Diane Schuur is that rare songbird who is equally competent as a jazz singer and a pops entertainer. While some vocalists go with more lucrative popular music and some take the road of the jazz artist in the pure sense, Schuur is able to straddle the two careers. Frank Sinatra
and Nat "King" Cole
had a superb grasp of the jazz idiom, but they made the decisive choice to become entertainers. By contrast, Chris Connor
, Betty Carter
, and Johnny Hartman
all had shots at the klieglights and hit parade but took the route of the jazz scene. Schuur has made the two careers work together. She's consistently combined fine artistic efforts with the pizazz of an entertainer and held sway in both concert halls and small clubs. Her style incorporates both subtle jazz interpretation and the power of rhythm and blues. She has performed on stage with Ray Charles
and with Peter Nero
and the Philly Pops. She has recorded albums with the Count Basie
Band (GRP, 1987) and B.B. King
(Heart to Heart
, GRP, 1984). Schuur is a remarkably resilient singer.
In this album, she pays tribute to two star-studded influences on her music and career: jazz saxophonist Stan Getz
, and crooner Frank Sinatra. (She knew them both personally. Getz, sensing her talent when she started out, worked with her on several occasions, and Sinatra hired her for a major celebration in his personal life.) Yet, while tipping her hat to these icons, she chooses to fully embrace an intimate jazz setting, with a quintet typical of a club date, tunes that stand out for their subtlety and sophistication, liberal use of scat, and an emphasis on the emotive interpretation of the songs. Her instrumentalists are eminent jazz musicians, most notably Alan Broadbent
on piano and Joel Frahm
on saxophone. Since it is a tribute album, all the tunes are those recorded at one time or another by Sinatra or Getz, and some are forever associated with them. Their influence is also felt with respect to their respective inflections: Sinatra's conversational emotionality and Getz' frenetic diversions, but the overall impact derives from Schuur's instantly recognizable voice and approach.
The album starts out with three lightly swung standards: "S'Wonderful," "Nice 'n Easy," and "Watch What Happens." Frahm sounds very much like Getz of the early years: laconic and lyrical. Schuur's singing is straightforward and her scatting is non-intrusive. "Nice 'n Easy" and "I've Got You Under My Skin" introduce a Sinatra-like lilt and occasionally invoke the conversational mode for which Sinatra was the master.
Up until then, the album offers what you might hear in a straightforward recapitulation of jazz standards. Then, with "How Insensitive," there's a subtle shift. The instrumental introduction has the heavy beat of a tango, then calms down. Frahm plays soprano sax, something rare for Getz, and the tag ending by Schuur is the sort of utterance we're familiar with from Sinatra at mid-life. Not at all sensitive the way that Astrud Gilberto
did it with Getz.
The game with styles escalates in the particular way that Schuur renders "Here's that Rainy Day." This reviewer's favorite version of the timeless van Heusen and Burke song is from Irene Kral: Live
(Just Jazz, 1995) recorded in 1977 with Broadbent at the piano. Schuur starts out like Kral offering a deeply felt ballad, but then the pace surprisingly escalates to double time with a Latin flair, with Schuur's scatting trading off with Frahm's tenor saxophone. They both adopt Getz' style, and Schuur gives an incomparable evocation of Getz' post-bossa nova squawks and catcalls, her incredibly resilient technique shining brightly, and ending with a gut-wrenching, back-breaking scat. One could argue that by this means she captures the underlying hysteria of a lover's otherwise melancholy "rainy day," but one could also wonder if this display of showmanship doesn't undermine the sense of loss that the song captures so well when left alone. Here, Schuur walks a fine line between meaningful interpretation and flashy entertainment.
Next, Schuur settles into a reflective groove with "Didn't We?" And she stays there, so the meaning of the song really comes through. Here, we also get a wonderful sampling of Broadbent's exceptional ability to accompany a vocalist with full chordal voicing. (Some great guitar work as well.) "I Remember You" is well articulated with the feel of Pete Rugolo
's great arrangement of the tune (Four Freshmen and Five Trombones
, CreateSpace, 1955.)
A medley of "I Get Along Without You" and "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" is sheer beauty on all fronts, showing what Schuur can do with straightforward ballad interpretations. The same can be said for "The Second Time Around." The album concludes with a lively, swinging version of "For Once in My Life" which, however, uniquely ends like a soprano aria in the death scene of an opera.
Some listeners are going to enjoy the straight-ahead renditions more than the intrusions of Getz and Sinatra, while others will dig the spice. Either way, the album provides a rich sampling of what Schuur can do with a small group jazz backup in an intimate studio setting. And it has all the vitality and energy that we expect from Schuur at her best.