Thursday, June 14, 2018

Jamie Shew - Eyes Wide Open (2018)


On JAMIE SHEW’s bio, she quotes Ella Fitzgerald, who said, “Forgive me if I don’t have the words. Maybe I can sing it and you’ll understand.” For vocalist, arranger, composer and pianist Shew, she found that mere words could not express her feelings after losing her husband, Roger Shew, to cancer, and the only way she could really tell her story was through music. Her second CD, EYES WIDE OPEN, uses song to follow the arc of her life from the early days of her relationship with Roger through his illness and beyond. 

Jamie has played piano for as long as she can remember. Her mother claims she began playing by ear at four years old. Though Shew doubts that she was quite that young, the piano has always been an important part of her life. She began studying jazz piano in high school and eventually got a scholarship to Washington State University where she continued studying jazz piano and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education.  

Jamie had begun singing in high school. She was the accompanist for the school choir when, during her senior year, the choir director gave her the opportunity to sing a solo number. That turned out to be a pivotal moment for her, and when she went to college, she began to shift her focus to singing. College is also where she met Roger, who was studying bass. Shew credits Roger with helping her with much of her early jazz education. They got married right after graduation and went off together to continue their studies at Western Michigan University, where Jamie earned a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance/Jazz Studies. She also studied privately with one of her favorite jazz vocalists, Sunny Wilkinson. The couple moved to Los Angeles 15 years ago and soon established themselves on the local jazz scene. 

Jamie’s extensive musical training informs her singing. Her timbre is warm and inviting, while her timing, phrasing, and ability to interact so well with the band reflects her years of study. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she’s playing with some of the finest musicians in Southern California. Guitarist LARRY KOONSE, pianist and Hammond B3 player JOE BAGG, bass player DAREK OLES, and drummer JASON HARNELL are leaders in their own right and some of the most sought-after sidemen anywhere, with each appearing on dozens of CDs. Besides being stellar musicians who have worked together extensively, they’re also old friends of Jamie and Roger.

Jamie released A Place for Me in 2012, but with a child to raise and dealing with Roger’s illness, she put the brakes on her performance career for a while. But after Roger’s passing, she turned back to music. “After Roger died, I felt an overwhelming need to practice,” Jamie relates. “Singing became almost a compulsion, a physical drive. I needed to get back to work and make a new CD. I chose songs I was fairly familiar with and had considered recording in the past, but now they took on new meanings for me. I chose and arranged each song with much deliberation. Each became a metaphor for my continuing journey. I’m not a dark person and neither was Roger. Although there are some pensive moments, I didn’t want the CD to be weighed down with a dark vibe.” 

Jamie arranged all of the tunes on this CD. She also composed two songs, including the opening song “Get Out of My Head,” a swinger about getting back into dating after 20 years and what that really means. “Easy to Love” is the Cole Porter tune, which is how Jamie thought of Roger when they first started getting serious.

Roger introduced Jamie to Slam Stewart, one of the composers of “Flat Foot Floogie.” Jamie has an irreverent sense of humor and wanted to include this humorous ditty about a prostitute with venereal disease. It also reminds her of Roger’s light-hearted approach to life. 

Roger wrote the lyrics to Pat Metheny’s “Question and Answer” for Jamie and retitled it “The Answers Are You.” He changed the original vibe of the tune by turning it into a tender song about what it meant to find love. 

The next few songs, “Detour Ahead,” “Thou Swell,” “Mountain Greenery,” and “Easy Living” represent the happiness and love they experienced together before Roger was diagnosed. Roger proposed to Jamie while on a camping trip in the mountains, and so the lyrics to “Mountain Greenery” are very special and apt for Jamie. The CD takes a more somber turn with “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” when the cause of Roger’s illness was finally diagnosed.  For Jamie, “First Song for Ruth” marks Roger’s death, who was a big fan of Charlie Haden. Joe Bagg’s organ gives the song a reverent feeling. 

Jamie sings “O Cantador” in the original Portuguese. She chose it because it represents her need to sing after Roger’s passing, while the touching lyrics to “Reflections,” composed by Thelonious Monk with lyrics by Jon Hendricks, could have been written about Jamie. 

Jamie composed “Eyes Wide Open,” the title tune. The song is about moving on with life and contains the lyrics “As the clock slowly goes back in time, the hands move forward in a new direction / And the heart is being conditioned to move on with new intention.” The song concludes both the album and Jamie’s journey to date. 

EYES WIDE OPEN is a project imbued with love and loss but eschews mere sentimentality. Jamie doesn’t just perform moving interpretations of these songs -- she opens her heart and exposes the genuine, raw feelings that have propelled her to make this CD. Her innate musicality is showcased in her phrasing and tone, but it’s how she reveals the depth of the human condition that sets this project apart.

Larry Koonse guitar
Joe Bagg piano & Hammond B3
Darek Oles bass
Jason Harnell drums

All arrangements by Jamie Shew