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NOBODY ELSE BUT ME
Landmark Records 1988
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NOBODY ELSE BUT ME
- If I Had You
- Give Me The Simple Life
- But Beautiful
- Not A Care In The World
- In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning
- I'm Shooting High
- This Could Be The Start Of Something Big
- Goodbye Little Dream, Goodbye
- Nobody Else But Me
- How About Me
- Trolley Song
- I'm The Girl
- That's All
NOBODY ELSE BUT ME
wesla whitfield: vocals
mike greensill: piano / arranger
Dean reilly: bass
vince lateano: drums
Noel Jewkes: reeds
Wesla Whitfield & Mike greensill: producers
NOBODY ELSE BUT ME
Every auditor of the musical arts from the occasional concert goer to the high falutin' critic complains about the categorization, the pigeon holing or performing styles – "popular," "classical," "folk," "fusion," "new age," "baroque," and such recent abominations as the trade papers' latest – "modern rock," and the "jazz/contemporary jazz" separation.
And into the midst of all this musical maelstrom we must toss one of the most controversial of all categorizations – the "jazz singer," a term which was originally applied to a notorious anti=jazz performer (al Jolson) in the first all-talkie movie ("The Jazz Singer") which used the term "jazz" to define vulgar popular songs – in contrast to the liturgical material of the synagogue.
If the definition of "jazz" itself has frustrated generations of its enthusiastics then jazz singing has an even more confused and frustrating history – which I have no intention of pursuing here. What must be notes, however, is that Wesla Whitfield – in the just the last couple of years – has emerged from cabaret performance into the more challenging and exciting world of jazz.
Whitfield didn't just decide one day that she would stop being a cabaret singer and start being a jazz singer; this sort of thing is evolutionary and takes place gradually. She was never, in her earliest performances around San Francisco, a stereotyped singer. In the mist of Porter and Coward an older pop song would turn up, often with blues-based harmonies and sultry lyrics.
More and more Whitfield would turn to material associated with early pop singers rather than to songs familiar to Broadway or Hollywood nostalgics. In doing so, she was also indicating an enthusiasm for putting her own impressions on an interpretation rather than merely recreating the composer's score.
Along the way Whitfield began working with Michael Greensill, a brilliant pianist, a particularly inventive and imaginative accompanist and a thoroughly unrestructured jazz enthusiast.
In 1986 Whitfield and Greensill displayed remarkable good sense by marrying – together the Greensills have enhanced their own lives and by expanding their musical horizons have also greatly broadened their public appeal.
Wesla, in short, has emerged as a wonderful, adventurous jazz singer – without losing one bit of her studied competence as a singer of show songs. But there is a new freshness to the late '80s' Whitfield, and it bursts out on every rendition in this collection.
The arrangements are all Greensill's – warm, responsive, knowing (and loving) they are; as is his keyboard work. Noel Jewkes plays all the woodwinds here. Jewkes has been an integral part of the San Francisco Bay Area jazz scene for nearly 20 years. He is among the most admired and respected instrumentalists on the west coast (although the New Grove Jazz Dictionary ignores him) and has played in every conceivable category. That damn word again.
Bassist Dean Reilly and Drummer Vince Lateano have worked in the San Francisco area longer than Jewkes and are as fully respected. Their work on this collection is a tribute to their professionalism as jazz-oriented instrumentalists.
If I Had You is one of three selections in this collection that date from the 1928-30 period- the others are Irving Berlin's How About Me and the multiple-composed classic, I'm Confessin'. Rudy Vallee, in his prime at this time, popularized both If I Had You and I'm Confessin' although both have had wonderful (and far better) interpretations since Vallee's.
As befits a 1945 movie-song (Wake Up and Dream) the Whitfield version of Give Me the Simple Life is light, airy, features the clarinet of Jewkes and sparkles all the way.
Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen wrote But Beautiful for Bing Crosby to sing in "Road To Rio" in 1947; it requires a very slow tempo, long sustained notes, and a pure tone. Whitfield handles them all with ease, in addition to imparting a remarkably intimate interpretation to the lyrics. Note also Jewkes cadenza-ending on tenor sax.
Not A Care In The World is the third consecutive 1940s song in the collection and like Simple life it's a light, bouncy tune that lets Whitfield do a vocadance through the lyrics and leaves plenty of room for some fine Greensill piano.
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning receives a slow, paced rendition from Whitfield, full verse, single chorus and out. Sinatra is not the only voice to deliver a wonderful rendition of this one.
Ted Koehler and Jimmy McHugh were on top of the Hollywood musical world when they turned out I'm Shootin' High for Alice Faye to sing in "King of Burlesque". Pop music was beginning to swing in '35, and this one gets a swinging treatment by the Greensills; the piano/clarinet lines are reminiscent of the Mel Powell/Benny Goodman duo around 1940.
Reilly and Lateano brighten up the beginning of Steve Allen's This Could Be the Start of Something Big which Whitfield takes a breakneck pace.
The original name for Confessin' (as recorded by Fats Waller, sung by Orlando Roberson, late in 1929) was Lookin' For Another Sweetie, but a few months later with new lyrics, new title, and a new recording by (first) Rudy Vallee, then by Louis Armstrong – Hawaiian guitar and all – this lovely tune became a standard. Whitfield's is a warm and mellow version – neat clarinet and piano, too.
It's hard to believe, but Ethel Merman made Goodbye Little Dream, Goodbye a familiar number in 1936, singing in Cole Porter's "Red, Hot and Blue." Greensill's soulful arrangement here continues the Wee Small Hours feeling.
The old Hammerstein-Kern Nobody Else But Me gets a swinging treatment from Whitfield, Greensill and Jewkes – this time he's on alto. Irving Berlin's 1928 gem How About Me? is usually overlooked by all-Berlin compilations, but it's a typical, old fashioned Berlin score which leaves ample space for both vocal and instrumental interpretations.
The Trolley Song quite fittingly gives Lateano some percussion space, and Jewkes weaves fancy clarinet lines through the familiar "Meet Me In St. Louis" movie song.
No one can be a jazz singer without a knowing, contributive jazz instrumentalist in support. This recording in most ways is not Wesla Whitfield with her quartet; more properly, it is the Wesla Whitfield Quintet – hers is the lead instrument.
San Francisco Examiner
San Francisco 1988