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IN MY LIFE
HighNote Records 2005
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IN MY LIFE
- Tea For Two
- I Have Dreamed
- In My Life
- When The Children Are Asleep
- Where Is Love
- A Beautiful Friendship
- Autumn In NY
- Street Of Dreams
- In The Wee Small Hours
- Young And Foolish
- Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams
- But Beautiful
- You Don't Know What Love Is
- I'll Be Tired Of You
- Some Other Time
IN MY LIFEwesla whitfield: vocals
mike greensill: piano / arranger
john wiitala: bass
orrin keepnews: producer
IN MY LIFE
These notes are being written in the fall of 2004, very shortly after completion of all production work on the album they accompany. For me, this fall also marks completion of 36 years of living in San Francisco.
Where did all that time go? And even though this year isn't one of the traditionally significant ones, noting the end of a decade or a quarter century or the like, it strikes me as being as good a time as any to reflect on my life and career so far.
"In My Life" is a song held dearly in my heart ever since first hearing it - which happens to have been not very long before my entry into this city -- and it seems an inevitably choice as the title of this recording.
It speaks of life's changes, both the good and the ones that don't seem so positive, and thus it recalls for me how I felt when I first arrived on that September day in 1968. I knew absolutely no one. Sure, I'd visited for a few days a decade and a half before as a very young girl on a vacation trip with my family, but I had not been back since.
My loneliness in those first few weeks was overwhelming. For several days in a row there was no one to speak to except for an occasional polite hello. (At least the hellos were friendly on my part; I wasn't too sure about the quality of the responses.) I remember flashing on the possibility that this might well be what very old age was like, when everyone close to you has died or gone away - not a cheery thought. But that period of extreme anxiety only seemed endless; it actually didn't last very long. Classes soon began at San Francisco State, and I quickly made friends in the music and drama departments. Friends always lead to more of the same, and over the years I"ve been blessed with so very many. When I recall that initial emptiness and compare it to my life today, filled with literally hundreds of people so dear to me, I can only smile. These are the life lessons that offer hope in the midst of despair, along with the knowledge that the changes that will come cannot be known to us in advance. And yes, it is all there in that wonderful song.
Nevertheless, I had known since that first trip in the early Fifties that somehow I'd get back and hopefully make a life for myself here. Now, when people comment on how much change I must have seen in San Francisco in almost four decades, I must agree the city has indeed altered a great deal. But San Francisco has also had a hand in reshaping me - and on the whole I think it hasn't changed nearly as much as I have....Wesla Whitfield
Without the stunning arrangements from Mike Greensill, these songs would of course still be beautiful, but his musical ideas and the skills to realize them move the songs up several notches from where he finds them on the printed page. I cannot say enough good things about Mike's ability to make songs even better than what they were when he started - and without ever distorting even a smidgen of the original magic. He arranges them and then plays them as no one else can. You just gotta love this guy. I feel so honored to have been working with John Wiitala for a few years now. His musical skills and patient, careful listening offer an unbeatable combination, enhancing the sound he finds and infusing it with his own understated artistry. Most of my live performances these days include these two amazing musicians, and they unfailingly make me sound better than I really am - which is what every singer secretly hopes for. Here, for the first time is the sound you're most likely to find in our live performance.
This is the first time I have done an all-ballads album. The idea stems from requests from my audience. People seem almost always to ask for the slow, sad songs, and I believe we crave those and love hearing them as an artful and more socially acceptable means of experiencing life's losses than mere self indulgent whining. Life is hard, and we all have painful days, which is something that can help us grow. We return to those moments in the same way our tongue might push at a loose tooth; reminding us that we're not alone in our suffering. Of course, some of these ballads are anything but sad; instead they take us to some positive realities -- or at least possibilities and contrast this with a tragedy that might have been. I like such sentiments best and hope you'll be able to find your own experiences somewhere in here.
To begin on just such a note, there is Tea For Two -- such a wonderfully seductive sales pitch, with a message often lost in a bouncy throwaway rendition that overlooks the story within. When I sing it, I'm seeing that cozy hideaway and the couple who want nothing more than to be alone with each other. Oh, my!
I Have Dreamed jumps headlong into one's secret fantasy life -- not always necessarily healthy. But sometimes we want something or someone so much we need to be allowed a bit of self- indulgence. And while the idealized dream heard in this song might be far more pleasurable than the reality, it is also far more enjoyable to explore! Who was it that said reality is over-rated? Maybe they're on to something.
In My Life lets me clearly recall listening to the Beatles, playing their music as an act of rebellion towards my parents. (Usually I was listening to old pop standards and show tunes, so hearing this let them know that something was up.) By today's standards such music, displaying artistry and inventiveness that far surpasses the current level of the rock field, would hardly seem to merit a "rebellion" label. The simple Lennon/McCartney melody supports a lyric reminiscent of a comfy chair next to a small reading lamp in the corner of a darkly cozy room. This is the story of everyone's life; ordinary and extraordinary at the same time, with value beyond price.
When the Children Are Asleep is from "Carousel" and I've adored it since my first summer stock experience in 1970. I was the understudy to Carrie, the female lead, and while I never got to play the role (Lee Ann Wood did not so much as sneeze during the entire run), I watched this scene night after night, contemplating my own future.
Where Is Love? Remember back in grammar school when you'd sometimes try to picture yourself as a grown-up? I swore to myself I'd never fall in love and certainly never marry -- music was far too important for me to fall into that trap. I watched my friends, one by one, lose their vision of a career as they drifted into relationships and even parenthood. And then one day I, too, became smitten and was crushed when it ended. Once that door was opened, I never could close it, and my heart was broken time and time again. I began to feel just like Oliver Twist, singing the words that so precisely describe the emptiness and longing I'd managed to avoid for so long.
A Beautiful Friendship is a highly suggestive tune if ever there was one. Here we're plopped down into the exact moment -- with all its highly charged sexuality -- when friendship moves into a whole new realm of love. Wow!
Autumn in New York. Yes, I freely admit to being a sucker for Eastern autumn, and love it every bit as much as a West Coast spring. Somehow Vernon Duke captures all that magic in the first phrase -- "Why does it seem so exciting" -- and just keeps going right up through my favorite word picture, "Lovers who bless the dark / on benches in Central Park." Oh, can't you just see it! I could sing this song every performance for the rest of my days and find new ideas in it every time.
Imagine all the broken hearts in the world in one place -- On the Street of Dreams. Samuel Lewis, (not an otherwise- memorable lyricist) is calling us and promising hope to be found within. Trade old dreams for new, new dreams for old; this is where they can be both bought and sold. What magic! And then the wonderful punch line: "Silver and gold, all you can hold is in the moonbeams". No one is poor as long as the heart can still love. Who's not going to answer that call?
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning will always bring to mind the last time I ever saw my dad. He and my Mom came to see and hear me sing with the San Francisco Symphony. A few months later Dad was killed in an auto accident just shortly before I made my Carnegie Hall debut. My mom just couldn't face the long trip without him, so her brother and several cousins made their first New York trip to cheer me on. That concert hall is both terrifying and exhilarating to a degree I've experienced nowhere else, and it gave me great comfort to know I had family up in the high balcony. This was the first of three songs I sang that night, and as I got into the chorus I felt my dad there too, cheering me on and reminding me to enjoy myself. I got a curtain call and came out on stage in my wheelchair for the very first time; all of which makes this song very special to me.
The profound lyric of Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams opens with the repeated question "What price happiness?" and continues at the bridge with my favorite ? "Your castles may crumble. That's fate after all. Life's really funny that way." Everyone over the age of ten knows the truth of this, and the level of audience response to these words of wisdom is up in our top five. I love singing the advice that follows: "No use to grumble. Just smile as they fall. Weren't you king for a day?". I'm singing it for the audience, yes, but much more than that I'm singing it to remind myself. The best version of this is sung by Maxine Sullivan, who certainly knew what she was talking about.
But Beautiful has become a personal bell weather, and we often use it at the afternoon sound check prior to a gig. If I can find the first note of the a capella verse before Greensill plays it (I'm never sure it's correct until he comes in at the chorus), then my ear's memory is functioning and everything is okay with me. Right key or wrong, this song allows me to describe Johnny Burke's idea of "what love is," and that is indeed nice work.
You Don't Know What Love Is. Okay, there are people in the world who've never had their heart broken to the extent this song describes, who've never displayed that classic symptom of severe depression and "faced each dawn with sleepless eyes." Until you've experienced it at first hand, this can sound like overblown histrionics. But take it from me, this is an absolutely accurate description.
In I'll Be Tired of You, master lyricist Yip Harburg is promising an undying love, and don't we all wish we could give and be given such a priceless gift with such an ironclad guarantee. Reality tells us that even when we have no doubts as to intent, emotions can change, and the strongest affections may fade. Nonetheless, this lyric includes the ideal we hope to hear, to say and believe, always.
Some Other Time is concerned with facing the moment of goodbye, which can be so impossibly painful that we choose to deny the reality of its approach. We might instead reflect on the happy times shared, discuss a hypothetical future together, and promise wholeheartedly to take up again right where we left off as soon as this short separation has passed -- even though we know full well that such a reconciliation probably won't be happening any time soon, if ever. It is the human condition to hope for the best as life without some faith in "what's to come" would be impossible to survive. Certainly this makes a fitting sentiment with which to close.....
IN MY LIFE
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Wesla Whitfield: "In My Life"
(musical direction by Mike Greensill)
by Steven Winn
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Singing and gently swinging at the top of her already lofty form, Wesla Whitfield has made herself musically indispensable. Those who missed her recent glowing evening at the Empire Plush Room can now catch up with the latest marvels from San Francisco's hometown cabaret heroine.
Whitfield spins out 15 suave, richly felt interpretations here on a ribbon of amber sound, undulant phrasing and shimmering, clear lyrics. She can turn from sassy to seductive to wistful in a moment, but nothing ever feels hurried or forced. Everything flows with a natural inner pulse, whether it's Rodgers and Hammerstein ("When the Children Are Asleep"), Lennon and McCartney ("In My Life") or Harburg and Schwartz ("I'll Be Tired of You").
The opening cut, a luxuriant amble through "Tea for Two," of all things, signals what's to come -- the unexpected pacing of a familiar song, the discovery of fresh wonder and pain, the illumination of a song's inner space."Where Is Love?"(from "Oliver! ") comes across as murmurous introspection."Some Other Time" is philosophy set to Leonard Bernstein's ruefully resigned melody. When Whitfield turns her thoughts to "The Wee Small Hours of the Morning," you can hear that she's been there and found her way to memory's mixed consolations.
Her husband, Mike Greensill, supports her, as ever, with his perfectly judged musical direction and faultless piano settings.
In My Life (HighNote)
by Christopher loudon
Vox from the April 2005 issue
Three-dozen years on, and San Francisco chanteuse Wesla Whitfield remains the classiest, most consistently sublime act on the cabaret scene. Never brassy or showy, unlike many of her cabaret compatriots, Whitfield is blessed with impeccable phrasing and a remarkable way with words. Seemingly incapable of false (or forced) sentiment, she adorns every lyric with precisely the right emotional pull. A slavish devotee of the Great American Songbook, Whitfield rarely strays from the tried-and-true comfort of time-honored standards, as is true throughout most of her umpteenth studio outing, In My Life (High Note).
Here, 15 polished gems again place her in the ever-delightful company of her partner-in-sublime, arranger-pianist-husband Mike Greensill, including a deliciously sensuous "Tea for Two" and gorgeously clouded, cashmere readings of "I Have Dreamed," "But Beautiful" and "Some Other Time." They are, though, augmented by stellar examination of the bittersweet folds of the Lennon-McCartney title tune, shaped as an homage to her exciting, but lonely, earliest years in the City by the Bay. As always, Whitfield digs up an obscure treasure. This time it is the tender "When the Children Are Asleep" from Carousel, which, to my ears, sounds like the Rodgers and Hammerstein answer (or, perhaps, prequel) to Kern and Hammer-stein's similarly wistful "The Folks Who Live on the Hill."