Roseanna Vitro is a soulful and creative storyteller with the power to captivate audiences or stimulate the minds of aspiring young artists. In concerts, or leading workshops, she breathes life and conviction into everything she sings.
Grammy-nominated vocalist ROSEANNA VITRO debuts “CLARITY - MUSIC OF CLARE
FISCHER,” premiering lyric versions of the composer's outstanding melodies on a new CD
from Random Act Records. As a follow-up to her widely-acclaimed project, "The Music of
Randy Newman," "CLARITY," finds Ms. Vitro focusing her talents on a pioneering
composer of renown. Sara Caswell's violin soars with passion over pianist Mark Soskin's
ingenious arrangements over latin rhythms and jazz.
Sound samples: www.Reverbnation.com/RoseannaVitroClarity
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7Vgi4y3a20 (Mama Told Me Not to Come)
Music of Randy Newman Dizzy's Club Cocoa Cola
Music of Clare Fischer
On this heartfelt project, Roseanna Vitro pays tribute to a real musicians’ musician. “It
has taken almost two years to cultivate lyrics for six Clare Fischer songs that have never
been sung before,” says the seasoned singer and educator. “This is the first vocal book by
a solo singer of his music.”
The revered pianist and prolific composer passed away just two and a half years ago
at age 83 after a distinguished career that began as arranger for the vocal group The Hi-
Lo’s in the late 1950s and included 11 Grammy nominations along with some high-profile
arranging work for pop stars Prince, Chaka Khan, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. On
Clarity, Music of Clare Fischer, Vitro focuses on the man’s lifelong passion for bossa nova
and Afro-Caribbean music, which first manifested with 1962’s Bossa Nova Jazz Samba, the
pioneering album he made with sax great Bud Shank, and continued with 1964’s So Danço
Samba and 1981‘s Grammy-winning Clare Fischer and Salsa Picante Present 2 + 2.
Like her previous tribute outings -- 1997’s Catchin’ Some Rays: The Music of Ray
Charles, 2001’s Conviction: Thoughts of Bill Evans and 2011’s The Music of Randy Newman
-- Vitro puts a unique spin on Fischer’s music, courtesy of pianist Mark Soskin’s ambitious
arrangements. Joined by her core crew from the Randy Newman project -- bassist Dean
Johnson, drummer Tim Horner and violinist Sara Caswell -- along with special guests Mino
Cinelu on percussion Clare’s son Brent Fischer on vibes, Vitro delves headlong into Clare’s
In tackling this music by the man who was regarded as a master of harmony by such
heavyweights as Gil Evans and Herbie Hancock, Vitro says, “I really didn’t realize what I was
getting myself into with this project of difficult melodies. But once I was in, well, I was in.”
You can hear Roseanna’s sheer commitment to the material throughout this stellar
outing. From the opening “Morning,” first heard on Fischer’s 1965 album Manteca!, it is
clear that she is up to the challenge. Fueled by Soskin’s churning 12/8 undercurrent, she
sings this haunting melody (first set to lyrics by Clare in 1981 on his landmark Clare
Fischer and Salsa Picante Present 2+2) in husky, alluring tones before breaking into some
freewheeling scatting. The gorgeous “Web of Love (Inquietacao),” the only song here not
written by the subject of this tribute album, was a Fischer favorite. Originally written in
1935 by Brazilian composer Ary Barroso, this version has Roseanna singing English lyrics
written by New Yorker Roger Schore, showcasing the full range of her voice from soaring
highs to luxurious lows. Caswell contributes an outstanding violin solo that elevates the
proceedings with its tenderness and lyricism.
“Love’s Path” is a soulful interpretation of Fischer’s “Love’s Walk,” a piece originally
written for his wife Donna on his 2005 solo piano album Introspectivo. Lyrics here were
written by Vitro’s husband, engineer Paul Wickliffe. “Swingin’ with the Duke” (an adaptation
of Fischer’s 1983 piece “The Duke”) is straight up playful 4/4 burn with Vitro in Ella-
inspired scatting mode. The lyrics here, co-written by Roseanna and Cheryl Pyle, tell us
precisely what the Ellington was telling us with his swinging music.
“Pensativa,” a Clare classic covered by the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans and
George Shearing, is rendered as an appealing bossa nova with Roseanna remaining faithful
to Fischer’s beautiful melody and lyrics. “Life’s Journey” (originally titled “Pavillon” on
Fischer’s 1984 album Crazy Bird) features new lyrics by Cheryl Pyle. Roseanna turns in a
particularly passionate reading of “Sleep My Child,” which she calls ‘the heart of this
recording.’ Originally recorded on Fisher’s 1967 album Songs for Rainy Day Lovers and
dedicated to his then-newborn son Brent, it features Roseanna accompanied only by
Soskin’s piano and Caswell’s violin. “This melody is up there with Jimmy Rowles’ ‘The
Peacocks,’” says Vitro of this haunting number.
“Take Your Breath and Sing (O Canto)” was originally recorded in Portuguese with a
vocal group. This buoyantly swinging version features English lyrics by Roseanna’s
husband Paul and a flowing vibes solo by special guest Brent Fischer. And the album closes
on a soothing note with a version of Clare’s sweet bossa nova “I Remember Spring”
featuring his never-before-recorded lyrics.
From opener to closer, it is clear that Vitro was ‘all in’ for this very personal tribute to
the underrated master of harmony. -- Bill Milkowski
Today’s jazz singers don’t limit themselves to the classic American Songbook. The
singer/songwriter era ushered in by rock ’n’ roll produced a treasure trove of tunes ripe for
reinvention, and Roseanna Vitro uncovers a mother lode with The Music of Randy Newman.
Working closely with veteran pianist and longtime collaborator Mark Soskin, Vitro infuses
Newman’s songs with her soul-deep feel for blues and gospel. The results are revelatory,
insistently raising the question of why no jazz singer has previously tackled a Randy
Newman project. Vitro credits the concept to her husband, sound engineer and producer
Paul Wickliffe, an idea planted by her yearning version of Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to
Rain Today” on her 2006 album Live at the Kennedy Center (Challenge).
The project is very much a collaboration with a brilliant cast of musicians, including Mark
Soskin, whose long history with Sonny Rollins and his band goes back to the 1970s and
who currently teaches at the Manhattan School of Music; rising violin star Sara Caswell,
heard recently with Esperanza Spalding’s Chamber Music Society and Mark O’Connor’s
American String Celebration; percussion ace Jamey Haddad, currently with Paul Simon’s
band; guitarist Steve Cardenas, now touring with Ben Allison and Jenny Scheinman; and
Vitro’s working rhythm section of bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tim Horner, both
featured on Live at the Kennedy Center with Roseanna. While The Music of Randy Newman
might not register immediately as a jazz session, it’s an album that could have only been
conceived and realized by artists powerfully connected to the jazz tradition.
Immersing herself in Newman’s vast catalog, Vitro used the same rigorous process in
selecting material as on 1997’s Catchin’ Some Rays (Telarc) and 2001’s Conviction:
Thoughts of Bill Evans (A Records), her acclaimed albums exploring the music of Charles
and Evans, respectively. Whether interpreting Newman’s early hits or latter-day gems, Vitro
and Soskin developed arrangements that flow from the contours of his incisive lyrics and
the implied orchestrations of his piano playing. From the opening track, which infuses the
almost psychedelic “Last Night I Had a Dream” with a propulsive Latin groove, to the closer,
a wrenching “Losing You,” Vitro imbues each song with her highly personal narrative arc.
An artist who has never shied away from politics, Vitro is clearly drawn to Newman’s warts-
and-all portraits of America. The Americana fiddle theme on “Sail Away,” which explores
the tragedy of slavery, subtly comments on the nation’s founding sin, while the imploring
strings on “Baltimore” heightens Newman’s tale of urban despair. Which isn’t to say that
Vitro is only interested in Newman’s biting wit and caustic commentary. “If I Didn’t Have
You,” the Academy Award–winning theme from the 2002 hit Monsters, Inc., ranks among
the sweetest of buddy songs, a mood that Soskin captures by recasting it as an insinuating
bossa nova. “I Will Go Sailing No More” from Toy Story is another highlight, a rueful ballad
about aging gracefully and on one’s own terms.
In a career marked by one sensational creative swoop after another, Vitro is still soaring
into new musical realms. In many ways, The Music of Randy Newman flows from her last
album, Delirium Blues Project: Serve or Suffer (Half Note), a fascinating sojourn into vintage
blues, jazz, funk, and rock ’n’ roll. Working closely with pianist Kenny Werner, a longtime
creative partner, and a world-class cast of players, including saxophone master James
Carter, trumpet great Randy Brecker, and bass virtuoso John Patitucci, Vitro turns into a
power belter on numbers like the Esther Phillips vehicle “Cheater Man,” Mose Allison’s
“Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy,” and Tower of Power’s “What Is Hip?”
With its amalgam of musical influences, Delirium Blues Project gave her a chance to live out
an early musical ambition. Growing up in Arkansas, Vitro was weaned on music. Her
Italian-born father owned a nightclub in Hot Springs and loved opera, and her mother’s
family sang gospel. (“You know Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? That’s my family’s music,”
Vitro says.) She fell in love with singing as a child, and by the time she reached her teens in
the mid-1960s she was determined to become a rock singer. Fleeing Texarkana for
Houston, Tex., she started meeting musicians around the Gulf Coast scene through
classified ads placed by rock combos seeking a singer.
On one of her early rock gigs, a bassist informed her that she seemed to have the makings
of a jazz singer, and she started checking out Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nancy
Wilson. Veteran crooner Ray Sullenger, who had performed with Paul Whiteman, took her
under his wing, giving her career pointers and organizing a “coming out” party to introduce
her to the Houston jazz community. The great Texas tenor saxophonist Arnett Cobb
attended the event, and became another important mentor.
“He was such a great example of a blues-steeped player who swung so powerfully,” Vitro
says. “I would go to the Third Ward and sit in and jam with Arnett all the time. He’d put on
summer jazz workshops for kids, and I’d go trying to learn theory. Bob Morgan, who’s
done such amazing work mentoring musicians like Jason Moran and Eric Harland at
Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, was my teacher at those
summer jazz workshops.”
By the mid-1970s Vitro had become a mainstay on the Houston scene, leading a group
called Roseanna with Strings and Things. A two-year engagement at the famed Green
Room led to a weekly radio show (on KUHF-FM) and jams with the likes of Oscar Peterson,
Bill Evans, Eddie Gomez, Tommy Flanagan, and others. Soon she felt New York’s inexorable
gravitational pull. She set off with her guitarist Scott Hardy and made the move to
Manhattan, where Cobb regularly invited her to sit in when he played the Village Vanguard.
He also appeared as a guest on her first disc, 1985’s Listen Here (Texas Rose), an
auspicious debut with Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, and Ben Riley that’s yet to be
reissued on CD.
Always looking to extend her skills and craft, Vitro studied bel canto with Gabore Carelli at
the Manhattan School of Music, jazz singing with Ann Marie Moss, and later Hindustani
classical music with Dhanashree Pandit Rae, Purvi Parikh, and Uday Bhawalker. She studied
piano with Sid Bernstein and theory and concept with Kenny Werner and Fred Hersch, who
both became Vitro’s key creative collaborators.
Hersch accompanied her on 1987’s A Quiet Place (Skyline), 1994’s Softly (Concord Jazz),
and Conviction, all sessions displaying her expansive repertoire. Werner has played an
essential role just about every other Vitro album, including 1991’s Reaching for the Moon
(Chase Music Group), and her major label breakthrough with Telarc, 1996’s Passion Dance,
which features the pianist’s lush arrangements and superlative improvisers such as Elvin
Jones, Gary Bartz, Christian McBride, and Romero Lubambo. He also backs her on Catchin’
Some Rays, 2004’s Brazilian escape Tropical Postcards (A Records), and Live at the
Kennedy Center. All of Vitro’s recordings are distinguished by her canny choice of songs.
Rather than delivering the standards defined by Ella, Sarah, Carmen, and Billie, she’s honed
a body of songs that are truly Roseanna.
That’s not to say she’s the first singer to explore Randy Newman’s music. His gimlet-eyed
character studies bring to life a vast menagerie of American characters, and a spectrum of
artists from Ray Charles and Etta James to Dusty Springfield and Peggy Lee has recorded
his music. (As Vitro reveals in her liner notes, Newman wrote the orchestration for Lee’s
1969 hit “Is That All There Is?”). His knack for storytelling has made him Hollywood’s
favorite tunesmith, a two-time Oscar winner whose music has played an essential role in
more than a dozen hit films including The Natural, Meet the Parents, and the Toy Story
The fact that Newman’s music is so well suited for movies should come as no surprise.
Three of his uncles—nine-time Oscar winners Alfred Newman, Lionel Newman, and Emil
Newman—were esteemed Hollywood composers, and today his nephew Joey Newman and
cousins Thomas Montgomery Newman and David Newman are successful film and
television composers. Spending his early years in New Orleans, he absorbed the city’s
rhythms and cadences. It’s no coincidence that his song “Louisiana, 1927,” from his
landmark 1974 album Good Old Boys, became an anthem for New Orleans in the wake of
2005’s Hurricane Katrina. For Vitro, the combination of wit, sentiment, bruised cynicism,
and open-hearted vulnerability made Newman’s songbook an irresistible draw.
“I felt so at home singing Newman’s songs,” Vitro says. “I could make three albums of his
music. If you look at the American Songbook, most of that work was created for film and
theater. He’s actually expanding the definition of the American Songbook. Some of the
greatness has gone under the radar, because it’s being sung by a big wooly animal or
created for an animated film.”
If Vitro is turning on the jazz world to a body of work it’s been overlooking, her efforts
include her vaunted skills as an educator. A respected professor and symposium director
since the mid-1990s, Vitro is the director of vocal jazz studies at New Jersey City
University, a program that she founded in 1998. As a mentor to some of the most creative
young singers on the scene, she developed a four-year curriculum spanning the history of
jazz vocalists, from Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith to the greatest contemporary
stylists, most of whom she interviewed about their approach and creative concepts. In
2009 she created the social networking site JVOICE (Jazz Vocalists Offering Instructional
Curriculum for Education) for jazz singers, teachers, students, and others interested in
technique and issues around jazz education.
“I love what I’ve learned in this business,” Vitro says. “I want to be a great teacher, work on
my improvisation, and write substantial music. I love to interview other singers. I still love
to perform, but I also love to teach. I want to spread jazz everywhere and fulfill the role I
was put here for.” •
My Jazz Story
I have loved jazz since I was turned on to it at the age of 21 in Houston.
I was first exposed to jazz by Ray Sullenger, Arnett Cobb, Bobby Henschen, and Tom Clarkson.
I have worked with and met so many great musicians since discovering the music of Ella, Oscar, Joe, Sarah, Mel, Carmen, Flora, on and on... lucky me.
The best show I ever attended was Ella at Carnegie Hall.
The first jazz record I bought was Bill Evans and Tony Bennett.
My advice to new listeners is to check out the history of jazz.
- Segovia-Any of his albums
- Ivan Lins
- John Coltrane
- Sarah Vaughn
- Nancy, Ella, Carmen, Joe Williams, Mel...
- Michael McDonald
- Paul Simon