You've got to give the guy extra credit for sheer nerve, simultaneously offering up four CDs of great American Songbook classics. But trumpeter/saxophonist Miles Donahue doesn't need anybody's credit. The four discs stand on their owncollectively or separately.
Stranger in Paradise, Volume I opens up with Irving Berlin's "Always," with a bonus: vocals by Robin McElhatten (now going by Robin McKelle). Donahue hadn't planned on using a vocalist on the four discs, but a friend suggested he go see Robin McKelle perform in a Boston area bar one night. Miles was so taken with her that he recruited her to do a total of twelve songs for the project, three per disc. More on her later.
Miles Donahue is a rare instrumentalist who doubles on reeds and trumpet, and an even rarer one who does it successfully. But repeated listens of the set suggests his strength may be the alto sax. The songs are done fairly reverently, but when Miles solos, he really gets into the music with a stunningly creative intensity, taking the theme of the melody to places you didn't know existed. And when he's joined by like-minded tenorist Jerry Bergonzi ("People Will Say We're in Love"), magic happens.
That's Miles Donahue the instrumentalist. But Donahue is also a talented arranger. These songs are all time-polished gems"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "I Love Paris" (another McElhatten vocal), the title tune, Gershwin's "Embraceable You," etc. All quartet or quintet pieces, but Donahue brings a sparkle to them with his arranging skills and his use ofon this discfour different pianists.
Now, Robin McElhatten (Robin McKelle): Expressive phrasing and an ability to wrap her voice around the nuances of a beautiful melody and make it her own. She's been compared to Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, and no argument here. Throw in a bit of Barbara Streisand and a helping of originality. Her take on Cole Porter's "I Love Paris" is as fine a rendition as you'll hear, with sweetly sour taste coming through in the contrast between the vocal tones and the alto sax solo. Her scatting skills on are on show here, and they are formidible; you can see where those Ella comparisons come from. In fact, the only quibble I have with CD is that I don't hear her scat enough.
Eight great classics, given a new polish by Miles Donahue and crew; with an inspired new vocalist sitting in on three tunes.
Track Listing: Always, Golden Earrings, Smoke Gets in You Eyes, I Love Paris, Stranger in Paradise, On the
Sunny Side of the Street, Embraceabel You, People Will Say We're in Love
Personnel: Miles Donahue--trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax; Ben Cook, Fred Hersch, Alain Mallet, Kevin Hays--
piano; Bob KaufmanGeorge SchullerJamey Hadda--drums; John Lockwood, Jay Anderson--bass;
Jerry Bergonzi--tenor sax; Roger Kimball--cello
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.