A Superb Introduction to the Great American Song Book...
My first brush with what are commonly called "standards" in jazz parlance came when I devoured Linda Ronstadt’s Round Midnight with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. This was a collection of "jazz" vocals that was unthreatening, easily digested, and readily understood. Further, Ronstadt’s collection introduced the standards, their lyrics and melodies to my 40-something generation when that generation could not hear Ella, Billie, Sarah, or Betty.
Now, there is available an exceptional collection of the American Song book as interpreted by the most enduring of all jazz combos, the piano trio. Pianist Beegie Adair leads her traditional jazz trio of bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown through an assembly of songs by an assembly of composers, all for who we have recently celebrated their respective centennials. The Centennial Composers Collection details the most prominent offerings by six composers recently celebrating their centenaries. Spotlighted in this collection are Richard Rodgers (1902—1979), Duke Ellington (1899—1974), Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981), George Gershwin (1898—1937), Irving Berlin (1888—1989), and Jerome Kern. Each composer is afforded an entire disc, the entire set encompassing better than four and one-half hours of music.
A native of the blue grass, Cave City, Kentucky, Ms. Adair began her musical career at age five, playing piano through high school and college at Western State University in Bowling Green. During and after college, Adair performed in jazz bands and after three years she moved to Nashville, becoming a session musician. In Nashville she became the house pianist for the Johnny Cash Show between 1969 and 1971. Adair has divided her time since between teaching and recording, having appeared on recordings by everyone from Henry Mancini to J.J. Cale. She debuted as leader on 1998’s Escape to New York (Cap 12790) with a trio made up of bassist Bob Cranshaw and Drummer Gregory Hutchinson. On her subsequent recordings, all made for the Green Hill/Hillsboro Record Company, she has maintained the rhythm section of Spencer and Brown. It is this lineup can be heard on Adair’s previous Green Hill releases, the jaunty, strolling Jazz Piano Christmas (Green Hill 5148, 1999 ), Dream Dancing: The Songs of Cole Porter (Hillsboro 1004, 2001), and I’ll Take Romance (Hillsboro 51008, 2002).
In any universe and for any record label, the Centennial Composers Collection would be an ambitious project and one that could easily suffer from a population of maladies from excessive production to performance fatigue. Gladly, this release represents all that is good in jazz performance. Adair has chosen to record 75 songs from straight out of the middle of the American Musical Canon. The majority of the compositions in this collection were written with lyrics for performance in Broadway shows. They have long been fodder for all stripes of jazz combos, from solo recitals to big band concerts. Here, Adair leads that most durable of formats, the piano trio, infusing these chestnuts with the intimate warmth for which the piano trio is most noted, without the progressive genre-bending also often associated with the format. Adair’s approach is very simple: she and her trio generally first state the melody or first 32-bar chorus, followed by a very respectful and well-constructed improvisation, ending with a restatement of the theme. This is coloring within the lines when one wants to color within the lines.
Beegie Adair will not be accused of breaking new ground in jazz, unless one considers a move back to the middle mainstream [redundancy intended] to be new in light of the past 50 years of jazz performance. The real value of her Centennial Composers Collection is an instructive and educational one. This collection assembles in one place a majority of all of the great American songs. These songs are performed in a lightly swinging, always interesting and immediately enjoyable fashion. I would recommend this collection to the jazz novice wishing a sharply focused treatment of the classic standards before moving on to the more improvised flavors. I would recommend this collection to the avid jazz fan for its expansive library of 75 of our most famous tunes.
- This release honors both Ms. Adair and Green Hill Records, each who had the guts to present this grand canon with all of the grace and aplomb of creating high art.
Beegie Adair’s Website
Green Hill Records