Sunday, August 2, 2015

Two Marks Who Are Hip, Slick and Cool

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

"If Mark Murphy is the reigning king of vocal hipsterism, then Mark Winkler ranks directly behind Kurt Elling among heirs apparent As a lyricist, he is as consummate a traveler in the world of Dave Frishberg drollness as he is in the land of Cole Porter urbanity."
~ Christopher Loudon, JazzTimes

I am a big fan of vocal Jazz artists such as Bobby Troup, Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg, Blossom Dearie and Mose Allison who can write hip, slick and cool Jazz melodies and create clever lyrics to sing them with.

The members of this club usually play a little piano or, at least, know their way around one, but their real instrument is their voice which they use to embellish and enhance lyrics much the same way a Jazz instrumentalist does.

Many of them achieve the ultimate in Jazz expression - an almost instantly recognizable sound. A few notes and/or a few bars and you know it's them.

Words register in the mind differently than sounds and a clever wordsmith can leave me with lyrics that I can memorize and repeat a little more easily than an instrumental solo by Bird, Diz or Bud [although it is easier with those that play fewer notes such as Bix and Miles, or Prez and Ben Webster, for example].

These are Jazz singers per se as distinct from song stylists such as Billie, Ella, Sassy although categorization can be a dangerous thing so I think I’ll stop here because no one ever used their voice to scat sing better than Ella or Sassy. I mean when they get it going, you can hear the chord progressions as they actually improvise on the changes - talk about Jazz singing!

Although both Mark Winkler and Mark Christian have each been around a while, their music was relatively knew to me. Thanks to Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music Publicity and Marketing, the editorial offices at JazzProfiles received copies of their latest CD’s and we thought we’d share the information that Holly’s team sent along as media releases as it contains a great deal of interesting background about the artists and the recordings.

Following each piece is an audio file that gives you the opportunity to sample the music as well as order information.

It’s nice to know that the Two Marks, Winkler and Christian, respectively, are around to carry on this aspect of the Jazz tradition and to make their own “hip, slick and cool” contributions to it.

Mark Winkler, Jazz and Other Four Letter Words [Cafe Pacific Records CPCD 45125]

Mark Winkler vocals; Cheryl Bentyne vocals (2,7);
Jamieson Trotter piano; Rich Eames piano (9,11);
John Clayton bass (2,4,7,10,11); Dan Lutz bass;
Jeff Hamilton drums (2,4,7,10,11); Mike Shapiro drums;
Pat Kelly guitar; Bob Sheppard saxophone (4,7);
Bob McChesney trombone; Walt Fowler (trumpet);
Kirsten Edkins saxophone (6,8)

Jazz and Other Four Letter Words is the witty, heartfelt, and swinging new release from Los Angeles jazz vocalist and lyricist Mark Winkler. The CD features two duets with Manhattan Transfer's Cheryl Bentyne and an eclectic mix of standards, not-so-standard tunes, and original songs by Winkler, a 2015 Downbeat Critics Poll "Rising Star.”

Backed by John Clayton, Jeff Hamilton, and some of the finest musicians on the West Coast, Jazz and Other Four Letter Words is Mark Winkler's 14th CD as a leader and showcases Winkler at the top of his game, both as a lyricist and vocalist.

JAZZ AND OTHER FOUR LETTER WORDS is the newest release from Los Angeles jazz vocalist and lyricist Mark Winkler. The project features an eclectic mix of standards, not-so-standard tunes, and original songs by Winkler, a 2015 Downbeat Critics Poll "Rising Star," backed by John Clayton, Jeff Hamilton, and some of the finest musicians on the West Coast.

JAZZ AND OTHER FOUR LETTER WORDS follows on the success of Winkler's last two CDs, The Laura Nyro Project and West Coast Cool, both of which spent many months in JazzWeek's top 25 and received stellar reviews. West Coast Cool featured Winkler and Cheryl Bentyne, the dynamic vocalist who is well known for her long association with the Manhattan Transfer. Bentyne makes an appearance on this project, singing duets with Winkler on two tunes -- the funny and swinging Dave Frishberg /Bob Dorough song "I'm Hip" and the Rodgers & Hart evergreen "I Wish I Were In Love Again." The easy rapport that has grown from their five year collaboration lends these numbers a fresh, new buoyancy. As Mark says, "I love working with Cheryl. She's a great singer and a real pro. She really knows how to get into a lyric. And she's a lot of fun to work with because her bubbly personality reminds me of my Aunt Shirley."

Winkler has had over 200 of his songs recorded and/or sung by such artists as Dianne Reeves, Randy Crawford, Liza Minnelli, Bob Dorough, Jackie Ryan, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lea DeLaria and Claire Martin. His writing on this project ranges from deeply poignant, like the lovely "I Chose The Moon," which he penned for his partner of 34 years, to the tongue-in-cheek "Your Cat Plays Piano," which is a witty send-up of new age hipsterism based on a relationship Winkler had with a wild child a long time ago. Clearly, Mark Winkler likes to sing about having a good time. He wrote the opening track "My Idea of a Good Time" with music by Greg Gordon Smith, and includes a raucous version of Paul Simon's "Have a Good Time."

Besides a rich, melodic baritone voice, the essence of Winkler's singing is his sure sense of swing. It's hard not to tap your feet listening to "Stay Hip," with lyrics by Winkler and co-written, arranged and accompanied by pianist Rich Eames, or the title track, "Jazz and Other Four Letter Words," which is both an homage to and lament for the “bad rap” Jazz has recently been subjected to, with Jamieson Taylor and Mark Winkler sharing credit for both music and lyrics.

Trotter, who plays piano and wrote 10 of the arrangements for this project, is an in-demand pianist, arranger, and producer who tours with Sergio Mendez and has also performed extensively for TV and films. Horn arrangements were written by Jacob Mann, a rising star in the Los Angeles music scene. These gentlemen provide a fresh, new take on whatever song they take a pen to.

The other musicians backing Winkler are a Who's Who of Southern California musical talent, including jazz luminaries John Clayton, Jeff Hamilton, Bob Sheppard, Walt Fowler, Bob McChesney, Larry Koonse, Dan Lutz, Mike Shapiro, Pat Kelly, and up and coming tenor player, Kirsten Edkins. This is also Winkler's fourth CD produced by his longtime friend Barbara Brighton, the respected L.A. producer known for her work producing CDs for vocalists Julie Kelly and Judy Wexler, and her involvement with programs and events in the local jazz community.

Winkler is a platinum award winning singer/lyricist as well as a producer and educator. His lyrics are featured on four songs on the new David Benoit/Jane Monheit CD, 2 In Love which debuted at #6 on The Billboard Jazz chart and just received a four star rating from All Music Guide. As a writer, Winkler is very influenced by the craft and technique of the Great American Songbook lyricists, but his own lyrics speak to today's times and sensibilities.

Winkler is also an educator whose course ''Crafting Great Lyrics: A Songwriters Workshop" is popular at UCLA Extension and at the Los Angeles School of Songwriting.

A sought-after producer in his own right, Winkler recently produced Joanne Tatham's CD "Out of my Dreams," which reached number 25 on the Jazz charts this year, and he is preparing to go in the studio producing new projects for Lauren White and Miki Purnell.

A native of Southern California, Winkler grew up in a musical family. His mother and aunt were both singers who toured around the country. Mark credits his mother with teaching him about phrasing and singing in a natural, conversational style.

JAZZ AND OTHER FOUR LETTER WORDS is a witty, heartfelt, and swinging outing by a gifted performer and writer and backed by a crew of stellar musicians. Both the Jazz community and Winkler's large following of dedicated fans are sure to find a lot to admire with this new release.”

Available on Amazon, iTunes, and CDBaby.


You can sample tracks from Jazz and Other Four Letter Words on Soundcloud:

Mark Christian Miller, Crazy Moon [Sliding Door Jazz Productions]

“Crazy Moon is the new release from Los Angeles jazz vocalist Mark Christian Miller, his first project in 15 years. Miller, who performs regularly around Southern California, is known for his warm voice and solid sense of swing. On this project, he and arrangers Josh Nelson and Jamieson Trotter have taken mostly lesser-known standards and updated them with modern, edgy arrangements. Miller is one of those rare singers who can capture the poignancy of a lyric while swinging effortlessly.”
Backed by some of the finest young virtuosos and veteran jazz musicians in Southern California, Crazy Moon is an estimable outing for Miller who deserves the attention of a wide audience.

Mark Christian Miller vocals
Josh Nelson piano
Dave Robaire bass
Sammy Miller drums
Larry Koonse guitar
Ron Stout trumpet
Billy Hulting percussion
Bob Sheppard bass clarinet

Arrangements by
Josh Nelson (4, 6, 8, 10,11)
Josh Nelson & Mark Christian Miller (3, 5)
Jamieson Trotter (1, 2, 7, 9)

CRAZY MOON is the newest project from jazz vocalist Mark Christian Miller. A music business veteran, Miller has been performing regularly in Southern California for over 20 years and has recorded with L.A. legends. Now, with the release of CRAZY MOON, Miller steps out front as a leader, accompanied by some of the most in-demand musicians on the West Coast.

Miller has a rich voice full of nuance and shadings. Combined with his effortless talent for melodic invention, he casts a new light on vintage under-the-radar standards with updated, modern arrangements by rising jazz stars, Josh Nelson and Jamieson Trotter.

Leaders in their own right, Nelson and Trotter are among the most innovative younger pianists, accompanists, composers and arrangers on the scene. From the first bars of the introduction to the opening track, "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams," you can hear how Trotter has updated this 1930s swinger by wrapping it in an arrangement reminiscent of a movie dream sequence. Combined with Nelson's high energy piano playing and Miller's solid sense of swing and crystal clear diction, it's as fresh and new today as if it were composed only recently. Or listen to Nelson's arrangement of "Strange." Popular in the 1950's with recordings by Nat King Cole, Woody Herman and Chico Hamilton, Nelson has given it a modern groove accentuated by bass clarinet and percussion that highlights Miller's warm timbre and darker hues.

Miller is an effortless storyteller. He takes liberties with time, phrasing, and melody, but he never needs extraneous vocal ornamentation to communicate a lyric. Adept at a wide range of emotional tones, Miller can swing like a 1930's big band singer in tunes like "Cheek to Cheek," and can also convey a deep sense of longing in ballads like "April Fooled Me" and "Second Chance."

The core trio includes pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Dave Robaire, and drummer Sammy Miller, all younger players with a growing fan base. The rest of the band are seasoned veterans, including Larry Koonse on guitar, Ron Stout on trumpet, Bob Sheppard on bass clarinet, and Grammy winner Billy Hulting on percussion.

Miller is a native of Iowa. He grew up on a 350-acre farm where his family raised corn, soybeans and cattle. His first musical training was from his mother, who taught piano. More interested in music than in farming, Miller joined the school band where he played the baritone horn. After graduation, he moved to San Francisco and joined the famed Lamplighters, a light opera company specializing in Gilbert and Sullivan, where he had featured roles. He moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to study at the highly competitive Los Angeles Civic Light Opera's Musical Theater Workshop. Miller soon began working in many small theater productions around Los Angeles. He did several seasons of summer stock and understudied the lead in a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. In the early 90's, he won a full scholarship from Herb Alpert's brother, David, and attended Los Angeles City College as a full time music major. At that time he came to the attention of the late Teri Merrill-Aarons, founder of the Los Angeles Jazz Society, who started booking him into top local venues paired with the finest pianists in town. He quickly gained a following and stellar reviews. During this time he studied jazz piano with two highly respected artists, Joyce Collins and Jane Getz.

Also during this time, he met Page Cavanaugh, the veteran pianist-singer whose trio was popular in the late 1940s and '50s and who became one of music's most enduring jazz artists. The two became good friends and their friendship was a source of deep musical inspiration for Miller. "Page turned me on to many obscure songs that I never would have heard otherwise. But it was really his approach to tunes that taught me so much. He took care of the music." The two eventually recorded several tracks for Miller's debut CD Dreamer With a Penny that also featured Dave Tull on drums and Phil Mallory on bass. Cavanaugh died in 2008, and Miller was honored by being asked to perform at his memorial, where he shared the stage with Michael Feinstein.

Miller began working behind the scenes as a music promoter and booked two successful jazz series in upscale Los Angeles restaurants. He joined Corniche Entertainment as an artist manager and booker, and has presented entertainment for events in the most prestigious festivals, resorts and hotels in Southern California, launched a highly successful music series, and served as Associate Producer for four music festivals at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater. While this has given him a very complete approach to the music business, he found himself performing less -- something was missing from his life. On a trip to New York City, Miller ran into noted writer James Gavin, who encouraged him to get back into singing, and made an introduction to Jim Caruso. Miller performed that very night at Caruso's weekly "Cast Party" at Birdland. It was a seminal moment in his life. He felt completely reinvigorated, and when he returned to Los Angeles he approached the gifted pianist Josh Nelson and began working on this project.

With the release of CRAZY MOON, Mark Christian Miller takes the lessons he's learned and truly takes care of the music, adding his own distinctive voice and modern take to an out-of-the-box song selection.”

Available at CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes.

You can sample the track "Tomorrow Is My Turn" on Soundcloud:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.