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Landmark Records 1995
|Listen to Wesla's
at "Wesla's iPod"
- Nice Work If You Can Get It
- How Deep Is The Ocean?
- I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby
- I'm Gonna Laugh You Right Out Of My Life
- Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered
- This Can't Be Love
- Where's The Rainbow
- Thou Swell
- A Kiss To Build A Dream On
- I Concentrate On You
- I'm Confessin' That I Love You
- I'm An Errand Girl (Boy) For Rhythm
- Golden Earrings
wesla whitfield: vocals
mike greensill: piano / arranger
Michael moore: bass
Gene Bertoncini: Guitar
orrin keepnews: producer
It means proximity, nearness, kinship. It's what happened between singer Wesla Whitfield and pianist Mike Greensill.
"He came in one night and my piano player asked him to sit in, and he did, and he was wonderful," remembers Wesla. "I called him the next day and asked him to do a couple of arrangements for me, and he did. I had this gig coming up and I asked him if he wanted to play it, and he did. And that was that."
And that was 1981. And they've been together ever since -at first only musically but eventually personally. They were both married to others initially but were both splitting up. They became friends and, inevitably, intimate as a relationship between a pianist and a singer can be, become much more. They were married in 1986.
"What a lovely word, " says Mike with a smile. "It was really pure circumstance. Or a warning – don't let anyone sit in!" Mike worked occasionally with singers before Wesla but usually worked with a trio – and still does. He's realized while working with Wesla the musical satisfactions of being an accompanist. "It's a great craft that I enjoy pursuing. I know there are piano players who have to play for singers and are frustrated doing that but it's the opposite with me. I prefer accompanying. I like laying out the carpet for Wesla. I guess some people are born lieutenants and not colonels."
They also enjoy finding songs together. "Wesla has the ultimate authority selecting songs but I'm the tune sleuth. I hang out in second-hand bookstores looking for sheet music. I'll hear an obscure song and I'll find the music for it."
They both prefer learning songs from the source. "I get a bee in my bonnet about jazz musicians," says Mike. "Tunes get handed down by lifting then off records and get continually altered, so that the fourth or fifth version is nothing like the song was written in the first place. That's what jazz is up to, reinterpreting melody, but you've got to know what you're reinterpreting or you're only reinterpreting someone else's interpretation." Alice in Wonderland is in everybody's fake book as a waltz but it wasn't written as a waltz. Bill Evans altered the melody to fit into a waltz but it was written in 4/4. I was shocked when I found the original sheet music." Wesla delights in singing the often forgotten verses of the songs – also from the source. "All the verses are right there in the printed music," says Wesla. "When you start from the point of view of the writers, you really get what they were trying to convey. And you also get their punctuation, how they've broken up a phrase. And that's fascinating."
She sings the verse to Bewitched almost conversationally. She sings the verse to This Can't Be Love complete with the reference to Dromio, on e of the twin clowns in the Rodgers and Hart musical 'The Boys From Syracuse.' "Rhythmically the verse is interesting and needs to be there. And that rhyme about Romeo – 'three times as stupid as my Dromio' – people always laugh."
Rodgers and Hart songs are the centerpiece of this new album. Wesla spotlighted songs of Rodgers and Hart and Hammerstein during a 1994 stand in the very swanky Oak Room of the very legendary Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan. Thou Swell was the hit from the musical 'Connecticut Yankee'. Where's That Rainbow? is much more obscure – and a haunting performance. "It's from an early show called 'Peggy Ann' that's not done very often. It's the only song from it that anyone's ever heard of. There's no real story and what there is is laughable. It's odd to see brilliant songs come from nothing."
Hart's lyrics especially appeal to Wesla. "Lorenz Hart was the king. I like the way he deals with emotional concepts, the way he takes an idea and turns it four or five different ways."
Mike, naturally, instrumentally, appreciates composer Richard Rodgers. "Rodgers was really two different composers, depending on who he was with. I prefer Rodgers with Hart. When he was working with Hart, he wrote the tunes first. And in the tunes with Hart there's a melodicism that really pleases me."
They considered recording a whole album of Rodgers and Hart – "but there are so many great tunes," says Mike, "It is the same when we do a show. They make us do a theme so that there's something to sell, but it's limiting and doesn't sit comfortably with us. We like the variety. Both of us love the popular tunes of the 30's. I'm Confessin That I Love You, A Kiss To Build A Dream On, Nevertheless. We're just spending our lives trolling the riches of popular music from the era that we like."
They've created a beautiful bouquet of songs around Rodgers and Hart, including one classic apiece from the masters – Berlin, Porter and the brothers Gershwin. Kalmar and Ruby wrote two of the songs. I'm Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life' is a Cy Coleman favorite. I'm An Errand Girl (Boy) For Rhythm' is a tribute to the King Cole trio. And several of the songs were popularized by Louis Armstrong. "Louis Armstrong is one of my heroes. I play him all the time around the house and the more she's heard him and the more she's singing songs like this, the more she's swinging." Golden Earrings is the most obscure song on the album – and definitive Wesla as an enchanting storyteller. It's the title song from a WWII movie with Ray Milland escaping the Nazis disguised as a gypsy and falling for Marlene Dietrich – although heavy Murvyn Vye sing it in the picture. "I've never seen the film", says Wesla. "it was written the year I was born and filtered down through all the terrible music I grew up with in the 50's. It's exciting to sing songs that are in people's consciousness but haven't been done to death."
Nice Work…is the fifth album Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill have recorded together – charming as always and aptly-titled.
Michael Bourne Host "Singers Unlimited" New York 1995