz, smooth jazz, trance music, acid jazz, etc. Her initial jazz vocal experience was at the 2003 Monterey Jazz Festival, where she appeared with saxophonist Dave Ellis (who appears on this album), but What's Your Story
is her first recorded venture in jazz singing.
A personage as important in the music industry as Orrin Keepnews has provided a lengthy and enthusiastic endorsement of Donnay as a primo jazz singer, and this comes from someone who has recorded several legendary artists. Finally, Donnay's biography information notes several times that she is a multiple Grammy Award nominee, but nowhere is there any indication of how she was so honored.
But disregarding the background information, this is a pretty good showcase for the vocalist. Given it's her first album not concentrating on original material, the selections are largely familir, providing a reasonably good yardstick to measure her vocals with. Roberta Donnay has a definite edge to her voice and, yes, she does sound a bit like Billie Holiday on several tracks. Notably, she begins with Mary Lou Williams' "What's Your Story, Morning Glory?" and Tobias/Ingraham's "No Regrets," which are associated with Lady Day. Bob Dorough's "Small Day Tomorrow" offers a more sophisticated cafe-type ballad, as does the Mercer/Tauber piece "Drinkin' Again," which I still have trouble associating with anyone but Dinah Washington.
Donnay's attitude is just right for Mose Allison's caustic "If You Live" and, as a Mose-o-phile, I have to say that her original, "Stop This Train," is a dead ringer for the even more sarcastic Allison original, "Stop This World," from his 1962 album Swingin' Machine. Donnay shows her jazz chops with her take on Abbey Lincoln's lyrics set to "Blue Monk" (here called "Monkery's The Blues"). Donnay saves one more goodie from this album: an up-tempo take on Bob Dorough's "Devil May Care," with a booting tenor sax intro from Ellis. Wasn't Dorough the original vocalist who sang this in the mid-1950s on Bethlehem?
Finally, a word about the musicians. I've only heard San Francisco saxophonist Dave Ellis as a hard-blowing soloist. On the four tracks that he appears on, Ellis provides sophiscated accompaniment and adds real polish to the session. The peerless Eric Reed (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass) and Mark Taylor (drums) provide the essential trio backup.
Personnel: Roberta Donnay: vocals; Eric Reed: piano; Gerald Cannon: bass; Mark Taylor: drums; Dave
Ellis: tenor saxophone (3,6,8,10).