Posts Tagged ‘musician’

As a music aficionado, I’ve made many friends over the years who are exceptionally accomplished performers. And while I’m somewhat envious – hey, I’ve spent decades working on my rudimentary skill set of singing and playing guitar – I really enjoy pulling out their recordings and giving them a listen.

At a recent networking event, I took quick note of that night’s entertainment: a jazz singer with the voice of the proverbial nightingale. (One of her specialties happens to be the standard “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”) It turned out that I’d met her several years earlier, after she recorded a well-crafted compact disc called “Bluebird Fly.”

And so I was reacquainted with the eminently talented and personable Jessica Lee, who just happens to complement her musical abilities with a distinctive knack for entrepreneurship. She’s in her 10th year of hosting a successful and innovative networking group that combines music with the business of business.

I have a long-standing habit of listening to jazz on Sunday mornings, and today I put on “Bluebird Fly.” Actually, jazz is just part of the picture: Jessica mixes it up with ballads, blues and a touch of good ol’ rock and roll to present a comprehensive portrait of the artist as a young woman.

You know you’re going to enjoy the album when it starts with a swinging version of the classic “Why Don’t You Do Right.” Jessica channels the late chanteuse Peggy Lee in presenting the familiar tale of a woman who craves cash, with stellar backing by Danny Shields and Chris Hemingway trading licks on guitar and sax, respectively.

Jessica and company switch gears for Brenda Russell’s “Get Here,” with John D’Amico, who does all the arrangements on “Bluebird Fly,” providing tasteful accompaniment on piano. The vocals put Jessica on display as an empathetic balladeer, imploring her man to “just get here if you can.”

When she sings the blues, Jessica’s precise phrasing comes to the forefront, as evidenced by “Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya” as she’s able to emulate song composer Louis Armstrong’s distinctive style. Shields again provides able backing, playing an extended solo that would make many a Texas bluesman proud.

“Right Place Right Now” and “I Just Wanna Love Somebody” return Jessica to ballad mode. On the latter, written the year the album was recorded by James Slater and Karyn Rochelle, Miss Lee makes the most of her range as a vocalist, hitting high notes during the title refrain in a seemingly effortless manner.

“Weary Blues” contains an interesting segment in which Jessica and John emulate a Victrola-era recording (without the clicks, pops and scratches) to emphasize the song’s ragtime vintage. Again, she proves herself worthy of following the path established by Satchmo and other jazz greats.

The bluesy ballad “Damn Your Eyes,” featuring co-executive producer Roy Ruzika on rhythm guitar, and the tender “Lover Man” precede some forays into the rock milieu.

“Son of a Preacher Man” is given a relaxed treatment compared with the popular version by the late Dusty Springfield, but Jessica’s smooth delivery is just as effective in conveying the message of female desire. Similarly, “My Baby Left Me” is more leisurely paced than what Elvis, Scotty and Bill recorded, and Andy Gabig’s harmonica serves as a pleasant complement to Jessica’s voice.

In between those two songs is the album’s longest track and perhaps its high point, a cover of Sade’s “Jezebel.” Relatively sparse accompaniment by D’Amico and rhythm section Virgil Waters (bass) and Lenny Rogers (drums) allows Jessica to demonstrate fully what she brings to the table as a vocalist.

Closing “Bluebird Fly” is the traditional “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” a duet with Jessica keeping in harmony with John’s piano playing.

Jessica produced the album with Hollis Greathouse, who plays bass on several tracks, and engineer Jay Dudt. Kudos to them for an eminently listenable and enjoyable product, and to executive producers Roy and Joan Ruzika for making it all possible. “Bluebird Fly” is a fine testament to the talents of a vocalist who deserves nothing but accolades.

BTW, here are some videos of Jessica and friends performing in January:

“Ain’t Nobody’s Business”

“I’ve Got to Use My Imagination”

“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”

As a follow-up to a post from last week, here are some videos about the Jazz & Blues Entrepreneurial Thursdays networking group founded and perpetuated by musician-entrepreneur Jessica Lee.

First, a 5-minute video about the networking group:

Second, a performance of “Why Don’t You Do Right”:

And third, another performance, of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”

I had to play a bit with the audio portion of “Do Right,” so ignore any clicks, pops or changes in dynamics. “Nightingale” is fairly pristine.

Again, if you live in the Pittsburgh area, love music and enjoy networking, you might want to give the group a try.

On this day in 1976, A&M Records released a double album called “Frampton Comes Alive!”, featuring a photograph of the guitarist-singer on stage with open shirt.

Peter Frampton had been knocking on the door to stardom since he was a teenager, first with his band the Herd and then in Humble Pie, where he joined forces with former Small Faces leader Steve Marriott. Humble Pie broke through in the United States with the top-10 “Smokin’,” but that was after Frampton left to pursue a solo career.

After four studio albums, widespread fame still eluded Frampton. That, of course, was about to change.

A&M no doubt hoped the live album would bring in more money than previous Frampton efforts, but no one could have foreseen what happened next: “Frampton Comes Alive!” went on to become the biggest-selling live album in history to that point.

Thirty-six years later, we still have to ask: Why?

I was a teenager at the time and remember hearing the debut single, “Show Me the Way,” and noticing it was a live recording. That was rare for a 45, but Kiss had pulled it off recently with “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

“Show Me the Way” also featured Frampton’s work with the talk box, a gimmick that had been around for a while but was starting to get popular through the work of Joe Walsh, Jeff Beck, Iron Butterfly and others. The effect sounded cool, as did the song’s chorus, but all of that hardly made “Show Me the Way” a masterpiece.

A second single, “Baby, I Love Your Way,” was less interesting but still took up plenty of time on the airwaves, further pushing Frampton to the masses.

Most listeners’ favorite track on the album, though, probably was the 14-plus-minute “Do You Feel Like We Do.” I remember hearing the full version on FM radio and enjoying the elongated talk-box section and particularly the closing jam. On the strength of that listening session, I purchased my copy of “Frampton Comes Alive!”, which was selling at a bargain price for a two-record set.

A&M went a bit overboard by releasing a seven-minute version of “Do You Feel Like We Do” as a single; the many splices were evident and fairly ludicrous. But, hey, what record company doesn’t want to cash in on a hot product …

The main reason it was so hot had more to do with the cover than the music. Frampton was exceptionally photogenic, in his mid-20s and tremendously appealing to young ladies of a certain age.

Unfortunately, A&M pursued the sex-symbol aspect for the studio follow-up, “I’m In You.” The less said about that, the better. But Frank Zappa did a great parody of the whole situation, “I Have Been in You.” Check it out on “Sheik Yerbouti,” or beter yet, FZ’s narrative in the “Baby Snakes” movie.

Speaking of movies, Frampton launched his film career starring alongside the Bee Gees in “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The premise was … oh, it doesn’t matter. Anyone who remembers the hype surrounding the project and the lambasting it took has to snicker. I’ll admit to plunking down good money to see it and yelling, “Jump!” when the Frampton character – I think he was Billy Shears – was about to commit suicide.

Peter Frampton continues to perform to this day, and is a heck of a nice guy, according to my colleage Brad Hundt, who has interviwed him on a few occasions. Pete has to be a good sport: Just check out his segments on the “Homerpalooza” episode of “The Simpsons.”

Meanwhile, when he sang, “Must’ve been a dream, I don’t believe where I’ve been” … that pretty much sums up “Frampton Comes Alive!”


Posted: January 2, 2012 in Anecdote
Tags: , , , ,

I always wanted to play guitar but didn’t want to bother with lessons. But unlike other kids who discovered they weren’t Eric Clapton and promptly ditched the instrument, I persevered. Over the next few decades, I came up with enough chops to fake my way through a whole bunch of songs and remembered enough lyrics to actually perform them.

When I hit about 40, I figured, what the heck, let’s try this in front of an audience. What’s the worst they can do?

The worst they can do, as it turns out, is to ignore you. I wrote a stupid little song about that once. It crams too many words into the allotted time, and I run out of breath if I try to sing it. Which I won’t.

At one point, though, I guess I made enough of an impression on a few people that they hired me a couple of times to play at a local bar. They actually seemed to like me. In limited doses.

I have a habit of not stopping once I get going, and the last time I played that bar, I stood up there strumming and moaning for nearly three hours straight. Finally, the lady who hired me basically said enough is enough, right in the middle of my “Rockin’ in the Free World/Nights in White Satin” medley.

The economy tanked around then, and I’d like to think that’s why I never was invited back. But I don’t.

Associated listening: “Yer Album” by the James Gang (1969)