Rebecca Luker: Kern by the Queen
Jun20

Rebecca Luker: Kern by the Queen

Update jan. 7, 2014. Rebecca Luker’s performance on the PBS series The American Songbook at NJPAC is now airing in the New York area. Check this page and local listings for air times in your area. Rebecca Luker’s I Got Love: Songs of Jerome Kern Since Jerome Kern and, indirectly, Rebecca Luker are partly responsible for this website’s existence, I’m taking a moment for some extra background before diving into my review of...

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Little Georgie Benson Flies Right
Jun06

Little Georgie Benson Flies Right

George Benson. Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole (Available to audition on Spotify.)   Consider the amazing career of George Benson: a child prodigy emerging from the Hill District of Pittsburgh to become a leading jazz guitarist in the sixties, he was a major force in making soulful jazz a sound that could co-exist in the rock world. But no one could have predicted how Benson would explode in the seventies, when he added...

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Eliane Elias: From Brazil with Chet
Jun05

Eliane Elias: From Brazil with Chet

I Thought About You (A Tribute To Chet Baker) (available to audition on Spotify) Eliane Elias long ago made her bones in the jazz hierarchy on the strength of her piano playing, and she’s integrated more singing into her work over the years, tackling selected standards on the pop-jazz scale from Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful” to Bill Evans’s “Waltz for Debby.” Interpreting the American Songbook as a singer means one thing...

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Reviews: Willie, Molly, Maddy, Mike
May04

Reviews: Willie, Molly, Maddy, Mike

Check out our spring CD reviews. Michael Bublé’s To Be Loved There once was a singer who operated very successfully in the worlds of both pre-rock and rock-era popular music. This mythological figure, who was known in lands far and wide by the name … continue Molly Ringwald’s Except … Sometimes Okay, here’s the big news: Molly Ringwald is not quite a jazz singer—not if she aspires to the command and confidence of her...

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Lady Day and Ray
May04

Lady Day and Ray

Madeleine Peyroux has charted a unique course as an artist. American by birth, French in adolescence, and completely immersed in both cultures musically, she has built a dedicated following with moody, bluesy interpretations of her own songs, often written in collaboration with others, as well as thoughtfully chosen and neglected classics. She rejects many of the chores of modern music marketing and publicity, which has perhaps...

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Willie Dances On
May04

Willie Dances On

Willie Nelson is an Untouchable, even to people who don’t always buy his records. At the seemingly ancient age of 40, he invented a musical genre (outlaw country) that firmly rejected the recent past of the Nashville Sound and invigorated country for millions of fans. A few years later, with Stardust, he boldly aligned himself with rock-era singers who embraced the American Songbook, bringing another wave of fans along with him. Now,...

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Mike the Knife
May04

Mike the Knife

There once was a singer who operated very successfully in the worlds of both pre-rock and rock-era popular music. This mythological figure, who was known in lands far and wide by the name Bobby Darin, managed to create hits that are now iconic representatives of early rock ‘n’ roll (“Splish Splash”), big-band swing (“Mac the Knife,” “Beyond the Sea,”), and folk-country (“If I Were a Carpenter”). No artist since has existed so...

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Pretty in Pink, Promising in Jazz
May04

Pretty in Pink, Promising in Jazz

Okay, here’s the big news: Molly Ringwald is not quite a jazz singer—not if she aspires to the command and confidence of her idols, like Ella Fitzgerald, or even to the stylistic distinction of her recent interview buddy Jane Monheit. But listening to Ringwald’s new album, Except … Sometimes, and trying to nail down which classic pop singer Ringwald most resembled, I got the distinct flavor on certain high, sustained notes of a quite...

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You’ve Got a Friend Again
Dec18

You’ve Got a Friend Again

On December 13, the Library of Congress announced that Carole King would be the recipient of the 2013 Gershwin Prize in Popular Song. It seems like only yesterday that I unleashed a rabid tirade directed at the august committee of experts that awards the Gershwin Prize. I was called to action not so much by resentment of the choice for 2012—the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David—as by a need to smirk. I felt the committee had taken...

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Review: Glenn Frey’s After Hours
May19

Review: Glenn Frey’s After Hours

An American Eagle in Nat King’s Court Glenn Frey is part of the solution. That is to say, he has decided in the latter part of his recording career to join the ranks of rock icons who have honored the great popular songs of America’s past. As an exercise in tribute and music education of fans who otherwise might never listen to a swing or modern jazz standard, these efforts are unassailable. But with younger musicians...

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Review: McCartney’s Kisses
Feb28

Review: McCartney’s Kisses

Hugs by Krall, Clapton, & Co.   Of all the pop stars who have issued tribute albums to American pop standards, Paul McCartney is in some ways the least likely to wind his way down the nostalgia lane. In other ways, you might wonder why it took him so long. After all, he was the Beatle who sprinkled the group’s later records with his takes on very old-school arrangements, “When I’m 64″ being probably...

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Frank: A Man and His Videos
Mar11

Frank: A Man and His Videos

Shout Factory, one of the classiest repackagers of classic pop material, has released the Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music TV specials in a new DVD set. These performances are well known to songbook video fans.  Three of the shows represent the Chairman of the Board in the mid sixties with his powers  intact and his collaboration with Nelson Riddle still in peak form. The fourth show is an early-80′s finale to the series with...

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Review: Aretha’s Songbook Past
Feb22

Review: Aretha’s Songbook Past

Most music fans know that Aretha Franklin began her recording career singing gospel on Columbia Records before her breakout recordings on Atlantic, which made her an American music legend and earned her the sobriquet “Queen of Soul.” Many of those Columbia recordings, however, were secular numbers from Broadway and Tin Pan Alley, and Sony Legacy has gathered them under the title Aretha Franklin: The Great American...

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Review: Gershwin Goes Surfin’

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin (Disney Pearl) On the surface, it’s an intriguing idea—a rock-era master of melody and vocal harmony revisits and reworks music of a pre-rock master of jazzy rhythm and sophisticated tunefulness. And in fact, the result is more interesting than many straight-ahead readings of standards by run-of-the-mill vocalists. Ultimately, though, the question you’re left with after listening to Brian Wilson...

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The Long and Short of “Show Boat”

June 24, 2008—On June 10th I attended the concert staging of “Show Boat” at Carnegie Hall. The New York Times review is here, but my own feelings are echoed most closely by Steven Suskin’s review in Variety. A week later TCM replayed the 1951 MGM film version, which starred Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel. These two versions illustrate the essential fact of the “Show Boat” universe: no two versions are exactly alike. The...

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