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Lorraine Feather's Language Turns A Witty Phrase


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: Lorraine Feather's Language Turns A Witty Phrase
I got to know Lorraine Feather through reviewing several of her CDs, amazed by her gifts as a lyricist and singer, who was equally at home with witty songs and tender ballads. I first met Lorraine when she was performing at the late lamented Manhattan club Danny's Skylight Room with pianist Shelly Berg. We would chat during IAJE conferences and I was delighted when she invited me to write the liner notes for this CD. This release stands the test of time very well, some fifteen years after its release.

Over the past few years, Lorraine Feather has proven herself again and again as a captivating jazz vocalist and outstanding lyricist in her series of CDs. Lorraine has the skills of a theatre actress (part of her vast resume) as she projects the emotion within each song; she is an effective storyteller, possesses a rare comic wit, thrives in her use of language and incorporates bits of everyday life (whether real or imaginary) experiences into her well-chosen words.

Lorraine discussed the inspiration for several of her compositions. "I had an idea for an up-tempo songs with a lot of clichés, and wanted to use some really fast music by Russell Ferrante to show off his piano chops, have [drummer] Gregg Field play a manic swing groove. Clichés are already so incorporated into songwriting as a whole that it was hard to make it seem ironic enough. I was searching the internet and a found a website called sportscliché.com that is just hilarious I was laughing at loud at many of the entries and I decided it would be funny to write with a lot of sports clichés as a metaphor for life, and filled the song with them, since people use so many in everyday conversation." The result, "Hit the Ground Runnin,'" touches 'em all.

"Very Unbecoming," written with Lorraine's husband Tony Morales and longtime collaborator Eddie Arkin, first appeared on The Body Remembers (her first solo CD of note). "It was inspired by this incident that happened decades ago when Tony and I were talking to a guy who was bemoaning his lot in great detail, as we all sometimes do; he'd had a string of minor setbacks and was complaining bitterly. After he walked off, I said, 'Gee, I feel bad for him' and Tony responded, 'Yes, me too; but it's very unbecoming, isn't it?' The middle, talking section features Michael Shapiro playing an odd percussion instrument, a metal pan with a spring and bell, called The Snail."

Anyone who's been left on perpetual hold listening to an inane computer recording while awaiting a human customer service rep will connect with "We Appreciate Your Patience." The singer explains, "Now they're humanizing the voices more and some of the voice-activated recordings will respond 'I'm sorry, I didn't quite get that' like it's a real person talking to you, which makes it even weirder. Sometimes the voice seems kind of hostile, like pointedly mentioning the website as if you ought to be there instead. I thought 'You'll live in our dreams when you go,' would be the most absurd extension of the anonymous voice 'appreciating your patience.' [Guitarist] Grant Geissman calls the song 'Orwellian.'" Co-writer Shelly Berg's light groove provides the perfect backdrop.

Sue Grafton's fictional private detective, Kinsey Millhone, the central character in her popular Alphabet Series novels, served as inspiration for "Home Alone," written with Russell Ferrante. Lorraine remarks," Kinsey lives in a fictional California coastal town called Santa Theresa. She's a real loner and adores being alone in the converted garage that she rents. It reminds me of what it's like to be a writer, tucked away in a private world." The groove was inspired by the group Garage a Trois, though drummer Michael Shapiro altered it to fit Lorraine's setting.

"I Love New York at Christmas" is one of Lorraine's most dramatic works and has the makings of becoming a standard. "This particular song came music-first. Shelly asked me if I wanted to work on a Christmas song for Patti Austin and I made up a sad little Christmas tale. Patti ended up putting her project aside. In the course of it, I became very attached to the music and decided to include the song on my own CD. When I was recording it, Shelly's playing was so heartfelt that I had to dig my nails into my hand to keep from bursting into tears." Berg's shimmering solo piano initially suggests a reverent air, though its mood quickly turns bittersweet as the focus shifts to spending one's first Christmas alone after the end of a relationship. The shimmering music contrasts with its wistful message. The edge in her voice as she sings "down the path," the occasional dramatic breaks and her momentary pause and vibrato on her final note, display her skills as an actress as she tells her story.

Lorraine describes "Traffic and Weather" as "my second and definitely last song about driving around the San Francisco Bay Area [following 'The 101,' which was based on Ellington's 'Suburbanite']. I brought the lyrics to Shelly and we wrote the tune in an hour. I knew I wanted to ask Tierney Sutton to guest on something and I though that this would be a good fit. I was surprised at how well our phrasing matched up. She's a wonderful musician and I'm glad she was able to do it. I'm a big fan."

Anyone who's gone through early morning panic mode trying to locate a misplaced key ring will enjoy "Where Are My Keys," which appeared in a different form on Lorraine's The Body Remembers. Shelly Berg updated this Lorraine Feather/Tony Morales/Tery Sampson favorite by arranging it as an acoustic rhumba. The song is partially autobiographical. Lorraine explains, "When I was a kid, I lost coats, hats, boots. As a young woman, in moving from one apartment to another, I used to lose things constantly. I'm better now, but recently misplaced two sets of keys within the space of a week. The both turned up eventually."

The nostalgic romantic ballad "Making It Up As We Go Along" was originally written with Eddie Arkin for Lorraine's CD Café Society, but she decided that she had too many ballads. Pianist Michael Lang provides her sole accompaniment for a piece that sounds like a throwback to another era, though it seems to have been created especially for Language.

Like many aspiring actresses, Lorraine paid her dues waiting tables in New York City, where she encountered her share of odd, hectic and amusing moments. A number of them find their way into "Waiting Tables." Its music was something she heard on the radio after a soundcheck in Plano, Texas—an instrumental by a Minneapolis-based group called The Horn Heads, titled "Can't Quite Put My Finger On It." After getting in touch with composer Michael B. Nelson, she quickly obtained permission to write lyrics to his music. The wild arrangement features a lively quintet of brass and saxophones arranged by Nelson and Bill Elliott's snare drum. Guest vocals by The Manhattan Transfer's Cheryl Bentyne and Janis Siegel, who helped Lorraine craft the vocal arrangement and are also ex-waitresses, are an added bonus.

The elegant "In Flower" is a gorgeous waltz in tribute to Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington's brilliant but soft-spoken musical collaborator for decades. "I gave Shelly the lyrics and he held onto them for a few weeks until we got together. His musical vocabulary is vast. He wanted to avoid anything too close to "Lotus Blossom," but to echo the kind of harmonies that Strayhorn used."

"A Household Name" is suggestive of Duke Ellington's early compositions. Lorraine's character is the "Waiting Tables" actress, older and famous, but with a new set of problems. "This is not about any particular person, it's just things that I picked up while shopping in supermarkets for all these years... standing in the checkout line reading about celebrities and imagining what it must be like to have absolutely no privacy. People tend to think that stardom will solve all their problems and it will be an endless thrill. A famous newswoman once said in an interview that 'They can pay you a million dollars a week but that doesn't keep your feelings from getting hurt.'" Bill Elliott and Lorraine collaborated on this piece. Shelly Berg's slinky stride piano, Michael Valerio's creepy arco bass and Gregg Field's brushed cadence provide a perfect backdrop.

With her engaging vocals, with lyrics and the fine efforts of her musicians and co-writers, Lorraine Feather's Language proves to be one of her most wide-ranging projects to date. If you aren't already a fan of Lorraine's music, you soon will be.

Liner Notes copyright © 2023 Ken Dryden.

Language can be purchased here.

Ken Dryden Contact Ken Dryden at All About Jazz.
Ken began collecting jazz in 1972 and has been a jazz journalist since 1988.

Track Listing

Traffic and Weather; We Appreciate Your Patience; Very Unbecoming; I Love New York at Christmas; Home Alone; Hit the Ground Runnin'; Where Are My Keys?; In Flower; Waiting Tables; A Household Name; Making It Up As We Go Along.


Lorraine Feather: voice / vocals; Shelly Berg: piano; Russell Ferrante: keyboards; Mike Lang: piano; Grant Geissman: guitar; Michael Valerio: bass; Gregg Field: drums; Michael Shapiro: drums; Gary Grant: trumpet; Willie Murillo: trumpet; William Liston: saxophone; Andy Martin: trombone; Gregory Smith: saxophone; Cheryl Bentyne: voice / vocals; Janis Siegel: voice / vocals; Tierney Sutton: voice / vocals.

Album information

Title: Language | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Jazzed Media

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