It’s My Party

As most of my readers know, I do not consider or even intend for this blog to be an impartial journal or source of news as in ‘all-the-news-that’s-fit-to-print. I receive tons of press releases and even some review copies of books and CDs, but I am very selective in what I choose to write about, and my selection criteria is admittedly based on my personal taste. If I post a blatant plug — and I do from time to time — it’s to let you know about something that I like, or plan to attend, or wish that I could attend. Sometimes I choose to share my negative opinions about a performance or recording, but usually those opinions are not intended to attack a particular person as much as to address an issue or make a point using that particular performer or performance to illustrate. For example, one of my pet peeves is the substitution of technique for creative talent. Another pet peeve is the audience’s acceptance of this ‘substitution.’ These themes come up repeatedly on this blog and date back to its inception — see It Takes More Than Chops, or It’s About the Music, or of course the more recent post about the Benny Carter celebration.

Three comments were posted about my Benny Carter celebration piece and I’d like to respond to each. The first was from Wen. In addition to the comment he posted on my blog, he also sent me an email message:

roberta has “soul or feeling” . you got to be kidding. listen to her 2 cds

First, this guy doesn’t know me or anything about me. If he did, he’d know that paycheck notwithstanding, I am the first person in line to criticize some of Nancy’s performances. In particular I am not fond of those selections on which she tends to over-emote, and I much prefer her very early recordings (1960s) and a few of her more recent (especially RSVP), while I usually skip over most of her 1970s releases. But when it comes to reading a lyric, telling a story, few can match the talents of Carmen, Sarah and Nancy, and neither Roberta nor Marlena came anywhere near close. I don’t know what Wen means when he says Nancy is “on her way out,” but I don’t believe in “giving” anyone a break — breaks are to be earned. There may be some right-time-right-place luck involved, but you have to be ready if you’re going to become anything more than a flash-in-the-pan or B-list performer. Success can be bought, but not talent; nurturing one’s talents takes a lot of hard work.

Second, I am going to take this opportunity to suggest to Wen that he consider some rules nettiquette — all caps is considering shouting, it’s rude, not to mention hard to read. Also, the beauty of a blog is that it is there for those who wish to read it, and rss feeds allow people to choose to be notified of new postings. ‘Choice’ being the operative concept here. Some websites and blogs also have a mailing list to notify subscribers; subscribers being those who ‘choose’ to sign up or register. Adding someone to your e-newsletter list without asking if they’d like to subscribe is now considered to be spamming by most internet providers. (Wen, please take note.)

The next comment was posted by Valerie, a good friend of mine. We often agree to disagree, but I do want to comment on some of the things she said. To support her appreciation of Roberta Gambarini, Valerie suggested “just ask folks like jimmy heath, james moody, slide hampton, hank jones and, if it were only possible to ask benny, i’m sure he’d agree also. ” I have my doubts about that. These guys are nice guys, Gentlemen with a capital G, and I have heard them encourage all sorts of people, including some who lack even a shread of talent. Heck, a few such notables used to encourage me to sing, even sit in at a gig, and I can assure you that I have no talent whatsoever as a vocalist. Way back when, in those days when I might have been described as “a fine young slip of a girl,” I did have the nerve to sit in on occasion at gigs in out-of-town clubs (ie not in NYC). One summer, Sweets Edison nearly coaxed me onstage at a major European jazz festival; good thing I had some sense left! I reiterate, I have no vocal talent, none, but that didn’t stop some very notable folks from saying otherwise.

Valerie also said that “the choice of singing ‘here’s to life’ was obviously a huge mistake!” I don’t think the selection was a mistake; I took umbrage not to Marlena’s selection of the song, but to her treatment of the song and what felt to me to be her lack of appreciation of the lyrics. Finally, I do have to agree with Valerie that Q’s hosting that night left much to be desired. As close as Q and Benny were, I think that his participation in the event was ‘a must,’ but perhaps he could have spoken briefly from his heart and then maybe conducted a piece, or, if hosting was to be his lot, the script should have been written more specifically with the speaker in mind – his voice, his cadence, his speech patterns, etc.

The last reader comment contained a very gentle reminder about Jon Hendricks’ lyrics to Ellington’s instrumental Cottontail. (Chris, thank you very much!) Whatever crevice of gray matter in which my prior knowledge of that song is stored must have been malfunctioning. (I know, that’s just convoluted speak for “I must have been having a senior moment” or more appropriately “how could I be so dumb?”) I used to love Carol Sloane‘s rendition of Cottontail (Carol, where are you? why didn’t you chime in to correct my gaff?) Here’s a YouTube link to a swinging audio rendition by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross with story graphics.

A line in the song — “carrots and you make a very good stew” — gives rise to the thought that my opinions may yet land me in the stew, but, to corrupt a song from my youth, “it’s my party and I’ll write what I want to….”

6 thoughts on “It’s My Party”

  1. sorry about the caps. i’m nearly blind in my left eye; so it’s easier for me, but perhaps not easier for the readers.

    my favorite nancy album is of course with cannonball.

    roberta will be will be recognized along with carmen and sarah.

    thanks for responding.


  2. Ok, so now I feel bad because Wen didn’t mean to shout, and it never occurred to me that he needed to write in all caps. So, since I occasional dispense net advice, let me draw your attention to a web browser setting that can make life easier for your eyes. My browser of choice is FireFox but I also checked on Internet Explorer and both have a the Text Size option on the View menu that allows you to increase or decrease the size of text on your screen. (Sorry, no Mac’s in my house.) Sometimes if you set it too big, it will skew the page design, but it might help.

    Wen is a saxophonist so it’s not a big surprise that he is partial to the Nancy/Cannonball recording. My personal old Nancy favorites are “Yesterdays Love Songs, Today’s Blues” with the Gerald Wilson big band, and “Lush Life” even though I have heard some opine that the Billy May and Oliver Nelson string charts are too heavy. And for those of you who remember and loved “The Nancy Wilson Show: Live at the Coconut Grove” you may now rejoice because it is finally going to be re-issued on CD (release date is said to be October 23rd). Probably too pop-ish for Wen’s taste, but I’m just guessing cause I don’t know the guy. But I do know that he’s got some interesting pictures on his web site.

    I’m all for discourse and friendly disagreement, so I’m especially glad than Wen not only chose to reply but also has not deserted ye ol’ blog.

  3. just wanted to add that your examples of jazz legends encouraging folks who may have little or no talent was not a great analogy, in my mind. the giants i mentioned have not only supported and encouraged Roberta, they have also chosen to plays gigs with her, repeatedly, and even go out on tour with her.

    i do agree that Marlena didn’t do a good reading that evening. i know that one of the problems was one she was having with the orchestra. but i’m not making excuses for her. it just wasn’t good. i felt badly for her (and for us)!



  4. I remember when Stan Getz championed Diane Schuur back in the 1980’s. He was quoted as saying he thought she was as good as Sarah and Ella. When I hear the extravagant praise from Hank Jones for Roberta Gambarani, I think of that. I think Roberta Gambarani is another Diane Schuur, which isn’t bad.

  5. a brief p.s. to my comments above. after thinking it over a bit more, to my ears Roberta is more of an “old soul” type singer than a “soulful” one. does that make any sense to any of you?

  6. I most certainly agree with you that Roberta Gambarini does not have “soul”… While I absolutely detested her first CD, on her latest one with Hank Jones, she does an okay Ella impersonation, but I’d rather listen to the real thing any day. To my ears, she does not bring anything new to the jazz singer table!

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