A ROGER SONG SCOUT AURAL BACK RUB: “It All Depends on You” by the flawless Doris Day

September 8, 2015
Roger Crane, the Song Scout

Roger Crane, the Song Scout

By Roger Crane


Dear Fellow Fans of the Good Stuff

The 1954 Love Me or Leave Me was a superb movie and soundtrack. It is certainly Doris Day’s greatest musical performance as an actress. In fact, for decades, many film critics, fans, writers would view the Academy’s failure to nominate Day for her portrayal of singer Ruth Etting as one its biggest oversights.

The film’s soundtrack shows her versatility from the 1920s flapper-song “Everybody Loves My Baby” to Berlin’s “Shakin’ the Blues Away” to the tough-dame Rodgers and Hart “Ten Cents a Dance.” Day is flawless on each of the songs.

One of my favorites from that soundtrack is her sublime vocal on “It All Depends on You,” accompanied by the piano of Milton Raskin. By the way composer David Raksin often found his name misspelled Raskin and, surprisingly, Raksin and Raskin did write a song together.

But, I digress and here is Miss Bottled Sunshine (thank you Mr. Friedwald) and “It All Depends on You” (a 2-minute aural back rub).


Enjoy. Comments welcomed.
Roger, the Intrepid Song Scout

Live Music: Diana Krall, Gregory Porter and The Los Angeles Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl

August 30, 2015


Devon “Doc” Wendell


By Devon Wendell

Los Angeles.  It was a night of sheer “crossover” bliss with Gregory Porter and Diana Krall with The L.A. Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl on Friday night.

Diana Krall took the Bowl stage with her current touring band (Anthony Wilson, guitar/arranger, Stuart Duncan, violin, Patrick Warren, keyboards, Dennis Crouch, bass and Karriem Riggins on drums) along with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

It’s already well known that Krall is an amazing singer with a subdued and sultry cool contralto voice but what I noticed the most on Friday night was her incredible piano work which was in the style of Duke Ellington, in fact, I felt the presence of Ellington’s ghost throughout Krall’s entire performance. So few jazz- based artists today play piano in that delicately swinging, stride style of Duke Ellington. Krall is a master at it and it accompanies her breathy and dynamic vocal phrasing wonderfully.

Diana Krall

I thought of Duke from the very start of Krall’s set which opened with Johnny Mercer’s “Day In, Day Out”, which Ellington performed frequently throughout his career. It wasn’t just Krall’s piano playing that conjured up Ellington’s spirit; Stuart Duncan’s violin style was very reminiscent of Ray Nance’s violin work in Ellington’s band during the 1930s, especially on the more jazz oriented standards.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s string and brass section fit Krall’s choice of material like a glove. Krall’s set was extremely diverse; from George Gershwin’s “Do It Again”, and Harold Arlen’s classic “Let’s Fall In Love” to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Quiet Nights”, and Bob Dylan’s “Wallflower” (the title track to Krall’s latest album).  Anthony Wilson’s virtuosic guitar playing was magnificent throughout. He’s easily one of the finest guitarists I’ve heard in a long time.Wilson also arranged Krall’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On” which swung hard. Anthony Wilson is the son of the late great Gerald Wilson and his skill and devotion to jazz is proof that he’s following in his father’s footsteps.

Ellington’s influence on Krall could even be heard on her more pop/rock flavored material from her Wallflower album such as Leon Russell’s “Superstar”, John Phillip’s “California Dreaming”, and Crowder House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Krall would often alternate between acoustic piano and a Wurlitzer.

Karrien Riggin’s versatile and melodic drumming swung beautifully with Dennis Crouch’s thoughtful and steady bass lines.

Krall’s take on Tom Waitts’ “Temptation” was sexy and funky but went on a little too long with some overindulgent solos by Krall and her band.

A highlight of the entire show was an intimate reading of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You”.  Krall has the uncanny ability to make you truly understand and feel the lyrics to any song she chooses to cover and this was certainly the case here. It felt as if she were addressing a dear friend with love and sincerity. It’s obvious that Krall loves, understands, and respects the material she sings, which is rare these days.

I’ve never heard such a meaningful version of Irving Berlin’s “Isn’t This A Lovely Day” in my life. It was like the sweetest lullaby imaginable.

After a delightful big band arrangement of Jesse Greer and Raymond Klages’ “Just You, Just Me” (with more of Krall’s Ellington-esque piano chops), Krall, her band, and The LA Phil returned for an encore of Nat King Cole’s “I’ll String Along With You.” Duncan played an electric violn. This was Krall’s most powerful vocal performance of the evening. I can’t think of a better cover to fit her laid back and refined style.

For the last 6 years, Gregory Porter has been captivating audiences all over the world with his distinct fusion of jazz, R&B, gospel, and pop. Porter’s sensitive soulful vocals and his poignant lyrics make him one of the greatest “crossover” jazz singers to surface in many years. His set at the Bowl on Friday night was magnificent. Porter and his band (Chip Crawford, piano/musical director, Emanuel Harrold, drums, Jahmal Nichols, bass, and Yosuke Sato on alto saxophone) kicked off their part of the evening’s program with a brief set of some of his most familiar material such as “Painted On Canvas”, “On My Way To Harlem”,  and “No Love Dying”. The band was delicate and supportive. Sato’s alto sax work was brilliant and soaring. Porter’s stage presence was poised and charmingly engaging.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

“Liquid Spirit” is pure gospel. Porter tried to get the mellow crown to engage in some call and response but it kind of fell flat. Porter joked; “It worked when I did it at The Newport Jazz Festival.”

The highlight of Porter’s set was  “Wolf Cry”, which is a sweet and tender ballad. Crawford’s tasteful and thematic piano accompaniment added to the romantic atmosphere of the song’s lyrics. Porter’s vocal range and phrasing reminds me of a great tenor saxophone player. He’s the kind of singer that instrumentalists copy.  Porter ended his set with a quick gospel reading of the Temptation’s “Poppa Was A Rolling Stone” and “Musical Genocide” which is Porter’s protesting response to much of the violent content churned out by the hip-hop industry.

Porter’s set was a reminder of the importance and influence of gospel music in pop, soul, and contemporary jazz. No one does it like Gregory Porter.

This was the perfect night at The Hollywood Bowl. Porter and Krall are both masters of the American song. Their dignified and original approach to “crossover” jazz was enjoyed by everyone present and I’m sure Duke was listening and was very proud.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Monk: “Thelonious Monk – Thelonious Himself” (Riverside)

August 26, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Thelonious Monk has been labeled “The High Priest of Bebop.” Yes, Monk’s contributions to the bebop era were essential in the development of the music. But Monk was so much more than that. No one played piano like him or thought the way he did when composing or covering even the most popular standards from the American songbook. I don’t like to categorize Monk’s music other than it being Monk’s music; a genre unto itself.

More people play Monk’s compositions today that any other composer in the history of jazz. He’s still my favorite musician and composer in the history of American music. Monk never adhered to the ever changing trends in jazz that took place during his lifetime. He always remained true to his own vision. There are no Monk “fusion” albums or Monk playing “free-form” or trying to please a rock n’ roll audience. Monk’s music was and still is modern and he never had to try too hard to sound that way.

One of the most chillingly intimate recordings Monk ever made was Thelonious Monk-Thelonious Himself on the Riverside label, recorded on April 12th and 16th of 1957. This is a solo piano album, with the exception of “Monk’s Mood,” which features John Coltrane and bassist Wilbur Ware from Monk’s infamous Five Spot Band of that same year.

On “April In Paris,” “(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance,” “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and “I Should Care,” you get the impression that you’re witnessing a man whose sole purpose in life was to play music and to do so his own way and that everything else in his life were mere distractions. The voicings on these standards are so special and brilliant. Monk’s harmonies were and still are unique to this day. His use of pedal tones and dissonant chords altered the way jazz musicians heard and played their instruments.

Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk

No one else dared to play these compositions this way. At the time of this recording, it was considered sacrileges to alter these harmonies so drastically. Up until 1956, Monk was often dismissed as an eccentric and nothing more by some critics and jazz aficionados. His relationship with Riverside Records (and later with Columbia Records) helped to change that forever. Musicians like Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins (who was the first to put Monk on record) Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Art Blakey all knew he was a genius; the rest of the world took a little longer to discover this for themselves.

“Functional” is a stride blues. Monk’s sense of dynamics and spacing makes this piece like no other stride blues you’ve ever heard. Monk was inspired by such stride piano greats as James P. Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith, and you can hear tiny traces of those players here, but Monk’s own personality shines through the brightest.

The highlight of the album is Monk doing take after take of his classic “’Round Midnight,” with false starts, breakdowns, studio banter between Monk and Orrin Keepnews, and incomplete takes, lasting over 20 minutes. Each attempt is harmonically different than the last. What you get to hear is a genius and perfectionist pushing and searching within himself for something magical, and often sounding frustrated. All of the takes are magical but Monk’s standards were as high as his level of creativity. It also had to be right for his fans. As complex as Monk’s compositions are from a technical standpoint, his melodies are extremely accessible. You can whistle or hum his melodies very easily in the shower. That dichotomy is what made Monk so amazing. There finally is a complete take of “’Round Midnight” that is breathtaking.

Thelonious Monk

Monk’s take on Irving Berlin’s “All Alone” is so mournful and sincere. When Monk would cover a song, he would understand it completely, the lyrics, the meaning, everything. Monk never made an insincere move during his career. This is harrowing music. Every note and chord has purpose. Monk was never one to thoughtlessly toss his chops around. Duke Ellington’s influence can be heard in Monk’s more delicate nuances.

The album ends with “Monk’s Mood” with John Coltrane on tenor sax and Wilbur Ware on bass. This is the darkest, most beautiful rendition of “Monk’s Mood” ever recorded. Coltrane plays much more thematically than usual, not straying too far from the melody line as he solos briefly. Ware’s bass lines are thoughtful and precise. Monk’s attack on the piano is delicate and less percussive than on the previous selections. With just a piano, tenor sax, and bass, the effect is far more dramatic than if a drummer had been added. Monk knew this would result in something special and timeless.

Thelonious Monk-Thelonious Himself is a clear glimpse into a very intimate session by one of the greatest artists in the history of the American music. Music doesn’t get any better than this.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Record Rack: Halie Loren and The Monks of Norcia

June 30, 2015

Brian Arsenault

by Brian Arsenault

Soul Music
Secular and Sacred or
Sacred and Sublime

Halie Loren: Butterfly Blue (Justin Time Records)

Halie Loren glides in flight on her new album Butterfly Blue from newly composed musical poetry to the songbook of American music on the wings of a deepening and darkening musical sense, an extraordinary accompanying group of musicians and a voice to wring out all the passion, pain and promise of living. We are captives of the cages of our lives but the spirit still soars.

The new:

“Blue” by sterling guitarist Daniel Gallo, “blue like the deep sea . . . blue like a moonbeam.”     Delicate without sentimentality, painful but not maudlin. Gallo’s guitar masterfully weaves under Loren’s voice.

“Butterfly” by Loren herself, wherein I think Otis Redding held her hand. I thought he might harmonize on the chorus and perhaps he does somewhere else.

“After the Fall” again by Gallo. Paper Moons hang, funny Valentines bring a tear. Songs of life remembered, a soundtrack of a life.

The classic:
Charles Trenet’s “I Wish You Love”, sung mostly in French and the more romantic for that. Loren’s voice haunts, evokes all the lyrical romance of the tune. Matt Treder’s piano and David Larsen’s clarinet so perfect in creating the cafe sensibility in play. Mark Schneider’s bass simply perfect.
“Stormy Weather” touches the very center of that blues piece, slowed down achingly beyond any version you’ve heard before.

Billie Holiday would approve. Ellington could have arranged.
And a bit later, back to back to back, my favorite moments on the album.
A playful yet deeply felt “Our Love Is Here to Stay” with Irving Berlin’s wonderful, hopeful lyrics. Again Larsen, this time on baritone sax, would be worth the trip just on his own. And Halie’s phrasing, I think she knew Berlin in an earlier life.

She has also somehow magically visited Cole Porter. “Under My Skin” is launched by a fine instrumental intro with Treder and Schneider leading the way before Loren’s breathy vocal comes in with just a touch of Peggy Lee. All that Porter longing, the pain/pleasure of being caught with no release and maybe none wanted.

On the Loren penned “Danger in Loving You,” heard in a performance version on an earlier recording, she writes to the level of Gershwin and Porter. There’s no release here either. There is of course danger to the heart.

Halie Loren is generally termed a jazz singer and that’s true if you acknowledge that blues underlies jazz, which of course it does. Then there is soul, she has that too. Ask me to walk into a club and conjure up my singer of choice and it would be Halie Loren.

To bend a lyric in “Blue” just a bit, I love her like Sunday.

* * * * * * * *

The Monks of Norcia Benedicta: Marian chant from Norcia (De Montfort Music)

I’ve never been interested in meditation. That’s why I didn’t care that much for “Peace,” the last cut on Halie’s album. I’m generally annoyed with all that find your center, peace out stuff. I’m entitled to my tension and my anger. Wars aren’t won and great art isn’t created by navel gazing.

Monks of Norcea Benedictus CDYet if I was going to meditate it would be to the immortal Gregorian chants of these monks in Umbria (Italy). In fact, while I had it on I began to feel more peaceful, more in tune, as they say. That annoyed me so much that I almost turned it off, but the beauty of the prayerfulness held me. Many I know who still attend Mass say that changing from Latin to English diminished its spiritual power. I can now say I think they are right.

I’m made to understand that the monks are killing (forgive the word) on the classical charts, even outselling some pop stars, and I can see why. Benedicta, largely in tribute to Mary (I don’t need to say which Mary do I), seems to echo down the ages from a time of believing, we’re talking 10th century here. Perhaps that is part of the attraction in this age of unbelieving, at least in the modern West.

Wherever you fall on or off the spiritual scale, beauty so rich and full is not to be discounted. Ever. The Monks of Norcia are also renowned for their craft brews, a spirit also not to be discounted.

CD Review: Lena Seikaly’s “Looking Back”

April 23, 2015

“A perfectly wonderful jazz vocal album”

By Roger Crane, the Song Scout

A classically trained mezzo-soprano who swings? Yes – and her name is Lena Seikaly. Although only 25, she is an established composer who has written many classical and jazz arrangements for small ensembles, choirs and full orchestra. She is also an educator, a successful teacher of jazz and classical voice.

But I wish to focus on that rich voice. Whatever your vocal criteria – quality of sound, intonation, phrasing, handling of time – Seikaly excels. She is a smart, sophisticated vocalist for grown ups.

Lena Seikaly

Lena Seikaly


If justice does exist, Looking Back, her third self-produced CD, should make the Washington D.C.-based Seikaly a star. Although it was released a year and a half ago, it is fresh on the national scene and worthy of more attention.  Seikaly has it all, a luxuriant rich voice with a melted-butter vibrato, a feeling for jazz, a deft sense of swing, effortless delivery, stunning presentation and a Rolls-Royce quartet providing her accompaniment. Just as importantly, she projects an unaffected honesty and joy.

Like many of the better singers, Seikaly also has an impeccable repertoire. Three ballads immediately grabbed my attention. Her easy patient way with “Baby, What Else Can I Do” is downright ecstatic. Is this seldom-heard Walter Hirsch-Gerald Marks collaboration truly a great song or is her sensuous delivery seducing my ear? Either way, the 5-minute cut alone is worth the price of the CD.

I have not heard a better rendition of Harold Arlen’s dramatic 1933 “I Cover the Waterfront.” Seikaly nicely includes his well-written but seldom heard verse and deftly handles the four octave jumps. The marvelous and sad “Supper Time” is certainly one of Irving Berlin’s greatest ballads particularly that long 16-measure bridge. Seikaly brings this cry of anguish to vibrant life.

She also swings delightfully and is even the scat’s meow. Mel Torme once said something like “a little scatting goes a long way.” It seems that every new jazz-influenced singer feels a need to scat, whether they have a facility for this vocal art form or not. Fortunately Seikaly’s scatting is subtle and as true as an oboe and she nicely uses this vocal technique judiciously. For example, on Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” and Duke Ellington’s “I Love You Madly” she is in lockstep with Zach Pride’s bass. Like an experienced lover, Siekaly initially takes her time with Benny Davis’ “I’m Nobody’s Baby” and then, with effective use of dynamics swings and scats the subsequent choruses. Drummer Lenny Robison displays his talents on this cut.

This is certainly Seikaly’s CD but she benefits immeasurably from the seamless interaction with her group. Pianist Chris Grasso, whether swinging or laying down tasty chords is superb. Bassist Zach Pride has a sound with depth and authenticity, something you want to reach out and touch. Guitarist Paul Pieper talents are very much evident on such cuts as Richard Whiting’s beloved standard “Guilty.” Speaking of this cut, you may notice that Seikaly’s Looking Back is somewhat a tribute to vocalists Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters.

Maybe it’s the water or the climate. Whatever the reason, the DC-Maryland area seems to have had more than it’s share of superior vocalists. Just to cite two examples, in the 1970s-80s there was the sublime Shirley Horn. In the ’90s – for too short a time – there was the genre-defying, captivating Eva Cassidy. Those two are stellar company and now we can add Lena Seikaly to this illustrious duo.

She has a natural, relaxed voice and was born to sing. Her warm timbre and uncomplicated phrasing are notable for their ease and expressiveness. You understand every word she sings and, given her selections on this CD, the lyrics deserve to be heard.  Looking Back is a perfect jazz vocal album. If that sounds too reverent, let me change the praise to “perfectly wonderful.” I’m already looking forward to her next release. For more information on background and recordings, click HERE to visit Seikaly’s website.

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To read more about Roger Crane, the Song Scout, click HERE.

Live Music: Steve Tyrell at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

March 29, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air.  Mention an area of the music world and Steve Tyrell has been there and done that. Whether it’s from a business perspective, running a record company or producing albums by major artists, or if it’s in the creative arena, clearly establishing his own identity as a performer Tyrell knows how to do it.

On Wednesday night at Herb Alpert’s Bel Air club – Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. – Tyrell displayed the vocal artistry he has developed as a master interpreter of the Great American Songbook.

The Songbook, of course, with its extraordinary collection of works reaching from Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Kern and beyond, has been the foundation for the careers of numerous singers. But Tyrell’s far-reaching interpretive skills have brought new perspectives to this rich catalog of material.

Performing with the skillful backing of a stellar band of players, Tyrell was at his best.

Steve Tyrell and his Band at Vibrato Grill Jazz...etc.

Steve Tyrell and his Band at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

Among the rich list of songs he sang, every selection was memorable. Starting with “I’ll Take Romance,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” he proceeded with classics such as “I Can’t Get Started,” “I Get A Kick Out of You” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “This Guy’s In Love With You” and a climactic “Stand By Me.”

He introduced most of the songs with a few insightful comments about the songwriters. On some, he often included the usually omitted verses of the songs. And he frequently added fascinating anecdotes providing intriguing insight into a song’s history.

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

But the real evaluation of Tyrell’s performance has to mention what he brought to both the music and the lyrics of every song he sang. Tyrell is often praised for the appeal of his warm, Texas accent, brisk rhythmic swing and easygoing on stage manner.

Add to that, however, his innate skills as a musical story teller. In song after song, he blended his jazz-driven phrasing with a thoughtful interpretive ability. The result was the opportunity to experience a musical poet in action, finding the most gripping lyrical moments in every song he touched.

So call it an evening showcasing the best of American song, rendered with complete creative authenticity. And listening to Steve Tyrell’s performance one couldn’t help but imagine how delighted the legion of American Songbook composers might have been to hear their musical brilliance evoked with such care and enthusiasm.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.



Live Jazz: Jane Monheit at Catalina Bar & Grill

December 29, 2013

By Don Heckman

Jane Monheit’s in town again this week for another of her holiday season visits.  She opened at Catalina Bar & Grill on Friday, continued on Saturday and will also perform at the club tonight (Sunday) and Monday, finishing up Tuesday with a New Year’s Eve appearance. And that’s great news for fans of prime jazz vocalizing.

Monheit’s first real visibility in the jazz community took place in the 1998 Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute’s Vocal Competition, when – at 21 – she was the first runner-up to veteran singer Teri Thornton in a field of competitors that also included Tierney Sutton and Roberta Gambarini.

Jane Monheit and RIck Montalbano

Jane Monheit and RIck Montalbano

She’s released a dozen or so recordings since then, and received a pair of Grammy nominations.  But as appealing as all of her CDs have been, there’s nothing like hearing – and seeing – Monheit perform live, especially with the solid backing of her trio: pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Neal Miner and her husband, Rick Montalbano, on drums. Each of the frequent performances she’s done at Catalina Bar & Grill over the past few years has been both unique and memorable. And this one was no exception.

Call it a Great American Songbook set, a program of familiar classics, starting with Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night,” and concluding with Irving Berlin’s “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.” And we can’t overlook the equally memorable “I Was Born To Be Blue,” “Moonlight In Vermont,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” and “Never Let Me Go.”

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

Add to that Monheit’s reference to what she described as the jazz aspects of Judy Garland via a richly blended medley of “The Boy Next Door” and “The Man That Got Away.”

All of the above titles are essential elements in the repertoire of most jazz and adult contemporary singers. But the real question lies in what a singer does with such classic items. And Monheit has thoroughly established herself over the past decade as one of the prime imaginative singers of the current music world.

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

In song after song, Monheit’s Saturday night program unfolded with the gripping expressiveness of a true musical story teller. Blessed with an extraordinary instrument, she employed all her vocal skills – a far-reaching range, variable tonal qualities, briskly swinging rhythmic articulation and penetrating emotional intensity – at the service of her interpretations. Topping it off, she dipped into some scat singing on a few tunes, delivered with an inventiveness that would probably have delighted Ella Fitzgerald.

Call it a great evening of music for every member of Monheit’s enthusiastic audience. But I couldn’t help but feel that this was a performance that should be heard by other singers, too – a performance with sufficient creative information to aid anyone with ambitions for a vocal career. With three more performances this week, Catalina’s should draw more full houses to her seminars in the art of expressive vocalizing.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


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