Lorraine Feather

Carl L. Hager By

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Tierney Sutton wrote me after she heard the new CD, and told me that in working with Hubert Laws she has come to realize that her voice is more like a flute than any other instrument, and that she felt mine was most like a violin.
Like her contemporary Kurt Elling, Lorraine Feather is that rare jazz vocalist and lyricist who reinvents herself with every project. With the February 2012 release of Tales of the Unusual (Jazzed Media) comes a new self so different that casual fans may not recognize her at first. Some might feel challenged or mystified by these ambitious lyrical statements, but the seductive textures are certain to lure them into the eerie world where Feather embraces life's most entertainingly bizarre and aberrant oddities—and has a lot of fun while she's at it.

This could turn out to be the busiest year of her life. Currently working with young piano phenom Stephanie Trick in a duo project aptly dubbed Nouveau Stride, the Grammy-nominated lyricist/singer and her petite musical partner are preparing to reintroduce the very roots of jazz to jaded 21st Century ears, with a hip, feminine, modernized version of that explosive energy first brought to us by thick-fingered men who were brightening the dark days of the Great Depression.

All About Jazz: The collaborations with your now-familiar partners Eddie Arkin, Russell Ferrante and Shelly Berg have produced some very sophisticated compositions for Tales of the Unusual. How did you come up with the dramatic piano intro to "The Hole in the Map," for example?

Lorraine Feather: I asked Russell if he could do a piano intro before the entrance of the baião groove that Mike Shapiro started the tune with, something that set up the mood or spirit of the story. Of course, I never would have thought of doing what Russ did, which was like the accompaniment to a silent movie—but now I can't imagine the track without it, or the album starting another way.

The "Back in the comfort of Devon" section—in which Percy Fawcett is drinking tea with his family but already starting to fantasize about returning to the Amazon—used to float over the same drum groove. At the session, Russ thought it might be interesting to stop there and go into a kind of string quartet mode, which the band worked up, and it did make it more special.

AAJ: Your lyric writing on Tales of the Unusual seems to continue a logical progression that began with Language (Jazzed Media, 2008) and Ages (Jazzed Media, 2010). Thematically, they may be as different as can be, but do you feel they are united by some kind of common thread?

LF: It's hard for me to evaluate the lyrics objectively. Eddie has said they seem about the lonely or disenfranchised, lately. I guess that's true. He also commented after the album was done, "It's as if we wrote each other's songs," meaning that musically, everything seemed united to him; though none of the composers listened to each others' work along the way. The fact that the songs were written mostly with my ongoing collaborators makes a big difference. Doing it from scratch allows you a lot of rhythmic and melodic freedom, and I think that we are continuing to evolve as partners.

AAJ: The musicians you worked with on this recording are getting very comfortable with each other. How do you inspire such sensitivity in players like guitarist Grant Geissman or bassist Mike Valerio?

LF: Ha, well, it's nice to think I do, but those guys are very sensitive and smart in any musical situation. Valerio is famous for saying what's on his mind and sometimes will seem to brood about something he feels is not yet right, even when everyone else is smiling. When we were recording "To Live Another Day," Grant disagreed with everyone else about the take we should use. He said something like, "That first take sounds as if we were discovering the song and I like that. The second one sounds like we've been playing it in a lounge every night for 10 years." We wound up going with his choice. When we were recording "Off-the-Grid Girl," Mike Shapiro looked at me and knew I was feeling overwhelmed by the track. He suggested the approach be less hard-hitting and more sneaky—or something like that. It was immediately perfect. I thanked him later and he said, "The way we were playing it at first, it didn't have the 'sickness.'"

AAJ: You mean the dark blues feel of the final version?

LF: I think it is a bit ominous and witchy-sounding, which is where that comment might have come from. Carlos Del Rosario, one of my co-producers (Geoff Gillette is the other) sometimes refers to it as "Morticia's Lament." But also, Eddie said that he always intended it to be bluesy more in the Gershwin sense, like his Prelude #2.

AAJ: Your use of violinist Charlie Bisharat is inspired. How did that happen?

LF: I used him years ago. He played a wonderful solo on Eddie's and my tune "I Know the Way to Brooklyn" (which Janis Siegel often sings) on the Dooji Wooji (Sanctuary, 2005) album. I thought the violin would add a nice color for the first Tales recording session, which was "The Hole in the Map," "Off-the-Grid Girl" and "Where Is Everybody?" We loved what he brought to the party so much, and I started hearing him on almost everything else in my head.

Tierney Sutton wrote me after she heard the new CD, and among other things said how much she thought Charlie added to the sound. She told me that in working with Hubert Laws she has come to realize that her voice is more like a flute than any other instrument, and that she felt mine was most like a violin.

AAJ: Had you worked with guitarist Mike Miller before?

LF: My husband Tony [Morales] had worked with Mike a lot and describes him as a very original player. Mike is extremely well thought of by all the guys I know. His solo on "Get a Room" is exciting, and he gave the perfect flavor to "Out There" too, the misterioso vibe and what someone called the "AC/DC intro."

AAJ: Gregg Field most often does the Shelly Berg sessions, right?

LF: Yes. They've worked together for many years, on Shelly's albums and for different artists. As with Shapiro, singing to a track with Gregg playing drums just feels right, and Gregg is always tuned in to what's happening with the song, the singer.

AAJ: "Get A Room" is one of your signature humorous songs that will likely get a lot of radio play—very clever lyrics, a composition that the players really swing on, and a nifty hook. What's the difference in the writing experience for "Get A Room" and a song like "Cowbirds"?

LF: As far as the lyric-writing went, I laughed when writing "Get A Room," and cried when writing "Cowbirds..." to me, the food chain itself is one of the saddest things in the world.

"Get a Room" was completed with Shelly on a stormy day in Tempe, AZ, in a small office at the university—with breaks to go out for coffee, food, cocktails. We also did "Out There" that day. I rarely see Shelly since he's become the head of the music department at the University of Miami, but as I've mentioned, because he writes so fast it works out. That song took up most of our time, and he said he knew it would. It goes to different places—there's that chant section that could have been either shouted or sung. We had so little contact between that time and the recording session, I was astounded it came out as well as it did arrangement-wise... though I should have known, because Shelly is Shelly.

Russ and I listened to several classical pieces I'd downloaded from iTunes before working on "Cowbirds." I loved a certain Grieg nocturne the most and he did too. At first we were going to not use one of the pieces, start from scratch, but when I went to his and Gerry's place to work on that and "The Usual Suspects," he said he thought maybe we should just adapt the Grieg composition. We went line by line, slowly—the lyrics were basically written and couldn't really follow the original melody, so Russ needed to create something new. For example, he added a different transition and harmonies in one spot, where it was awkward for me to sing following the existing changes. When we got together the next day, we had both come up with some other ideas, in my case lyrically. When collaborating like this, the words may change as the melody evolves.

AAJ: How did your collaboration with Stephanie Trick, the brilliant young stride pianist, come about?

LF: A bassist friend emailed me about her and I checked out her videos, was blown away that a diminutive young woman could play stride like that. I emailed her, she wrote back, I sent her a link to my stride cartoon and we exchanged albums. We became mutual fans and decided to meet in Mission Viejo, CA when she was down there in October 2010. We went through "You're Outa Here" [Feather's lyricized version of Fats Waller's "The Minor Drag"] and it was insanely fun. I discovered that she had an extensive library of, among other things, James P. Johnson music, including 10 versions of "Carolina Shout," which I'd been interested in adapting.

I went and stayed with Steph and her folks in St. Louis last May—we worked on more material and did a short concert there. That's when we decided to do an album serially, making each of the songs available as we went along, so that I could have time to lyricize some new stride works. The first is "Caprice Rag" by James P., my version called "Pour on the Heat," which you can download from iTunes.

AAJ: What is the solo project you are working on?

LF: It's in the very early stages, but is another one with my co-writers. So far, no millipedes, lion-tamers or aliens.

Selected Discography

Lorraine Feather, Tales of the Unusual (Jazzed Media, 2012)

Lorraine Feather, Ages (Jazzed Media, 2010)

Lorraine Feather, Language (Jazzed Media, 2008)

Lorraine Feather, Dooji Wooji (Sanctuary, 2005)

Lorraine Feather, Such Sweet Thunder, (Sanctuary, 2004)

Lorraine Feather, Café Society (Sanctuary, 2003)

Photo Credits

Page 1: Mikel Healey (Photo-surreal imagery: Michael Ticcino)

Page 2: Courtesy of Lorraine Feather

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