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Melissa Manchester

Let’s hear it for the boys! More than 25 years after Melissa Manchester released Tribute, her 1989 album that honored the great female singers who influenced her, she turns the tables with The Fellas, a radiant encomium to the men, including Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin, and the iconic songs they made famous.

Singing with a verve and emotional vulnerability that immediately captivates, the Grammy winner inventively reimagines these be-loved standards. She turns “Chances Are” into a sly bossa nova and scats with seemingly impossible ease on “Love Is Just Around The Corner,” while bringing an understated urgency to “Night and Day.”

Many of these tunes embedded themselves into Manchester’s musical DNA while she was growing up on New York City’s Up-per West Side. “These were the artists and songs that were on the radio as my family ate dinner,” she says. “I am deeply famil-iar with this world.” Indeed, Manchester brings a nuanced un-derstanding to the songs’ delicate phrasing and lyrical construc-tion that would baffle lesser singers.

Manchester’s 21st album opens with a rambunctious, horn-filled version of “Ain’t That A Kick In the Head” that swings exuberant-ly from the rafters. “I wanted to invite the audience in, right away, to what the album and song was going to feel like. When the whole band yells out ‘Beautiful!,’ it’s so indicative of a bygone era when you’d hear a band chime in.”

“The band” is the 40-piece Blue Note Orchestra, a collection of students, alumni and faculty from Citrus College, the suburban Los Angeles university where Manchester is an honorary artist in residence.

The Fellas expands her relationship with The Blue Note Orches-tra and her co-producer/Citrus College Dean of Visual and Per-forming Arts Robert Slack, which launched her 2015 album of originals, You Gotta Love the Life. “I’ve been waiting to create the coda to Tribute with the men, and this showed up as a mag-nificent gift when Bob Slack asked me if I had a project in my mind that could use their orchestra,” says Manchester of the crowd-funded album. “It’s been so thrilling. The students are trained to be not only pro musicians, but they are given real life lessons,” she continues. “They show up ready to be part of an adventure. Their eyes are so bright. It’s serious fun.”

Arrangers Peter Hume, Terry Wollman, Doug Walter and (Citrus alum) David Catalan created spellbinding orchestrations that pay homage to the originals, while crafting wholly new works of art. For example, Hume’s work on “Night and Day” spans Sinatra’s many different interpretations of the Cole Porter classic, from the quiet hush of an early rendition to a swinging 1957 take. “We cover decades in that one arrangement,” Manchester says.

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