Grady Tate, likely the most recorded trap drummer in history, has played with many a great singer: Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughanand that's just a few. But Tate himself has been one of the best jazz vocalists on the scene since his 1968 recording Windmills of My Mind. This past New Year's Eve, at a brunch gig at the Blue Note, he performed an exhilarating set which included tunes from From the Heart.
His vocal style is a study in synthesis: an earthy gut-felt maturity suffuses his warm velvet sound, precise lyric enunciation and diction, balanced by a free-wheeling disposition to sing/play/scat behind or slightly ahead of the beat with nuanced subtlety. Tate plumbs shades of emotional and musical depth on songs like Strayhorn's "Lush Life" and is also a superb storyteller, as on the Arlen classic "It Might As Well Be Spring," with its dreamy vulnerability, hope of romance, joy in spite of uncertainty and, when performed by Tate, a midsection of straight-up swing signifying victory. The disc begins with the brief, upbeat "You Are My Sunshine," whose ascending modulations did seem to, as he put it on New Year"s Eve, "drive your blues away."
Tate's live performance on the last day of 2006 was an example of his primacy. His smooth baritone voice gently glided from the eardrums to the souls of the audience when he rang out Gordon Parks' ballad "Don"t Misunderstand" and "My One and Only Love" to the plush accompaniment of Akiko Tsuruga (piano), Noriko Ueda (bass) and Shinnosuke Takahashi (drums). Tenor saxophonist Lance Murphy's cascading glissandos provided an interesting contrast to the gruffer stylings of Bill Easley on the recording.
Tate's version of "Everybody Loves My Baby" on New Year"s Eve was a romping, rollicking showcase of scat. Tate blew a thrilling scat solo on the "Little Black Samba" (not "Sambo," he told us) which had an insistent beat and found Tate and his "young, beautiful, talented musicians" taking us to Africa by way of Brazilian candomble.
Whether tackling a ballad, a blues, a 4/4 burner, an Afro-Latin numberor scatting adventurously, Tate is a master of jazz music, whenever and wherever he raises his voice.
You Are My Sunshine; Everybody Loves My Baby; Teach Me Tonight; Lush Life; Little Black Samba; Where Do We Start; All Blues; It Might As Well Be Spring; I've Got the World On A String.
Grady Tate: vocals; Bill Charlap: piano; Jay Leonhardt: bass; Bill Easley: saxophone, fFlute; Glen Drews: trumpet; Dennis Mackrel: drums.