Thursday, September 11, 2014

Julie Kelly - "Happy To Be"

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I thought that Holly Cooper of Mouthpiece Music and I had two things in common: [1] we are from the same “‘hood," as she likes to refer to it [her offices are in beautiful downtown Burbank] and we are both fans of Jazz vocalist Julie Kelly [Holly’s media distribution firm is handling the announcements for Julie’s new CD, Happy To Be].

But with the arrival of Julie’s latest, I found out that Holly and I have another thing in common: [3] our respect and admiration for Graham Carter whose JazzedMedia label produced Julie’s latest recording [JM 1067].

Graham continues to do good things on behalf of Jazz and Jazz musicians and those of us who are fans of the music laud his ongoing efforts.

As for Julie, what a talented vocalist. There aren't many Jazz singers who could handle the repertoire on Happy To Be and Julie not only handles it she defines it, gives it character and substance and makes it her own.

I certainly don’t want to limit anyone’s appeal through labels, but the music on Happy To Be is simply Jazz singing at its very best.

Julie is “hip, slick and cool” with the matchless appeal of Carmen McRae, Jackie Paris, Blossom Dearie, Anita O’Day, Irene Kral, Ruth Price and host of other vocalists who make lyrics sung to Jazz feel like a conversation. I think the phrase that’s used today is when a Jazz soloist “tells a story.”

Julie engages, enraptures, encharms the listener.  Making recordings is hard work, but you’d never know if from listening to Julie sing on this CD.  She sounds like she’s having a ball, wants everyone to know it while inviting you, the listener, to the party.

This is smart sounding music; Jazz with a presence, a purpose and a punch. Julie puts over a lyric because she is a musician whose horn is her voice.

And speaking of “smart” and “presence,” Julie was smart enough to have the “presence-of-mind” to surrounds herself with some of the players on the L.A. studio scene [see below for a list of those musicians who made the dates].

More about Julie and the music on Happy To Be [JazzedMedia JM 1067] can be found in the following insert notes by vocalist Kate McGarry and Holly Cooper’s media release about this recording.

Incidentally, some of you may remember Kate’s stunning performance on Smoking My Sad Cigarette from Ryan Truesdell’s recording of Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans [ArtistShare 0114] which was reviewed on these pages.

It takes a class act to know another one and Julie and Kate are very much soulmates in that regard.

© -  Kate McGarry/JazzedMedia, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“A vocalist with a reputation for refined tastes in tunes, band mates and arrangements, Julie Kelly gives us a rich harvest of songs and stories in her new recording Happy to Be. It's a bumper crop of ripe, freshly picked tunes worth waiting for; and worthy of joining the seven other smart and swinging recordings Kelly has released during her lauded career as a jazz vocalist, lyricist and educator. And while this project does feature some obscure gems from the Great American Songbook, it also contains original songs and lyrics from Julie's own expanding portfolio, even as she spotlights new material from jazz's next generation of fine composers and lyricists.

The swinging title track, Happy To Be, featuring a lyric penned by vocalist Inga Swearingen (with additional lyrics by Julie) in homage to her idol Bobby McFerrin, epitomizes the musical mindset of Ms. Kelly on this set of 11 tunes that ferry us from the familiar to the unknown and back with a sure and steady hand.

There are original song lyrics by the fine Dutch singer Fleurine (High in the Sky] and Booker Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro (I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again], as well as a tune by Phoebe Snow, the little-heard Harpo's Blues. Kelly's own lyrics are full of tender observation [For Joni] and whip-smart humor [The Blues According To Orpheus].

Typical of Julie's recordings is the stellar company she keeps, and Happy To Be is no exception. You can hear the easy rapport of old friends and long time collaborators; among them pianist Bill Cunliffe, (who ably co-produced and also provided a number of fine arrangements) bassist Tom Warrington, drummer Joe LaBarbera, and guitarist Anthony Wilson. Their spirited playing shows how they relish and are inspired by each other's company. The A-list horn section featuring Bob Sheppard, Clay Jenkins, Ron Stout, and Bob McChesney brings vivid color and texture to the proceedings as well.

Julie enlists the talents of the young John Proulx on I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again, a track that could easily be a hit radio single thanks to the combo platter of Julie's wry delivery, the duo's chemistry and Proulx's winning arrangement. Kelly's long time love affair with Brazil finds an ally in Otmaro Ruiz whose hip arrangement of the Brazilian classic Corcovado combined with her carioca cool makes sure we know it's 2014, not 1960, baby. Co-producer and friend of good singers everywhere, Barbara Brighton brings her razor sharp editing skills and a talent for keeping the lyric front and center.

But enough about the supporting cast! There's no question that it's Kelly's poised and economical singing, (no histrionics from this diva!) and joyful rhythmic drive at the helm of this appealing project. I was especially fond of her take on Bob Dorough's charmer, You're The Dangerous Type. That kind of swing feel you don't get from hanging out at Barney's all day, people.

There's no shortage of filigree ballad work either. Case in point, on a trio of ballads she inhabits and unravels each like a time lapsed photographic sequence of real life love...the steadfast sweetness of Dave Frishberg's Our Love Rolls On, intensity and longing on Richard Rodney Bennett's I Never Went Away, and the disillusionment and hard won wisdom of Roger Kellaway/Marilyn & Alan Bergman's I Have the Feeling I've Been Here Before. There's something about her sound that is utterly engaging and convincing. No matter what Julie is singing about, I believe her.

Though the dedication to craft evidenced on this recording didn't surprise me at all, repeated listenings did me one better; they reaffirmed that insightful, skilled (and entertaining!) jazz singing is not yet a lost art. Happy To Be is proof that this great American tradition is in good hands so long as Julie Kelly is on a concert stage somewhere, swinging hard and telling it like it is.”


© -  Holly Cooper/MouthpieceMusic, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Julie Kelly, one of the most respected jazz singers on the West Coast, is releasing "Happy To Be," a CD featuring Grammy Award winning masters and young virtuosos. A seasoned veteran, Julie has appeared and recorded with luminaries Chris Botti, Anthony Wilson, Gene Bertoncini, Benny Green, Ray Brown, John Clayton, Gary Foster, and Alan Broadbent. Legendary jazz critic Leonard Feather has said that Julie "radiates a sense of joy and spontaneity. Listening to her, you are reminded that jazz singing is still alive and well!" Known to her many fans for her burnished voice, penetrating emotional interpretations, and solid sense of swing, "Happy To Be" is Kelly's eighth CD and her first on the Jazzed Media label.

The musicians on this project feature Bill Cunliffe, a widely respected pianist and Grammy Award-winning arranger; Anthony Wilson, guitarist with Diana Krall, among others; Tom Warrington, one of the busiest bass players in Los Angeles; the formidable drummer Joe LaBarbera, known for his work with Bill Evans; and a horn section comprising A-list players, including Bob Sheppard, Clay Jenkins, Ron Stout, and Bob McChesney.

"Happy To Be" features rarely performed standards and showcases Kelly's original songs and lyrics, as well as arrangements and compositions from up-and-coming voices on the jazz scene. Consider the swinging title track, "Happy To Be," with lyrics by dynamic singer-songwriter Inga Swearingen and arranged by wunderkind Jacob Mann. Kelly says of the tune, "I loved its modern melodic line and Inga's lyric. I added the last section of lyric with her permission and asked Jacob Mann to arrange it with a modernistic post-Art Blakey kind of approach."

Or listen to "I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again," composed by saxophonist Jim Tomlinson (husband of vocalist Stacey Kent) with lyrics by Booker Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro. The arrangement by rising star pianist/vocalist John Proulx, injects just the right amount of West Coast cool, as Jim Tomlinson states, reminiscent of Irene Kral’s best recordings. Kelly and Proulx's duet creates a delightfully fresh interpretation.

"High in the Sky" is a bebop Thad Jones head originally called "Birdsong" and given new life with lyrics by Dutch vocalist Fleurine. Arranged by Cunliffe, who co-produced this CD along with jazz impresario Barbara Brighton, the tune is replete with surprises in tempo and form, giving it a unique twist while still paying homage to its original feel.

Kelly's considerable lyric writing abilities are showcased on two compositions, "The Blues According to Orpheus" and "For Joni." In "The Blues According to Orpheus," Kelly's smart and witty lyrics about the tragic Orphic legend combine seamlessly with the melodic, Monk-like line and altered, hip composition by Rich Eames. "For Joni" began as a poem she wrote for Joni Mitchell which, in collaboration with composer/lyricist Susan Marder, developed into a song full of tender observation. The track features a cerebral, Pat Metheny-like guitar solo by Anthony Wilson. Tierney Sutton calls this tune nothing less than a "gorgeous anthem" to all who love Joni Mitchell.

Since 1984, when she released We're On Our Way with her quintessential version of "All My Tomorrows," Kelly has been known as one of the finest interpreters of ballads, as she clearly shows us in Dave Frishberg's "Our Love Rolls On," which she imbues with warmth and sweet, bluesy intensity, and on Richard Rodney Bennett's "I Never Went Away," which she fills with heartfelt longing. And Kelly marvelously captures the heartbreaking sense of disillusionment in the Bergmans' "I Have the Feeling I've Been Here Before."

An Oakland, California native, Kelly has been a Los Angeles resident for many years. Her formative years included a year-long residency in Brazil, meeting and learning from musicians Carlos Lyra, Milton Nascimento and Luis Eca. Upon returning to the U.S., she became a member of John Handy's World Music Ensemble and spent a year in New York studying theory and composition at Juilliard Music School. Her live performances continue to feature inspired interpretations of Brazilian music and prompted her to ask piano virtuoso Otmaro Ruiz to write the arrangement for Jobim's "Corcovado." Kelly, who sings the song in both Portuguese and English says, "I think this arrangement by Otmaro is remarkable, and I wanted to record this unique version so others could hear his approach to Jobim. His arrangement illuminates the lyric brilliantly."

In Bob Dorough's "You're the Dangerous Type," a tune that's not recorded nearly as much as it deserves, Kelly captures the quirky and mischievous story line with her unique sense of phrasing. Her sensitivity to lyrics drew her to Phoebe Snow's "Harpo's Blues," with which she opens the program. Jeff Colella's arrangement splendidly captures its narrative arc that is suffused with a plaintive longing.
Kelly's continuing interest in world music, contemporary vocal jazz, poetry and songwriting have informed and enriched her newest musical offering, Happy to Be.

Happy To Be is available on JazzedMedia's website and iTunes and Amazon.

Julie also has her own website -

The following video montage contains images of Julie and graphics from Happy To Be as set to Julie singing You’re The Dangerous Type.

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