Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Scott Morgan - Songs of Life (September 12, 2016)

Vocalist Scott Morgan draws on a lifetime of experience and emotion for his moving debut recording, out September 12 on Miranda Music

Songs of Life features Fred Hersch, Joel Frahm and Janis Siegel 
on a stunning set of Songbook and pop classics

“Scott Morgan’s singing is warm and loose. He has taste, heart, and musical intelligence.” —David Hajdu, Music Critic, The New Republic

“Scott Morgan’s voice wafts gently through your ears and heads straight to your heart.”– Janis Siegel, Manhattan Transfer

One advantage to making a belated debut is the depth of life experience that enriches an artist’s work. Scott Morgan may be a name new to listeners outside of New York City, where he’s garnered a devoted following for his moving live performances, but Songs of Life reveals a vocalist with a lifelong passion for and immersion in music. The title reflects both a songbook developed over a lifetime’s listening and performing, but also Morgan’s expressive interpretations, deeply imbued with the loves and losses that accumulate over a life well lived.

The repertoire on Songs of Life (due out September 12 via Miranda Music) span the spectrum from Great American Songbook standards to pop classics by revered songwriters like James Taylor and The Beatles to more recent contributions by pianist/composer Fred Hersch, Morgan’s partner in both life and music. Hersch’s sensitive accompaniment can be heard throughout Songs of Life, along with the singer’s flexible, supportive rhythm section of bassist Matt Aronoff and drummer Ross Pederson. The impeccably eloquent tenor saxophone of Joel Frahm graces three tracks, while Manhattan Transfer’s Janis Siegel is Morgan’s duo partner for the soaring “I’ll Follow,” with lyrics by Morgan to Hersch’s piece “Mandevilla.”

“Every song has its own story,” Morgan says, “and I hope that when people listen to the record they can identify with some if not many of the songs in a personal way. Everybody’s had unrequited love as well as fulfilling relationships. And I imagine most people have suffered existential angst as well - so Songs of Life is a musical photo album of the touchstones in our lives.”

Some of the songs in particular offer snapshots of very vivid memories from Morgan’s past. The breathtaking coupling of Dave Catney’s “Little Prayer” and the Lerner and Loewe standard “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” is a particular standout. The first half is the work of a jazz pianist/composer who passed away from complications of AIDS, sung by Morgan in memory of a friend lost to the disease in the 1980s. The latter half wistfully captured the imagined dreams of a woman that Morgan met while traveling in Tanzania, widowed by HIV and living in a mud hut. “She took me into her house and fed me though she had nothing at all,” he recalls. “I thought that from her perspective, wouldn't it be lovely to have heat, chocolate, someone to care about.”

Morgan brings the same profound humanity and empathy to all of his work. In part, his gift for storytelling and capturing character in song stems from his earliest experiences with music, performing in musical theater productions in his native Sarasota, Florida. “Without my musical theater background I wouldn't be able to tell the stories the way that I’m able to tell them, particularly in live performance,” Morgan says. “It’s very easy for singers to just get up and run through the songs jazz singers are expected to sing, but I try to make every song special and really engage the audience with what’s going on in the story.”

After playing piano and singing throughout his time at Florida State University, Morgan took a 15-year break from music while he concentrated on his career in the technology and then in the nonprofit sector, a pursuit that continues to be rewarding off the stage. It was his arrival in New York City in 2001 that led to his reengagement with music, which was only fueled further a few months later when he met Hersch and was ushered into the thriving NYC jazz scene. He studied with influential modern jazz singers like Kate McGarry, Peter Eldridge and Rene Marie, gaining confidence from their encouragement and from the enthusiastic response of audiences as he performed live. Hersch says, “I always knew Scott was a great musician – I am glad that he is now finding that out for himself.”

“I’ve always been close to music, and I was looking for a creative outlet to round out my life,” Morgan explains. “I felt like all I was doing was working, working, working, so music started calling me back. I never thought it would turn into anything initially, but I gradually got more serious and my desire to do something more with music than just sing around the house started to grow.”

If the arc of Songs of Life can be seen as the story of a life, then it’s clear that in Morgan’s view love, in its many facets, is central to existence. The album begins with a brisk romp through “It’s You or No One,” a lively ode to fidelity by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne with a dazzling vocalese lyric by Morgan to a classic Chet Baker solo. New romance is celebrated on “I Just Found About Love” and “This Heart of Mine,” while Dori Caymmi’s bossa nova classic “Like a Lover,” performed in an intimate duo with Hersch, luxuriates in the morning light on a lover’s face. The first of two James Taylor compositions on the album, “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” becomes a poignant plea for connection. The second, “Secret O’ Life,” resonates with Morgan’s Buddhist leanings in its celebration of being present in the moment.

The album closes with The Beatles’ “I Will,” rendered in Morgan and Hersch’s duo performance as a tender promise of devotion. Its sentiments are echoed in Morgan’s lyrics to Hersch’s music on “I’ll Follow,” with Morgan and Siegel painting a vivid portrait of two people in love worthy of a Broadway stage. “It’s a story about how when two lives and loves intertwine with each other, things can happen in a beautiful way,” Morgan explains.

All of the moments that have inspired Songs of Life are expressed with the same sense of beauty and passion. Like the love stories woven throughout the album, Morgan’s auspicious debut combines the thrill of the new with the wisdom and depth of feeling that can only come from a lifetime of experience.

Song of Life

Sara Serpa - All the Dreams (September 16, 2016) SUNNYSIDE RECORDS

Playlist Summary for Tom Ossana / Dane Brewer – The Thin Edge – August 17, 2016 MST 7:00 to 9:00p.m. ~ Use this link to access the show online.

Putting this show together I thought it would be interesting to take a look at "Conception," a tune written by Shearing concurrent with his first wife Trixie's pregnancy. I first listened to Shearing's MGM shellac back in 1950. During the same period I heard Mile's Birth of the Cool in which "Deception" was one of the cuts credited to Miles' pen. I listened to both often trying to decide if they were essentially the same tune. Google wasn't available at the time obviously. A record of which I was unaware at the time was Miles' The Last Bebop Session - Live at Birdland recorded in 1950. The all-star recording would have clarified the similarity since one of the tracks was "Conception/Deception." Let's begin tonight's program with George's quintet performing a remastered version of the original MGM pressing. George's crew included Chuck Wayne (g), Marjorie Hyams (vb), John Levy (b) and Denzil Best (d). Next we'll hear Miles' "Deception" from his wildly popular Capitol 1950 Birth of the Cool featuring Lee Konitz (as), Gerry Mulligan (bs), Kai Winding (tb) and Max Roach (d). Miles' 1950 The Last Bebop Session - Live at Birdland follows with one of our very few exposures to the very talented Fats Navarro on trumpet, Walter Bishop's seldom heard piano and Art Blakey. New from MM Records, we'll hear Jacám Manricks Band - Chamber Jazz covering Miles version of Shearing's melody, "Deception." Alto saxophonist Jacám leads an impressive quartet featuring Kevin Hays (p), Gianluca Renzi (b) and Ari Hoenig (d).

Satoh Masahiko Trio's Hyojun Gigaku (BAJ Records 2016), an unusually whimsical Japanese recording in which Satoh plays around with standards, goes so far as to give the tracks similar-sounding names. His cover of Monks "Well, You Needn't" is titled "Well I Need It." Pianist Satoh's effort follows Art Taylor's cover of Monk's original from his 1956 Prestige Taylor's Wailers featuring our friend Donald Byrd (tp), longtime Monk sideman, Charlie Rouse (ts), and Jackie McLean (as). Bassist Mats Eilertsen's Rubicon, new from ECM, closes this half with Mats' "March" with help from Trygve Seim's reeds, Rob Waring (vb) and Harmen Fraanje (p).

New from Gateway Music, Acouspace Plus - Tid (Tender) kicks off the third half with saxophonist Claus Waidtløw's "Cereal Killer," a two reed, bass and drums effort featuring Claus and Joakim Milder's reeds, Jesper Bodilsen (b) and Spejderrobot (electronics), all Danes. We became familiar with Milder when he appeared with piano favorite Marcin Wasilewski in ECM's Faithful. Joe Lovano's new Blue Note Classic (Live at Newport) is next with Joe's "Birds Eye View," an obvious nod in the direction of Charlie Parker. Old-timer Hank Jones shows up on piano, with George Mraz (b) and Lewis Nash (d). New from KARI-ON Productions, we get Sergio Pereira's Swingando. The all-star ensemble tackles Sergio's "Spring." Also new to the show is the highly praised Tori Freestone and her trio's cover of the Altman/Lawrence classic, "All or Nothing at All." Tori manhandles the tenor with help from Dave Manington's double bass and Tim Giles' drums.

Newcomer Ashleigh Smith gets our hearts fluttering with Chrisette Michele’s "Love Is You" from her freshman outing Sunkissed released by Concord this year. Bassist Nigel Rivers and guitarist Joel Cross lead the ensemble. Bill Evans only recording with famed bassist Gary Peacock is next from Bill's 1964 Verve Trio 64 covering Dietz and Schwartz's "Dancing in the Dark" featuring longtime Evans drummer, Paul Motian. Acting on a request from fan Jules, Joni Mitchell follows with "A Case of You" from her 2000 Warner Both Sides Now. The stellar group includes Wayne Shorter (ts), Mark Isham (tp), Herbie Hancock and drummer Peter Erskine. Gregory Porter follows with his "No Love Dying" from the 2011 Blue Note Liquid Spirit featuring Yosuke Sato (as), Tivon Pennicott (ts) and Chip Crawford (p). Nancy Wilson ties romance with dancing in her cover of Ivan Lins/Paul Williams' "Love Dance" from her 1994 Columbia Love, Nancy. Maria Pia De Vito, Danilo Rea, Enzo Pietropaoli, Aldo Romano's 2005 C.A.M. Jazz So Right brings this love-fest to a close with Maria singing "The Sweetest Medicine" (Vito/Rhea/Pietropaoli/Romano).

Let's have some fun!

Thanks to Music Director Serah and friends around the world for the program's content.