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Lorraine Feather: I Love You Guys

Carl L. Hager By

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Grusin's addition to this gathering of composer/collaborators signaled a new direction for Feather, which, if you are familiar with Ages and Tales of the Unusual, and choose to view all three recordings as a suite, is almost de rigueur for the progression of the series—the recordings being like three chapters in a book, each startlingly different from the last, but thematically consistent with basic subtexts in the other recordings. Charles Bisharat's addition for Tales of the Unusual presaged the kismet of Grusin's arrival for Attachments.

When Lorraine Feather records a song, she chooses the company she keeps carefully. She needs to. As a lyricist, first and foremost, she writes the most profoundly thoughtful and emotional lyrics in contemporary jazz; as a supremely gifted vocalist, she therefore demands music that translates one of these poetic pieces into a form that is vocable and singable. While many others have sung her songs (Julie Andrews, Patti Austin, Diane Schuur, Cleo Laine, Janis Siegel), doing so requires a certain vocal dexterity and emotional bravery. And as her own principal artist, her sophisticated lines necessarily demand that she collaborate with composers and arrangers who possess the sensitivity to compose for this wordsmith's famous turn-on-a-dime diction and agile voice.

So when I discovered that, one for one, all these co-writers, including the somewhat elusive Grusin, were so enthused about the Attachments project that they wanted to talk about it, I knew I was onto something good and rare. When I discovered that her recording engineers (Geoff Gillette and Carlos Del Rosario), those unacknowledged legislators of the music world, were equally enthusiastic about discussing the technical aspects of this music, I leapt at the chance. It was apparent that the quality of the entire recording was what all these musical wizards were jazzed about.

Dave Grusin

Dave Grusin is one of those few fortunate jazz masters who have topped the twin peaks of critical and commercial success. In addition to co-founding GRP records in 1978 and producing some of the earliest digital jazz recordings, he has won 12 Grammys, plus an Academy Award in 1988 for the original score he composed for The Milagro Beanfield War. Hollywood discovered early on that he could write blockbuster movie scores—the kind that make good films great, and which are a genre of composing all of their own—and from that golden touch he's produced the scores for The Graduate, The Firm, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Tootsie, Heaven Can Wait, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Three Days of the Condor, etc. It's a long list.

When I suggested to Grusin that Feather compared favorably to the great jazz lyricists and song stylists of the past, he responded by saying, "I think your assessment about Lorraine as a lyricist and jazz singer is right on. Besides having a tremendous grip on the craft, her ideas about subject matter for lyrics are so different from most songwriters, it puts her in a category of her own, in terms of what she chooses to write about. Plus, she has the free-wheeling stylistic sense of letting the piece go where it needs to go ... maybe a little reminiscent of how Dave Frishberg or Blossom Dearie would allow things to just 'happen.'"

While working together on an album project for singer Monica Mancini, Feather approached Grusin with the radical idea of writing lyrics to a piece he had composed for his outstanding soundtrack (all solo piano) of The Firm, 'Memphis Stomp,' a hyperkinetic, rumbling boogie full of slippery syncopation. As Feather recalled, "I was a little nervous about playing him my lyrics for 'Memphis Stomp,' because I wrote a whole counter-melody and a short vocalese section, and I was hoping it would seem musical to him."

It did. Grusin liked it quite a lot, in fact. "Working with her on Monica's album was a delight, and when she suggested a lyric idea for 'Memphis Stomp,' as crazy as it sounded, I was into it," he said. "The version we did for her Attachments project is basically the original piano part, with her special sense of where a vocal should lay in... and with her consistent sense of 'story.' I've learned that every one of her works has that element. It was much fun re-visiting that piano part ... in spite of actually needing to re-learn it!"

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