Monday, April 15, 2019

Polly Gibbons - "All I Can Do"

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

“Polly Gibbons is a growing presence in the UK Jazz scene. She has already been nominated twice as "Best Jazz Vocalist" by JAZZ FM and the BBC. Fully embracing the inspiring expansiveness of American Jazz, Blues, Soul and R&B, her career as a vocalist, composer and live performer is influenced by these genres. But Polly is hesitant to define her music as strictly Jazz; her eclectic repertoire and the ease and style with which she performs it, have led her to appear at a variety of music festivals and venues: from the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London opening for George Benson and Gladys Knight, or for Boz Scaggs at the famous Montreal Jazz Festival. Equally, her fans might find her performing a weekly residency with her band at the legendary Birdland Jazz Club in NYC, Ronnie Scott’s in London or at the funky new venue Rudy's down in Nashville. Her music and her voice have a broad appeal to music lovers - and her ongoing touring over the last few years in the USA has garnered her many new fans.”

Both Antje Hübner and I agree that Polly Gibbons is a very unique talent and deserves to be more widely known, so while she does her part as a professional public relations manager [see attached media release below] to help remedy this state-of-affairs, I thought I would try to also assist in creating some greater awareness about Polly through this blog posting.

While listening to Polly on her latest Resonance Records CD - All I Can Do - my ear was captured in a very personal way when her voice caressed a familiar melody, or employed an oblique turn of phrase, harmonically or  developed a rhythmic feeling that simply drew me in to her marvelous renditions and interpretations. Sometimes, I noticed that her way with a lyric took me surprisingly deeper into a song before I even realized it. Her vocal talents and skills have a way of giving energy and lift to any song.

Polly Gibbons sings with pulsating power and graceful elegance. Sometimes her voice moves into a territory of supple huskiness that I associate with Sarah Vaughan or Carmen McRae. Other times, it has an agility and precision reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald.  Polly uses these divergent abilities to deliver the lyrics of a song first to your ears (sometimes it's like she's singing directly to you), then to a much deeper place where you can really feel it. And above everything, it's the feeling that's palpable when she sings.

Because of the huge range and weightiness of her voice, it is sometimes easy to overlook the heart, musical honesty and beauty woven throughout this album.  And all along the way, the little, subtle things continued to accumulate, creating a harmonious, luminous whole. The CD plays through beautifully.

Polly Gibbons is a Jazz vocalist for our times and of our times. She’s at home with the blues, the Great American Songbook, rhythm and blues, Classic rock, Jazz standards and other popular musical styles, including the music of Prince [which has deeper roots in Jazz than most fans imagine].

Joining her to help her do “All She Can Do” are pianists Tamir Hendelman and James Person, Hammond Organist Shedrick Mitchell, Guitarist Paul Bollenback, bassist Ritchie Goods and drummer Mark McLean.

Because of the depth and breath of the musical influences in her singing, both traditional and contemporary, Polly Gibbons makes Jazz singing as universally acceptable as any vocalist in the business to day.

Or as James Gavin phrases it in the insert notes to All I Can Do:

“Polly Gibbons, the rising young British singer of jazz, blues and soul, has a sound and a style that gives off sparks. Her voice is raspy, raw and full of heat; it sputters and growls, carves out funky grooves, and wails into the stratosphere. Improvisations tumble out of her. Whatever the tempo, Polly’s time and pitch are spot-on; no challenge throws her. And when she sings a quiet, sparsely arranged love song, she’s a no frills storyteller of great heart. …

Call this music jazz if you want to; but in Polly’s world, that term embraces any sound that’s soulful, swinging and free.”

All I Can Do releases April 19, 2019; here is a wealth of background information about Polly and the recording from Antje Hübner’s -

Media Release

“Los Angeles, March 13, 2019 – Resonance Records discovery Polly Gibbons, a British-born star on the rise, has a sound and style that give off sparks. It’s raw, raspy, and full of heat; it sputters and growls, carves out funky grooves, and wails into the skies. All I Can Do, her third Resonance release, the label’s founder George Klabin, places Gibbons in front of an audience, where she’s at her most explosive.

Recorded before an invited crowd at Power Station, the New York studio where Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Madonna, and Sting made renowned albums, All I Can Do teams Gibbons with a smoldering quintet: pianist and arranger James Pearson (musical director at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s in London); organist Shedrick Mitchell (who played for nine years with Whitney Houston); guitarist Paul Bollenback; bassist Richie Goods;and drummer Mark McLean. Guest pianist and arranger Tamir Hendelman is a first-call musician in Los Angeles, a first-call accompanist in Los Angeles; he can be heard on the CD and DVD of One Night Only: Barbra Streisand and Quartet at the Village Vanguard.

On All I Can Do, Gibbons roams the musical map while staying grounded in jazz, her home base. She finds the common thread in songs by Horace Silver, Prince, AND Al Jarreau. She borrows tunes from her idols—Nina Simone, Chet Baker, Donny Hathaway—and makes them her own. As Jon Sobel wrote in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “I hear echoes of Ella, Lena, Aretha, even Janis. But Gibbons is a full-blown phenomenon of her own.”

The performance took place in 2018, an important year for her. That summer, Birdland, New York’s premier jazz club, gave Gibbons a residency. She opened for Boz Scaggs at the Montreal Jazz Festival and played the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival alongside Gregory Porter, Marcus Miller, and Tootie Heath. Gibbons performed regularly at Ronnie Scott’s, her London headquarters. Her previous album on Resonance, Is It Me …?, earned raves. Wrote John Fordham of The Guardian: “Gibbons has proven herself a versatile artist who can switch from an emotionally subtle Cleo Laine-like purr to a soul-gospel wail in a blink, and she has a growing authority as a co-composer with James Pearson … Polly Gibbons is unmistakably a class act, getting classier fast.”

A farmer’s daughter, Gibbons grew up with her six siblings in Framlingham, a small market town in Suffolk, England. Early on she learned the meaning of the blues: “I’ve got super-loving parents, but I was very bullied at school, and there was quite a lot of illness in my family.” At thirteen she heard her first Billie Holiday record. It led her on a chase to explore other black American musical greats: Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk. The “history and complexity and pain and anger and joy in that music,” she says, “made me very excited and touched me.”

In 2006, before she had released her first album, the BBC Jazz Awards nominated her in its “Rising Star” category. A few years later Gibbons was singing at Ronnie’s in front of Van Morrison, who lauded her “great voice.” The great arranger/composer Johnny Mandel—who has written for Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, and Shirley Horn—would later comment: “They don’t come along very often, but this one’s a star.” Gibbons went on to open for George Benson and Gladys Knight in their U.K. tours, and (with Pearson) to score first place in the Indie International Songwriting Contest for their song “Midnight Prayer.” Peter Quinn of Jazzwise proclaimed her “a truly exceptional, once-in-a-generation talent, possessing a voice of such sizzling intensity and raw emotion you could fry an egg on it.”

Her 2015 debut album on Resonance, Many Faces of Love, established Polly as one of the freshest jazz voices to hit the U.S. in years. All I Can Do shows her continued growth. Her version of the Horace Silver gospel tune “Permit Me to Introduce You to Yourself” mixes funk, scatting, and churchy organ and piano; Polly sings as fervently as a preacher in the pulpit. Jazz divas love to emote their way through “Everything Must Change,” but Polly transmits its hard-earned lessons quietly. On a tip from Klabin, Polly sings a rollicking cover of a Della Reese showstopper, “Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues.” She and Pearson wrote “All I Can Do Is Sing the Blues” in response to “the bad things in life,” most of them stemming from current political mayhem on both sides of the pond.

Following the death of Prince, Gibbons was moved to sing “Nothing Compares 2 U,” his great ballad of lost love, in a spare and mournful setting, “just Shedrick and James laying it down.” “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” the unashamedly naughty Bessie Smith blues, never fails to thrill Gibbons’s audiences. Pearson takes it to church with an arrangement inspired by Mahalia Jackson records; Tamir Hendelman channels every style Gibbons loves into a panoramic solo.

All I Can Do reveals a young woman who, musically and expressively, is wise beyond her years.”

1. Permit Me to Introduce You to Yourself (5:08)
2. Good Hands Tonight (6:28)
3. Beautiful Things (4:21)
4. If You Had the Chance (5:21)
5. Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues (6:36)
6. Anything Goes (4:30)
7. This Is Always (5:39)
8. All I Can Do (5:03)
9. Everything Must Change (7:23)
10. I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So (5:48)
11. Nothing Compares 2 U (6:24)
12. I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl (5:20)
Arrangements: Tamir Hendelman | James Pearson

For more information, you can reach Antje at

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