Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Founded by Molly Ryan and Bria Skonberg in 2015, The NY Hot Jazz Camp, held not in tents or bunks, but at Greenwich House Music School, presents an opportunity for both young people and adults (separately) to learn from some of the best artists in the community, to meet like-minded musicians, and to be broadly exposed to a genre epitomized by such as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, and Jelly Roll Morton. This year’s session ends with a knock-out two hour concert at Birdland. If you want to feel better about the world, listen to these performers. (Personnel below)
“Royal Garden Blues” (Spencer Williams) sounds like anything but. Jesse Gelber’s stylish piano has clarity and clout, surprising power in curved fingering; Jim Fryer bends forward from the knees, back from the waist, then swivels (like the music), his trombone an extra limb; Randy Reinhart takes curves on cornet like a luge; Nick Russo’s guitar is layered, resonant; Jared Engel almost lays his head on the cherished bass communing; Dan Levinson’s clarinet gleefully gambles; on drums, Kevin Dorn is upright, deadpan, arms with a life of their own…
Molly Ryan and the Band-Bria Skonberg trumpet
Portions of the band have played together for 28 years, but until tonight have never all shared a stage and are we lucky! There isn’t a weak link. Mutual admiration is palpable, symbiosis exuberant.
“What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry?” (Walter Donaldson/Abe Lyman) arrives not with regret, but rather a shrug and an amble to the next adventure. Levinson’s sax is smoooth, Russo pats, plucks and strokes guitar, Engel’s bass and Fryer’s trombone converse, Reinhart’s sound zig-zags.
Vocalist Queen Esther offers Alberta Hunter’s lively “My Castle’s Rockin” and a honeyed “Your Jelly Roll is Good” …but it ain’t as good as mine…like a true storyteller with unerring attitude and silent film eyes. Later, Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Pigfoot” (the lady should do a Smith show) and a bottle of beer…sashays in with sinuous clarinet, rear wiggling banjo, chortling trombone, and the singer’s use of subtle wrist and hip action. Her alto is clear and strapping. Fryer’s trombone makes sarcastic comments. It’s perceptibly a voice.
Queen Esther and the Band
We’re treated to an early Tin Pan Alley number vocalist Molly Ryan calls her current mantra. “Save Your Sorrow” for tomorrow/Smile awhile today…(Buddy De Silva/Al Sherman) is the single ballad in the show. Ryan’s creamy phrasing leaves understated, vibrating trails that disappear down her throat. She makes it look effortless. Gelber’s piano scintillates with companionable appreciation.
Bria Skonberg replaces Reinhart on trumpet for Leo Wood’s “Somebody Stole My Gal.” The foot tapping, head bobbing rendition isn’t at all mournful. Skonberg’s contribution is bright, lucid and wide-stroked. Denouement is sweet, exit emphatic. “I’m going to play second trumpet to my King Oliver, she then announces referring to Oliver’s mentoring of Louis Armstrong. Face to face, or rather horn to horn, Skonberg and Reinhart joyously play (think jungle gym, seesaw, and slides) Lew Pollack’s “That’s A Plenty”. Horns are sassy, banjo stunt skates, bass draws rhythm like breath.
The evening closes with “Blues My Naughty Sweetie” featuring the mastery of nimble-fingered Levinson (also our appealingly wry MC) and Dorn’s impressive drum turn during which both Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich must be smiling. (Dorn never does.)
These consummate musicians make me want more hot jazz in my life. The audience leaves energized, beaming. What more could one ask?
Guest Banjo: Cynthia Sayers
“Our goal is to provide instruction to musicians of all skill levels, who want to further their knowledge in the styles of traditional/classic jazz in a positive and supportive environment. The curriculum pulls from jazz’s inception in New Orleans through its journey to New York and Chicago in the 1920s and ’30s and subsequent West Coast stylings.”
Old friend It’s so nice to feel you hold me again No, it doesn’t matter where you have been My heart welcomes you back home again
“Old Friend,” Thom Bell, Linda Creed
Variety once described Phyllis Hyman’s voice as “sultry, sassy, and vocally surprising.” It was that voice that reached out to Jacqueline B. Arnold in songs like “Old Friend.” “Originally, her voice [drew me in],” Arnold explained. “Her haunted sounds. She always made me wonder what she was feeling when she recorded all these songs.”
When Arnold got older, she sought out more information about Hyman. “Listening and understanding the lyrics…peaked my curiosity about a person whose biggest wish was just to be loved,” she said. Hyman appeared in Sophisticated Ladies, a musical based on the music of Duke Ellington, which ran on Broadway from 1981 to 1983. She earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. Wider recognition, however, punctuated by a series of lost opportunities, eluded her. On June 30, 1995, Hyman committed suicide, hours before she was to perform at the Apollo Theater. On July 6, a week later, she would have turned 46.
Jacqueline B. Arnold
Now, Arnold is paying tribute to the singer, songwriter, and actress in An Evening with Phyllis Hyman, at New York’s Actors’ Temple Theatre, with six performances. (See the website for dates, times, and to purchase tickets.) Arnold brings her own considerable talents to this one-woman show. She has appeared in Broadway’s Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and in several National tours: Killer Queen in We Will Rock You, Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray, and Joanne Jefferson in Rent. She also had the privilege to tour with Bette Midler as a Harlette. Most recently, she created the role of Martha Wash in Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical.
Hyman’s story is a poignant one. She reportedly struggled with drug abuse and bipolar disorder. “Her mental illness really drew me to her in my adult years because it hit close to home,” said Arnold. “Like many of us, I know many people who suffer from mental illness. I believe telling her story on a public platform will bring even more awareness and hopefully will start a discussion within a community, specifically [among] the African American females who tend to not talk about it. We are told, `you will be ok’ or `suck it up’ or we don’t talk about it at all because we are embarrassed. I believe it is an important conversation to have, it can literally be life saving.”
As an artist, Arnold is devoted to making positive change through the arts, especially working with young people to help them grow into healthy and happy adults. She has been an instructor, counselor, and mentor to youth, specializing in those with depression and self-esteem issues. “I love their innocence and thirst for knowledge,” she said. “It is so fun to make a difference in a young person’s life through art. Building confidence or polishing a skill they have is so rewarding. It truly brings me joy to see kids dancing and singing.”
To prepare for her role as Hyman, Arnold did her research, reading Jason A. Michael’s Strength of a Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story. “It was a great chronological resource for facts, meaning it was a great place to start,” she said. “Luckily, we live in an age of information at our finger tips. Being able to watch footage of her live performances, interviews, and get to see her facial expressions and hear her voice really helped. I also was given the chance to speak to people who knew her and got to hear stories first hand of who she really was.”
Jacqueline, center, with the cast. Also pictured are producer Sheryl Lee Ralph (bottom row, left) and the show’s creators Kendrell Bowman and Anthony Wayne (bottom row, right).
Included in the show are a collection of Hyman’s biggest hits, those that were said to be her favorites and most memorable. “Funny enough I have always had a deeper toned voice, even when I was young, which made it natural to play someone with those same tones,” Arnold said. “I have always connected to people with similar voices and loved singing their songs, Phyllis Hyman, Anita Baker, etc. The research and learning about who she really was is enabling me to channel her and meld her with my talents.”
Last year marked 20 years since Hyman died. Her recordings are still available and sought out by a loyal base of fans. Her videos on YouTube have millions of hits. But, according to Arnold, Hyman’s legacy is about more than just music. “I believe a legacy is what people would want to leave behind, or what people would want to be said about them,” Arnold reflected. “Her biggest message is even if you appear to have it all, you could still be alone and have nothing, not even yourself. I can only imagine she would want more for those who loved her, both those who knew her and those who did not, her fans. I hope her legacy and memory shines a light on mental and emotional illness.”
Arnold’s wish is that audiences will not only enjoy An Evening with Phyllis Hyman, but be inspired. “As a performer, I always hope they have been thoroughly entertained,” she said. “I always say there is a bonus if you leave with wanting to have a discussion about what you watched. For this show, wanting to talk about being in love, out of love, mental illness or being alone. As long as real conversations are happening, I feel that I have done my job.”
Top photo: Jacqueline B. Arnold-as Phyllis Hyman in An Evening with Phyllis Hyman. Photo Credit: Iconic.jpg.
Josephine Sanges has a superb voice. That, up till two years ago, she showcased her instrument only at church is something of a surprise. While gifted range and skilled control often dedicate themselves to higher power, Sanges’ s finesse with a world of lyrics describing seriously alternative experience and her facility with other genres are notable.
This show may also be a revelation to fans of Ann Hampton Callaway unfamiliar with her songwriting, but for a television theme song. (“The Nanny Named Fran.”) The author, who writes from the heart, is ably represented. Few artists could offer the material with these muscular vocals, jazz colors, and the clear-eyed spirituality underlying lyrics.
“Come Take My Hand” is a bossa nova. Sanges seems to sing above written notes. This iconoclastic style is rather unique and serves her well. “Music,” with Tom Hubbard’s very cool bass supplying vertebrae, has passages which soar (unstressed) like birds hitching rides on updrafts. Rhythm and mood are infectious.
The tandem “I’ve Dreamed of You” (Hampton Callaway with Rolf) and “I Gaze in Your Eyes” (Cole Porter with music by Hampton Callaway) are episodes of tenderness. Phrasing is eloquent. A small hand gesture and raised shoulder say it all.
“Two And Four” about “getting” jazz, is cleverly framed by Sanges beginning in her choir robe. With a little instruction by Pianist/MD John M. Cook and Hubbard (both wry), what’s operatic gradually gives way to accented, rhythmic swing: Goodbye to my square days/Cause I know the score/You do it on the two and four…The song ramps right into Irving Mills/Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing” replete with interjected hallelujah ! Sanges loosens up during this irrepressible tune.
“It’s All Right with Me” (Cole Porter) and Hampton Callaway’s “Bring Back Romance” are memorable for low key, distinctly original arrangements. Sanges savors feelings. The first elongates lyrics landing like a falling leaf. Piano is filigree. The second is evocatively breathy; bass pulses, piano flickers.
The beautifully rendered, palpably sincere, brotherhood ballad “At the Same Time” and “It’s Hip to Be Happy” buoyed by Cook’s background vocal, bass and scat, are demonstrably characteristic of Hampton Callaway. Sanges is appealingly carbonated.
“Perfect” ends the show backed by crystal wind chimes (piano) and bowed bass. Sigh.
Caveats: “Lady Be Good” (George and Ira Gershwin), custom designed for satin-swathed chorines, doesn’t for a moment sound like someone asking something of his/her lover. “Lullaby of Birdland” (George David Weiss/George Shearing), remarkable for its vocal, alas speeds by like a brakeless train, sacrificing attitude. On the one hand, sambas are just a tad heavy and too physically still. On the other, minimal gestures keep focus where it belongs; the lady has presence.
Josephine Sanges needs to learn to trust us. Numbers in which expression subtly emerges as personal stand out. Warm, economic patter somewhat compensates. With an instinctual toe in jazz, I anticipate her growing freer with riffs. A worthy, entertaining show by a talented newcomer, more savvy than her experience.
Original lyrics penned by MD/Pianist John M. Cook are seamless and clever, eschewing phrases of usually cloying appreciation (to the tribute subject)
All songs by Ann Hampton Callaway unless otherwise attributed.
Photos by Sheree Sano
Josephine Sanges: to Ann with love
Sunday February 19, March 12, April 28
I would call this an appreciation. I’ve listened to Stranger in a Dream several times now, hearing something new or drifting at different junctures each pass. The recording is, in fact, dreamy. Though ostensibly a celebration of Marian McPartland inspired by Stacey Sullivan’s appearance on Jon Weber’s radio show, Piano Jazz, the two musicians have made these songs their own.
This is music you want to hear wrapped in someone’s arms, sharing a romantic dinner or working your way through a bottle of good wine. Vocals are often diaphanous, phrasing deft, accompaniment sensitive.
Sullivan sighs into Stephen Sondheim’s “Loving You.” The ends of phrases leave afterglow. Its brief instrumental is meditative. An elegant rendition. “Stranger in a Dream” (Irving Caesar/ Marian McPartland) evokes shadows, curling smoke, collars up, alleyways. We’re beckoned by Steve Doyle’s haunting bass. Vocal is almost visibly sinuous. I imagine the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, replete with hookah. “In the Days of Our Love” (Peggy Lee/Marian McPartland) is like sorting through packets of faded, ribbon-bound love letters and stained, curling photographs. Jon Weber’s piano caresses.
“Oh What a Beautiful Mornin” (Rodgers and Hammerstein) is borne by an uncommonly original arrangement. Distant clop, clop horse-hoof-vamp fades to the languid, waking singer, rubbing sleep from her eyes, stretching, putting on coffee, optimistic perhaps in the wake of a good dream. Sullivan makes this intimate rather than the vast cornfields to which we’re accustomed; ‘one woman’s experience.
“September in the Rain”and “Come Away With Me” (Al Dubin; Nora Jones/Harry Warren)-an inspired pairing, offer escape rather than brooding reflection. Bone-damp ghostliness is broken by light, stage left at the back. A second surprising combination arrives with “All the Things You Are” (Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern) and Chopin’s Waltz in B Minor Opus 69 #2. ‘Just beautiful.
Even classic swing numbers, though up-tempo, are predominantly subdued. A cottony “Prelude to a Kiss” (Duke Ellington/Irving Gordon/Irving Mills) never gets dense or insistent;“It Don’t Mean a Thing (If You Ain’t Got That Swing)” and Ellington’s “Jump for Joy” eschew pounding boogie woogie – though footwork is fancy and the girl goes flying. During “Lullaby of Birdland” (George Shearing/George David Weiss), Sullivan elongates her lyric while Weber’s fast, precise piano jitterbugs on its own caffeinated recognizance and Doyle’s bass sounds like a syncopated hummingbird.
“Castles in the Sand” (Walter Marks/Marian McPartland), one of my particular favorites, begins a capella like a child’s rope skipping song. It’s young, buoyant and somehow delicate. Nick Russo’s strings tickle.
Musicianship is grand. Overall feelings: pleasure.
Opening: Left photo: Maryann Lopinto; CD photo-Bill Westmoreland
Internal Photo: Stephen Sorokoff
Stacy Sullivan-Stranger in a Dream
Jon Weber- MD/Piano, Steve Doyle-Bass, Nick Russo-Guitar & Mandolin Click to buy on Harbinger
Like a floating crap game or the back alley dive Pompie’s Place purports to be, the club makes its third appearance in the eminently comfortable back room at Pangea. As introduced by its dapper, unapologetic host, the joint welcomes con men, bootleggers, big house veterans, suckers, molls and dames, the low with mazuma and the high with moxie. It’s all Blues all the time here. Fasten your seat belts and raise a glass – hooch is imported from Atlantic City.
Proud and sultry, Lezlie Harrison opens with “St. Louis Blues” (W.C. Handy). Potent as bottom of the barrel moonshine, the song goes down smooth, but kicks. Lyrics are squeezed from the bottom of the ‘tube.’ “Kansas City” …hee ah cum… (Jerry Lieber/ Mike Stoller) is a boogie woogie with swinging sax. Harrison’s voice shimmies, then careens off the walls. At one point, the musicians play three-handed, crossing over with infectious glee. Time is clapped, knees rise and fall, thighs are patted. The powerful attitude warns: prepare for me!
Tanya Holt takes the stage wearing lament like a heavy coat, periodically bucking forward in slo-mo as if life’s hit her in the gut. “Ill Wind” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler) is an exhausted plea, resigned, yet still entreating. Sustained vibrato nests at the wellspring of Holt’s throat like a controlled moan. “When I Get Low I Get High” (Chick Webb/Ella Fitzgerald) is smoky, ravaged, and focused. Every word is pristine, every ohahohoh like butter. You gotta do what you gotta do…she sings opening her eyes wide. Ehud Asherie’s piano erupts in pungent ragtime. Ken Peplowski’s clarinet seems to be having an illicitly good time.
Louis Armstrong/Jelly Roll Morton’s “Wildman Blues” and Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call” are delivered as instrumentals. The first is sassy, slinky, and very cool with high clarinet that oozes its way under one’s skin. The second conjures choreography by Alvin Ailey. Piano has classical underpinnings.
Ehud Asherie and Ken Peplowski
Harrison and Holt offer a number of tantalizing songs in tandem. “After You’ve Gone” (Turner Layton/Henry Creamer) aka “After We’ve Gone” is a threat to Pompie who ostensibly forks over less lettuce than a lady needs to survive. Holt is down on her haunches seducing her uncomfortable patron while Harrison shakes her bootie showing what he’ll miss. It’s a rag with humor.
“Willow Tree” finds two juicy voices wailing on top of, beside, and around each other with deference and style. The clarinet solo could make Gabriel jealous. A duet of the iconic “Mood Indigo” (Duke Ellington/Barney Bigard/Irving Mills) in harmony is as languid and sensual as stretching on satin sheets after a hot bath. “Blues in the Night” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) includes an ooooeeee which is sheer evangelical call-out. Octave transitions are seamless. Piano plays robust honky-tonk.
Vocalists are well chosen. Harrison’s approach is bright and audacious while Holt’s wattage comes from deep, dusky ardor and lyric sculpting.
Lezlie Harrison, Pompie, Tanya Holt
There are comments and cracks personifying character which skillfully add to atmosphere, but the host’s monologue needs work and recordings of outside mayhem are unnecessary.
This is a really good time. A walk on the wildish side with primo musicians in benign surroundings.
Photos by Lou Montasano Opening: Tanya Holt, Lezlie Harrison
Pompie’s Place- A Pop-Up Blues Club Host Arthur “Pompie” Pomposello, for 18 years host and booker of the famed Oak Room at The Algonquin Hotel Vocalists: Tanya Holt and Lezlie Harrison Ehud Asherie- MD/Piano, Ken Peplowski-Reeds. Directed by Gregg Goldston One more show August 10- Jon-Erik Kellso-on Trumpet that night Pangea 178 Second Avenue between 11th & 12th Street Venue Calendar