A true gem of a singer, Donna Byrne's latest is a 14-track journey through the pages of the Great American Songbook, and along the way she brilliantly captures the essence of each of these chestnuts. But Byrne knows how to extend herself far beyond mere recitation of the words. Her delivery is so engaging, so dazzling, so bright that each tune is an entertaining foray into the world of the art of jazz vocal. Not only is she equipped with an extraordinary set of vocal chords, excellent and top of the line timing and phrasing, she does not let herself get hemmed in by conventional vocal wisdom, letting her imagination provide the direction for the session. Whether it be on a rousing up tempo number like "It Don't Mean a Thing (if It Ain't Got That Swing)" (where she uncharacteristically indulges in some scatting exchanging ideas with Mike Turk's harmonica), to her poignant delivery of "He Was too Good to Me," Byrne applies the right amount of swing, elan, wit or romanticism, whatever is needed to make the performance go.
Another factor in making this CD go, are two sets of outstanding musicians who walk the line between their role as Byrne's sideman and their own special set of musical skills. Jazz piano institution and fellow New Englander Dave McKenna provides the piano backdrop. But while he makes no attempt to overshadow the singer, his years as a top flight jazzman comes clearly through on such tune as "My Melancholy Baby." The other pianist on the set, Tim Ray, is also not overshadowed as he helps with a swinging let's have fun with the melody on "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top." Erstwhile reedman, Mike Monaghan, gets plenty of time with his slightly biting tenor on such cuts as "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)." Byrne's regular rhythm section, Jim Gwin on drums and husband Marshall Wood on bass shows that familiarity in no way breeds contempt but rather respect, harmony and mutual admiration.
Liner notes for my copy don't mention two cuts in the play list. Track 13 is a lovely medley of "Cottage for Sale"/"A House Is Not a Home" and 14, a race car "I Hear Music." But the good news is that this omission results in an unanticipated bonus. This her latest album only solidifies Byrnes' position as a major contemporary jazz vocalist.
Track Listing: I'm Afraid the Masquerade Is Over; Street of Dreams; It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing); In a Sentimental Mood; The Surrey with the Fringe on Top; Don't Dream of Anybody But Me; The Two Lonely People; All Alone on My Own; My Melancholy Baby; East of the Sun (and West of the Moon); He Was too Good to Me; Someone to Light up My Life; Medley: A Cottage for Sale/A House Is not a Home; I Hear Music
Personnel: Donna Byrne -Vocals; Dave McKenna -Piano; Tim Ray -Piano/Fender Rhodes; Jim Gwin -Drums; Marshall Wood -Bass; Mike Monaghan -Tenor Sax/Flute; Kenny Wenzel -Trombone/Flugelhorn; Mike Turk -Harmonica
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.