by Scott Yanow
When one sees Samara Joy perform, it seems obvious that the 24-year old singer will be an important part of the future of jazz. She was born in the Bronx, her grandparents and father were gospel singers and, in addition to participating in school musicals, she also sang gospel music for two years. In high school Ms. Joy became involved in jazz and after graduation she enrolled in the jazz program at SUNY Purchase. At 21 she won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition and began performing at major NYC jazz clubs. Last year she released her self-titled debut recording
At Catalina Bar & Grill, Samara Joy fearlessly performed a night of duets with pianist Tamir Hendelman. She started with “If You Never Come To Me” and then sang the opening number of her CD, giving the verse and chorus of “Stardust” a great deal of beauty and honest feeling while sticking close to the melody and lyrics; why try to improve on perfection? On other songs she showed that she is a fine improviser who will certainly become more adventurous as her career progresses. Ms. Joy is mature in her phrasing, uses space quite well in her unhurried style, has perfect control over her voice, and hits high notes with power while hinting at Sarah Vaughan in her lower register. Tamir Hendelman of course is one of Los Angeles’ top jazz treasures and while he took occasional solos that uplifted the music, he was mostly happy to keep the spotlight on the young singer.
Among the other songs that Samara Joy performed were “Nostalgia” (which included some impressive vocalese), the uptempo “Say Yes,” a slow and dramatic “’Round Midnight” which included the rarely heard verse, “Moonglow,” “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “But Beautiful,” a lowdown blues, a faster than usual version of “Everything Happens To Me” and, as an encore, a version of “Misty” that ended with a very high note, perfectly in-tune.
During the night, it was not just that Samara Joy has a powerful and very appealing voice, but her use of dynamics and subtlety along with her strong knowledge of jazz history made her performance especially memorable. She is on her way to being at the top of her field.
Most vocal-piano duets find the pianist mostly accompanying the singer, but when Dee Dee Bridgewater and Bill Charlap teamed up at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood, they were very much equals. Ms. Bridgewater has long been one of jazz’s greatest vocalists in addition to being an actress and a consistently colorful and often-witty performer. Charlap has a very comprehensive knowledge of jazz history and piano styles, and the ability to switch approaches on a moment’s notice. It is fair to say that neither of the performers is afraid to take chances.
There were many magical and even miraculous moments during their long performance. It actually began quite slow with an often-out-of-tempo version of “Here’s That Rainy Day“ “Caravan” had some inventive scat-singing and dazzling interplay and
was followed by “My Funny Valentine” (which at one point had Dee Dee imitating the high note playing of Charlap) and a rapid roller coaster ride on “In The Still Of The Night.” The singer acted out the words (and added a lot of heat) to an assertive “Love For Sale,” and did some purposely cutesy singing and dancing on “Honeysuckle Rose” in addition to briefly imitating Louis Armstrong. “Just One Of Those Things” was highlighted by a rather speedy piano solo that was overloaded with creative ideas. Charlap sounded like Duke Ellington on “Mood Indigo” (while somehow making a long quote from George Gershwin’s “Second Piano Prelude” fit), and Bridgewater gave it a particularly expressive interpretation.
On “’S Wonderful,” after a few choruses, Dee Dee did a remarkable imitation of an opera singer performing the song and it was quite hilarious. She showed that she had the voice to sing opera (concluding with a stunning operatic high notes), and to hear her singing “I can’t help being amorous” in that style was pretty funny. The night also included a scat-filled and humorous “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine” (with Charlap at one point sounding like Erroll Garner during his powerhouse solo), and a fast “Straight No Chaser.”
The duet setting was an ideal setting for both Bridgewater and Charlap. They both were constantly on their toes, inspiring and playing off each other. The singer used her dramatic skills and quick reflexes to constantly come up with surprises. The pianist displayed his remarkable technique, ability to play very credibly in a variety of styles while still sounding like himself, and his own sense of humor.
The result was a classic and exciting night of music.
Each year, dozens of new Christmas albums are released, many of them jazz-oriented. In 2021, quite a few reached my desk in late-November and December, and were a bit late to be covered in the December issue. Even if they had been, who buys Christmas albums on December 20?
It is often said that the best Xmas jazz albums sound great all year round. So here are four that were released in recent times, allowing readers to do some of their Christmas shopping early this year, very early!
Jan Daley’s very attractive voice has been heard on television since the 1960s, she toured with Bob Hope (including to Vietnam), recorded six previous albums, works as an actress in films and commercials, and has also been a film composer. Her Music For Christmas is a mix of the sacred and the secular. Joined by a rhythm section that includes pianist David Cohen and guitarist Craig Garfinkle, and the orchestrations of Garfinkle and Misha Siegel, Daley (who contributed “Nothing Like Christmas” and “Can’t Give You Any Answers”) mostly features ballads on this set. “The Christmas Song” is uplifted by a sly bass line that she came up with that makes the tune sound fresh, she punctuates “Winter Wonderland” with a stunning final note, and she puts a lot of sincerity into songs as “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “The First Noel,” and “White Christmas,” before concluding the heartfelt set with a wordless a capella version of “Silent Night.” While I wish that her CD was more jazz-oriented and had more medium-tempo material, it is an impressive effort, available from www.jandaley.com.
Carolyn Lee Jones’ Christmas Time Is Here (available from www.carolynleejones.com) includes plenty of short solos from her sidemen including pianist-arranger Brad Williams, tenor-saxophonists Mario Cruz and Shelley Carrol (who stars on “I’d like You For Christmas), trombonist Tony Baker, and trumpeter Keith Jourdan, but the leader is far from overshadowed. The Dallas-based Ms. Jones (a top jazz singer since 2008), has such a warm and inviting voice along with her highly appealing jazz phrasing, that she could have made this swinging set a success by herself. Among the highlights are “Christmas Time Is Here,” “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” the bluesy “Merry Christmas Baby,” and “Count Your Blessings.”
The Jeff Hamilton Trio (comprised of pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Jon Hamar) has long been a swinging jazz institution in Southern California. Merry & Bright contains a few familiar Yuletide favorites such as “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “The Little Drummer Boy” but also such relative obscurities as “It’s The Holiday Season,” “Carolling Carolling,” and “Bright Bright The Holly Berries.” But in reality it does not matter what the material is. The trio, as usual, performs tight arrangements, has plenty of brilliant and concise piano solos from Hendelman (along with some fine spots from Hamar and the leader), and holds one’s interest throughout their fairly relaxed set which is available from www.caprirecords.com.
Although I do not usually review singles, “I Want A Doll” is a particularly fun song by the late Charles Nathan who passed away in 2012. His son Greg Nathan is on bass for this 2021 recording. It is given a swinging performance with a charming vocal by Donna Courtell, a nice tenor solo from Paul Biondi, and a fine rhythm section comprised of Nathan, pianist Gus Russell, guitarist Don Latarski, and drummer Don Elkington. The results are rollicking. This is a song well worth checking out, particularly by musicians who are looking for a fresh new Xmas song to perform. It is available from www.soaringmusicpublications.com.
Jazz flutist Lori Bell will be performing at Sam First (6171 W. Century Blvd, #180, Los Angeles, 424-800-2006) on Thursday May 5th, with the shows taking place at 7:30 and 9 p.m. She will be playing her C flute and alto flute in a quartet with pianist Josh Nelson, bassist David Robaire, and drummer Dan Schnelle.
The San Diego-based flutist first began to be noticed when she recorded three albums with pianist Dave Mackay and worked with Mackay and guitarist-vocalist Ron Satterfield in the trio Interplay. Her recording debut as a leader took place in 2002 and since then her 12 CDs have included Higher Standards, The Music Of Djavan, Brooklyn Dreaming, and The Modern Line. An inventive improviser with her own sound, Lori Bell has mastered bebop but also displays the influence of Eric Dolphy and has a forward-looking style. Whether it is ballads, uptempo versions of standards, or her own inventive originals, Ms. Bell consistently plays creatively and in her own voice.
Do yourself a favor and go out of your way to see the masterful flutist Lori Bell at Sam First.