There is a clear retro feel about bandleader, pianist, and songwriter JC Hopkins as he goes on the road in support of his debut with his Biggish Band. Onstage, the group looks and sounds as if we were still in the mid-'40s. The leader dresses in a vintage-looking suit, and even though the band has some young-looking faces who seem to belong more in the punk rock scene, they all seem committed to preserving the sound and feel of the big bands of yore.
The California-born leader, who grew up listening to a mix of jazz and Beatles songs, moved to New York five years ago and began the project with a core group of musicians which included Norah Jones, for whom he co-wrote (with bassist Lee Alexander) "The Painter Song, which was featured on Jones' Come Away With Me (Blue Note, 2002).
On this loosely conceptual album, Hopkins tells the story of a couple who moves to the Borough of Kings to "make music and love. The songs drift seamlessly from traditional jazz into more bebop-like moments (for example, the mostly instrumental "Small Town ) and each song features the talents of the players in the band, weathered musicians such as Patience Higgins (tenor sax), Warren Smith (vibes), Lewis "Flip Barnes (trumpet/vocals), Queen Esther (whose voice shares an impressive resemblance with the late Nina Simone's), and others.
Although all the tunes on the album have an "old feel to them, all but one are original songs written or co-written by Hopkins. One of the highlights is "One Never Knows, a mid-tempo song co-written with Norah Jones, in which Esther's vocals share the spotlight with saxophone solos by Higgins and Cleave Guyton. Another great moment is the soft "Someday, a song that tells the hope that struggling artists have of "making good someday. Also pay attention to "Show Biz'ness, a jaded but humorous warning to anyone hoping to make it into that world.
Track Listing: Here Comes Love; One Never Knows; I've Got My Finger On A Star; Ice Cream Song;
Underneath A Brooklyn Moon; Small Town; I Still Believe In Some Kind Of Love; Someday;
Show Biz'ness; Settle Down.
Personnel: J.C. Hopkins: vocals, piano; Queen Esther: vocals; Lewis Barnes: vocals; Liberty Ellman:
guitar; Cleave Guyton: clarinet, alto saxophone; Patience Higgins: tenor saxophone; Claire
Daly: baritone saxophone; Erik Jacobson, James Zollar, Chuck MacKinnon: trumpet; Vincent
Chancey: French horn; J. Walter Hawkes: trombone; Warren Smith: vibraphone; Catherine
Popper: double bass; Sunny Jain: drums.
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.