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REMEMBRANCE OF MAXINE SULLIVAN

Date Posted: 2005-05-26

MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY: A Further Remembrance of Maxine Sullivan , ACD-319
By: Keith Samuel
(ed note: Harlem Butterfly, Rebecca Kilgore`s tribute to Maxine Sullivan, cried out for an encore and we`re proud to announce its availability. Keith Samuel`s notes are reproduced here as a guide to Rebecca`s latest effort.) Rebecca Kilgore is never reluctant to acknowledge the influence on her work of a gallery of great jazz singers. Pre-eminent among them is Maxine Sullivan (1911-87). Her easy-swinging, upbeat style is reflected not only in Becky`s own sure-footed and sunny touch with a song but also in the taste she displays in her choice of repertoire, of tempos and of accompanists. Maxine was a singer who clearly respected her material, her audiences and her fellow musicians.
She offers a role model that Becky embraces willingly, whether on stage, on the road or in this second tribute album to Sullivan. Its title, Make Someone Happy, represents a deliberate statement of intent. Its forerunner, Harlem
Butterfly- A Remembrance of Maxine Sullivan (Audiophile ACD-308), offered 17 engaging titles from the Sullivan songbook, superbly interpreted by Kilgore and deftly accompanied by The Bobby Gordon Trio. Recorded in April 2000, this album attracted wide praise and impressive sales, making a sequel both inevitable and desirable. Fortunately there is a sufficiently wide range of material in the treasury of Sullivan`s recordings to make it relatively easy for Becky to select a further 17 outstanding songs. But it took until the middle of January 2004 to re-assemble the same cast of participants in Costa Mesa, CA to bring the project to fruition. Even then it went to the wire. Shortly before the recording dates, a freak ice storm in Portland, OR (her home city) isolated Becky from her arranger David Evans, preventing the charts from being copied and sent to the musicians to study in advance. This might have proved a minor blessing.
Jazz musicians thrive on a challenge, not least men of the calibre of clarinetist Bobby Gordon, pianist Chris Dawson and drummer Hal Smith. In tribute to them, Becky marvels at the way they rallied and "and miraculously made the music sound effortless and swinging."
Indeed, the intimacy of the interplay between Kilgore and her accompanists, skillfully captured by the recording engineers, gives this recording a special
presence- conjuring up the illusion of a performance taking place in the listener`s own sitting room.
For this new album, Becky decided to focus on the material Maxine Sullivan performed over the last 10 years of her life after her successful emergence from retirement. "I find Maxine`s singing so utterly inspiring because of her undiminished musical integrity and sense of swing," says Becky. "As she aged, her gifts seemed to mature and deepen. And although she sang certain chestnuts repeatedly, she kept adding to her repertoire- something I admire and respect."
It is a matter of lasting regret to Kilgore that she never met Sullivan or heard her perform in person. But her recordings remain a lasting source of inspiration.
‘She constantly reminds me that singing need not be a kind of sport where the ‘winner` is the one that projects the most technique or dramatic impact- but that it can be an understated, intimate communication from the heart, plain and simple."
"I don`t want to imitate Maxine Sullivan`s singing. I want to acknowledge my love and thanks for her style and approach. She left a wonderful legacy that I hope will live on."
THE MUSIC
Becky sets the tone for the album with a with a classy interpretation of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler`s Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, composed for the 1931 Cotton Club Revue. After taking the verse out-of-tempo, she delivers the chorus with lilting swing and characteristic respect for the lyrics.
Gordon, tossing in some sly blue notes, and Dawson both solo effectively before Becky returns over neat stop-chords in the release leading to the finale.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers introduced Don`t Let It Bother You in the movie The Gay Divorcee in 1934. Once again the formula employed is that of an out-of-tempo verse, followed by gently swinging choruses from singer and accompanists. Pianist Dawson sparkles here, reminiscent of Teddy Wilson.
Conceived originally as a comedy song, Something To Remember You By dates from 1931. Its qualities as a ballad were soon recognized and it was featured in at least three movies: Her Kind of Man (1946), Dancing In The Dark (1949) and The Bandwagon (1953). Becky demonstrates the song`s enduring qualities with a dreamy chorus, followed by a clarinet solo by Gordon at his lyrical best. The singer returns with the verse sung out-of-tempo in deft steps, leading to an enchanting final chorus.
Loonis McGlohon`s Good Morning Life is a more contemporary piece (1974).
Singer and accompanists give it a bonny, bouncy treatment, Dawson contributing a brisk introduction and neat solo, Gordon hovers engagingly in the low register and Smith`s drums propel Kilgore into a swinging last chorus, all the more appealing for its controlled dynamics.
Fats Waller`s ebullient version of My Very Good Friend The Milkman will loom large in the memory of many listeners, but here Becky gives the song a gentler interpretation. Dawson cannot resist the temptation to contribute some two-handed Waller-ish piano, while Gordon offers a distinctive obbligato to the vocal, as well as a deliciously perky half-chorus (1935).
Hoagy Carmichael`s Small Fry (words by Frank Loesser) has the same kind of charm and artistic invention as a Norman Rockwell cover drawing for the Saturday Evening Post reflecting the period values of small-town Americana, sentimental maybe, but utterly disarming. Bing Crosby introduced the song in the 1938 movie Sing Your Sinners. The youngster he sang to was 13 year-old Donald O`Connor, making his movie debut. At a nice relaxed tempo, Becky and Bobby put their own imprint on this minor classic.
Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries was introduced by Ethel Merman in 1931 in George Whiteâ ™s Scandals of 1931. Becky`s version is nicely restrained, with the verse adroitly positioned midway through the performance.
Burton Lane`s Come Back To Me is taken at a fair lick but Becky`s impeccable diction and mastery of Alan Jay Lerner`s lyrics eliminate any potential hazards. Gordon is also unfussed by the fast tempo, contributing a thoughtful solo.
This song comes from the musical On A Clear Day (1965), and was also a hit for Johnny Mathis.
The album title song Make Someone Happy underlines the superb rapport between Becky and her accompanists. All four have great time, and although it is the relaxed singing and melodic clarinet playing that are in the foreground, this is teamwork of a very high calibre. The song, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Jule Styne, is from the 1960 musical Do-Re-Mi.
The second song on this album to be introduced in a movie by Fred and Ginger (Shall We Dance? 1937), the Gershwin brothers` They All Laughed has built-in swing in the melody and timeless wit in the lyrics. Its appeal has never faded and Becky, Bobby, Chris and Hal do it full justice at a snappy tempo. Listen out for the four-bar exchanges between Dawson and Smith, inspiring Kilgore to subtly refashion the contours of the melody on the last vocal chorus.
It`s Wonderful (not to be confused with the Gershwins` ‘S Wonderful) was written in 1938 by jazz violinist Stuff Smith with words by Mitchell Parish. Louis Armstrong recorded a fine version. Becky, starting out with the short but attractive verse, brings out the tenderness in this song, aided by Gordon`s low register half-chorus.
Becky recalls hearing Bing Crosby and Connee Boswell duetting on the radio on Between 18th & 19th on Chestnut Street. It dates from 1940 and Maxine Sullivan revived it in the last years of her life. Becky gives the song a joyful and relaxed interpretation and Chris Dawson`s solo shimmers with percussive phrasing of the kind that characterized the keyboard style of Jess Stacy.
It was another of Becky`s favorite singers, Doris Day, who revived You`re Getting To Be a Habit With Me in the 1951 movie Lullaby of Broadway. The first screen outing for this Al Dubin/Harry Warren composition was in 42nd Street (1932), when it was sung by Bebe Daniels. Becky and the trio give it their own imprint, characterized by a lyrical statement of the melody by Gordon, a beautifully sung verse and then a reminder of the solid jazz credentials of these artists as they indulge in a nimble chase chorus involving both singer and instrumentalists. A gem.
Too Late Now was sung by Jane Powell in the 1951 movie Royal Wedding and earned for its writers Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane an enthusiastic analysis by Alec Wilder in his book American Popular Song (Oxford). Wilder called it "a very beautiful song" and described the release as"a marvel of invention." In the hands of Becky Kilgore the song`s qualities are celebrated in a subtle, perfectly-pitched performance in which Dawson is the sole accompanist.
Alec Wilder expressed similar appreciation for By Myself, which he called "a very special, virtually unique song." Composed by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz it was introduced by Jack Buchanan in the musical Between The Devil
(1937) and given fresh life by Judy Garland in the movie I Could Go On Singing (1963). Becky`s version, recorded while Bobby Gordon was still outside the recording studio enjoying some fresh air, is taken briskly with Dawson and Smith swinging incisively.
The full team of accompanists is back on duty for You`re A Lucky Guy, written by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin for The Cotton Club Parade in 1939. As well as Maxine`s version - one of her very last recordings- Becky admires Billie Holiday`s version of this upbeat song. The Kilgore treatment is notable for its bouncy swing.
Finally, Loch Lomond, Maxine`s mega-hit, which she generally saved until the end of her performances. Poignantly, it was the last song she performed in public before her death. Becky was in two minds about including it. But Bobby Gordon (whose grandfather was born in Scotland) was on hand to provide some plaintive echoes of the pipes and, with Hal Smith singing the call-and-response part, she decided it would be right to do so. Those of us lucky enough to have seen Maxine Sullivan perform - and to have basked in the light of her radiant smile - will sense that she would have approved.
THE PERFORMERS
REBECCA KILGORE
In an age of instant global communication, Rebecca Kilgore`s beguiling vocal skills remained one of America`s best-kept secrets until relatively recently.
Unless you attended jazz parties such as those at Atlanta, Clearwater or Chautauqua, purchased your CDs from a specialist dealer or were on the look-out for some night-time entertainment in Portland, OR, you were unlikely to chance upon performances by this gifted custodian of the treasure house of great American songs.
A self-acknowledged late starter, Becky Kilgore can now contemplate an impressive international schedule that, during the first years of the 21st Century, has taken her to Europe, Australia, the South Pacific, the Caribbean, South and Central America.
Countless new fans have been left in the wake of this burgeoning travel schedule - literally so, for the modern cruise ship has helped serve as a peripatetic platform for much of this wider exposure. Her seagoing companions often include trombonist Dan Barrett and guitarist/singer Eddie Erickson, fellow members of BED, the band she helped form in 2002 (the acronym derives from the names of Becky, Eddie and Dan). There are two BED CDs out on the Blue Swing label.
From early groundings in a variety of jazz, swing and country music groups, Becky progressed to a fruitful partnership with pianist Dave Frishberg in her adopted home city of Portland, from where she continues to operate. A basketful of CDs stand as testament to her talents - several under her own name, others paired with Frishberg or under the leadership of jazz soulmates such as Dan Barrett, Duke Heitger, John Sheridan and Hal Smith.
Rebecca`s name has been in George Buck`s Jazzology catalogue since 1983 as
guitarist- vocalist with Hal Smith groups rising to a building of "Featuring Rebecca Kilgore" in the mid 90`s, but with the release of this compact disc (5 on
Jazzology- 2 on Audiophile) she sings on seven CDs...the most recent two give her top billing.
Audiences love her easy-going humor and upbeat treatment of jazz classics and show tunes. They also get an occasional demonstration of Becky`s skill as a
rock- solid rhythm guitarist.
In between hunting down attractive but neglected songs of the 1930s and 40s, Becky is kept busy with concerts, radio, tours and jazz party appearances. Her declared ambition is "to learn as many songs from the 30s and 40s as possible and to swing and have fun in the process."
BOBBY GORDON (clarinet)
Bobby Gordon finally got the chance to perform in the land of his forefathers at the Nairn International Jazz Festival in Scotland in 2004. International recognition has bided its time for this native New Yorker, steeped in the traditions of the kind of classic jazz and swing personified by the great clarinetist Joe Marsala -family friend to the Gordons and Bobby`s tutor and mentor.
Bobby was playing with veterans such as Muggy Spanier, George Wettling and Georg Brunis by the age 18 in the late 1950s, and in 1962-3 he was featured by Decca on three clarinet-with-strings albums in the wake of Acker Bilk`s gold disc exploits in the mood music market.
He played at Eddie Condon`s in New York, with Jim Cullum`s band in San Antonio and toured with Leon Redbone, surviving, with Redbone, an horrific air crash. But it was not until he settled in San Diego in 1979 (where he met his English-born wife, Sue) and began to record prolifically - with Marty Grosz, Keith Ingham, Hal Smith, Rebecca Kilgore, Bob Wilber (frequently for the Jazzology
label) and eventually under his own leadership for Arbors - that the true worth and individuality of his soulful clarinet playing came to be fully appreciated.
When the chance came to record again under his own name in 1992, his debut Arbors album received warm reviews. Numerous successful releases followed.
Gordon composed the title track, Clarinet Blue, on this most recent Arbors quartet album. He is teamed with master-pianist Dave McKenna, and he is keen to write more material like this. Occasionally he risks a vocal, in the style of Red McKenzie.
These recordings, along with frequent appearances at jazz parties and concerts in the U.S. and tours of the U.K. and Japan have helped to give his inventive playing the platform it richly deserves.
CHRIS DAWSON (piano)
Chris Dawson graduated from the jazz department of the University of Southern California in 1990 equipped not only with an advanced studies certificate but also the skills and versatility to apply his talents across a wide range of jazz idioms.
From the age of seven, ragtime, Harlem stride and the styles of masters such as Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller and Art Tatum made their impact on the young pianist. In high school, the influences of Bill Evans, Bud Powell and more contemporary players were absorbed. He gigged whenever there were opportunities and the decision to become a professional musician was helped along by winning a talent competition, resulting in a scholarship to USC. Here, he was tutored by Cedar Walton.
Since graduation Dawson has maintained a rigorous regime of study (with Jimmy Rowles and Alan Broadbent among others) and now teaches himself. During periods of residence in Los Angeles and New York City he has appeared as a solo pianist, accompanist and leader of trios and quartets at many leading venues, including Birdland. He has recorded under his own name and also in diverse company under the leadership of Ruth Cameron and Charlie Haden, Marty Grosz, Evan Christopher, and Renee Olstead, as well as with Rebecca Kilgore, Bobby Gordon and with Hal Smith`s Rhythmakers and California Swing Cats. Smith and Kilgore were especially appreciative of Dawson`s contribution to their Concentratin` on Fats CD for Jazzology (JCD 299), featuring 18 of Waller`s rarer compositions.
It prompted Smith to describe Dawson as a â"world-class vocal accompanist" and to observe that his light, crisp, swinging touch is "a constant inspiration to all."
HAL SMITH (drums)
The "marvellous orchestral drumming" of Hal Smith is singled out for special praise in the 1998 edition of the respected Rough Guide to Jazz (Penguin).
But, thanks to a proof-reading blunder, Bobby Gordon gets the credit! Smith would no doubt be the first to see the funny side of this. Jazz musicians all over the world amuse themselves on long journeys by reciting lists of songs that have been victim to typographical accidents and mis-spellings (When Your Liver Has Gone etc.).
The next Rough Guide will no doubt give proper acknowledgement to Smith`s outstanding musicianship - and also to his role as a major standard-bearer for revivalist jazz over the last 25 years. Whether it be traditional jazz, Dixieland, Harlem swing, New Orleans or San Francisco style, Smith has championed the rich heritage of the music at every opportunity. And, as more than 160 recordings demonstrate, he has never been content to be cast as an imitator. He has sought out musicians with the ability to generate fresh and stimulating music in these classic jazz idioms. And, as a student of the great jazz drummers of the past (Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton, Ray Bauduc, Sid Catlett etc.), he has fashioned a personal style that combines incisive swing with colorings and effects that are the trademark of a true percussionist.
Hal was born in Indianapolis, but raised in La Jolla, CA (he became interested in jazz in childhood after hearing the Firehouse Five at Disneyland). He is self-taught, aside from studying with Jake Hanna a few years after becoming a full time musician in 1978.
Hal has performed with the Dukes of Dixieland, Jim Cullum`s Jazz Band, Summit Reunion, Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Climax Jazz Band, Grand Dominion Jazz Band, South Frisco Jazz Band, Ralph Sutton, Scott Hamilton, Marty Grosz and led the critically-acclaimed Roadrunners, with Rebecca Kilgore and Bobby Gordon.
He is also a noted jazz writer whose articles appear in the Mississippi Rag, the Bulletin of the Hot Club de France, Just Jazz (U.K.) and other journals.
He currently leads Hal`s Angels and the Jazz Chihuahuas and has recently begun to play drums in the Mississippi Delta and Chicago blues idioms.
Hal is Administrative and Media Director of America`s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society-San Diego and teaches drums at their Jazz Camp.
((Keith Samuel is a British freelance jazz writer who contributes to Jazz Journal International, Just Jazz, Jazzbeat and other publications. He also plays trombone and leads the New Gateway Jazz Band, based in Southampton, England)


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