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Like the needs of businesses and universities, Jazz singers and Jazz groups often exist in parallel universes. The interests of both rarely meet.
Singers are interested in performing, in putting a song over to an audience and in having audience approval for their dramatic interpretation of a song’s lyrics.
For many Jazz musicians, the song is just a means to and end; a platform from which their improvisations spring.
And while there is no doubt that many Jazz musicians agree with tenor saxophonists Lester Young’s and Ben Webster’s axiom that you play a ballad better if you know it’s lyrics, most of the songs that Jazz musicians improvise on have no lyrics.
Many singers are not musicians. They have no formal education in theory and harmony. They sing by ear, often, out of tune. They don’t even know the keys in which they sing their songs.
Singers don’t play in groups with other musicians, they are often “backed” by a pianist, sometimes in a piano-bass-drums trio.
The music revolves around the singer who is usually not an integral part of the group. He or she stands before a microphone, maybe does the verse to the tune, sings the melody, the pianist plays a brief 16 bar solo, the singer comes back in at the bridge and takes the tune out. Applause, adulation and adoration.
If there are horn players involved, they may play some background vamps behind the singer, perhaps one of them will take the brief chorus instead of the piano player, and then play an ending note in unison when the singer closes.
Occasionally – or all too frequently – the singers decides to dispense with the lyrics and “scat.”
The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz defines scatting as: “A technique of Jazz singing in which onomatopoeic or nonsense syllables are sung to improvised melodies.”
The idea is for the singer to use the human voice to mimic a horn, but if the ear can’t follow the line of the music, what comes out is not scatting, but rather, something which sounds like exuberant blathering.
But since the singer is often billed as “the star” and because many in the audience can relate more easily to sung lyrics as opposed to instrumental improvisations, the musicians just goes along for the ride. It’s a living.
Of course, there are numerous exceptions to what I’ve just described, but all-too-often, the parallel universes in which vocalists and musicians exist is the rule rather than the exception.
But when there is a blending of vocal talent with Jazz instrumentalists – when it does work – it becomes the best of all possible worlds.
There’s nothing quite like the magical expressiveness of the human voice in a setting formed by a Jazz group.
You can hear such a coming together in the recently released CD All Too Soon: Deborah Brown [Jazzvoix] on which Deborah is joined by drummer Eric Ineke’s quintet – The JazzXpress.
Deborah Brown sings with the band and if that band is led by Dutch Jazz drummer Eric Ineke, you better know what you are doing because he is a stern taskmaster who comes to play.
No one messes with Eric Ineke when it comes to the high standards he maintains – no exceptions – instrumentalist or vocalist you’d better bring your best when you make music with him.
And Deborah Brown does just that: whether it is on the more familiar Ellington All Too Soon, or the Ellington, Billy Strayhorn collaboration One Hundred Days From Now, or Rudy Friml’s Indian Love Call with its lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein; or new material like Rob van Bavel’s Thanks with lyrics by Liesbeth Kooymans or Toots Thielmans’ Hard to Say Goodbye to which Deborah, herself, added lyrics; or the rarely sung – because of its difficulty – The Peacocks by Jimmy Rowles with lyrics by the great singer Norma Winstone, Deborah brings her musicality up to the highest level of professionalism.
The music on this recording is crafted. Everything is well-thought-out. The tempos and keys are comfortable for Deborah such that she doesn’t have to overreach but can stay within her comfort zone. Her singing adds enough zest and spark to bring out the best in the fine instrumentalist who make up Eric’s JazzXpress.
The horn solos by tenor saxophonists Sjoerd Dijkhuizen and trumpeter Rudolpho Fereira Neves on trumpet – the newest member of the group – are influenced and inspired by Deborah’s singing.
The soloists are not just playing something because they are expected to, they are feeding off of the atmosphere of excitement and energy generated by Deborah’s vocals.
The JazzXpress rhythm section made up of Rob van Bavel on piano, Marius Beets on bass and drumming maestro Eric Ineke is one of the best in all of Jazz. They play together as a unit and give everything a lift with the light and bouncy feeling that they bring to the time [meter]. All three are excellent soloists who really shine when called upon to do so.
Rob van Bavel continues to impress me each time I hear him with his skill as an accompanist and his well-constructed solos. He has really come into his own in recent years and his maturity, poise and swinging solos remind me a lot of Italian Jazz pianist, Dado Moroni.
Marius and Eric deliver that “marriage between bass notes and cymbal beat” that bassist Chuck Israels loves to hear when he listens to Jazz and their intense swing is done so effortlessly that you “feel” it as well as hear it.
I have a difficult time with a new musician or vocalist who plays or sings music that is all new to me. There is no place for me to “set my ears.”
Although I was encountering Deborah’s singing for the first time on this CD, her versions of Indian Love Call, All Too Soon and One Hundred Dreams From Now – all tunes which were previously known to me – made possible my enjoyment of her renditions of the many tunes on the CD that were completely new to me, for example, Light In Your Eyes [Pierre van Dormael], Like It was Before [Pamela Watson] and Fine Together [by Lars Gullin, the late Swedish baritone saxophonist, with lyrics by Philip Tagg].
About the material on this recording, Deborah notes: “Through the years some of these songs never left my mind and because they were compositions from the past, it was a challenge to bring new life to them. …
In these stressful days when people just want something soothing to listen to, I decided to select songs by degree of difficulty. I think my Jazz audience expects music with substance.
Also as singers, we like to look for those “hidden gems,” something seldom done, and there are many beautiful melodies that have been done in the past. So, if you like strong melodies and timeless classics with a slight twist, this is for you!”
Mention should also be made of alto saxophonist Bobby Watson’s presence of the CD both as a player and for his role as one of the co-producers.
You can hear Bobby along with Deborah and Eric’s marvelous JazzXpress on the following audio-only track from All Too Soon which is available both as a CD and as a download from Amazon.com and other online retailers.