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JUST FOR A THRILL
Myoho Records 1986
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JUST FOR A THRILL
- Errand Girl For Rhythm
- I Got Lost In His Arms
- Let Me Love You
- I See Your Face Before Me / If There Is Someone Lovelier Than You
- The Folks Who Live On The Hill
- I Thought About You
- Some Other Spring
- Just For A Thrill
- You Are Too Beautiful
- My Baby Just Cares For Me
- My Merry Way
- Mr. Snow
JUST FOR A THRILL
wesla whitfield: vocals
mike greensill: piano / arranger
paul breslin: bass
vince lateano: drums
Al Cohn: Tenor sax
Mike greensill & Weslia Whitfield: producers
JUST FOR A THRILL
Seven Valentine's Days ago, when I first laid ears on Wesla Whitfield, I was instantly and forever smitten by a voice of simple beauty and quiet honesty that spoke directly to the heart: mine, anyway.
How she does it is her secret. Wesla sings a song from the inside out, with a clarity of understanding about what a lyric is trying to say. She dares to sing it as the writer wrote it. No self-conscious stylistic embellishments, no pushing an emotion, no upstaging a melody or chewing the lyric scenery. In short, no showing-off. It's all of a silky piece, sturdy and stylish. She simply implores you to listen.
With her, the words come first. She has an easy but total command of her tunes and technique with a delicate attack and articulation; not a syllable's neglected.
All the songs here are tenderly rendered - a feathery I Got Lost In His Arms a forlorn I See Your Face Before Me and (like whispers in your ear) If There Is Someone Lovelier Than You and You Are Too Beautiful, which nobody will ever do more lovingly.
Her romantic intimacy is evident in Some Other Spring, Just For A Thrill and my favorite here The Folks Who Live On the Hill, Kern and Hammerstein's song about that ultimate fantasy, marriage, sung with a sweet urgency.
Behind it all is the lush, refined piano of her arranger/husband Michael Greensill, plus Al Cohn's supple, suede-lined saxophone.
There's not a cliché in the album; every song has something to say. Even if you think you know a standard, like I Thought About You, she does it as if nobody else has. Wesla sings the unspoken thoughts, the subtleties and subtext between and beneath the lines. She turns Dietz & Schwartz's I See Your Face Before Me into a prayer.
Hers is a vital, velvety voice that can snuggle up to a ballad by fuzzing certain consonants (creating a cozy hum), lay back coolly or surge forward, as Let Me Love You, an impassioned Bart Howard tune that's rhapsodic, never sappy.
Wesla does not do sappy, not even in a song that easily could slip into gooey Rodgers and Hammerstein sentimentality, Mr. Snow, which she matures into a grownup ballad.
Whitfield's forte is womanly world-weariness. Listen to My Merry Way, an undiscovered ballad filled with a rueful message and Rodgers and Hart echoes. She does it with the wounded self-awareness of a lover who is wary and a bit worn out but ever-hopeful – a tone she strikes in so many songs, where love is often tragic but never quite fatal. She sings with emotional authority, a voice that says, I've been there. She may make you sad – ah, but (in Hart's words) so glad to be unhappy!
This Album has many glad discoveries, the gladdest of all being Wesla Whitfield, too long an exclusive San Francisco secret. It's time the world heard her. She sings songs the way God likes them sung.
San Francisco Chronicle, 1986
I Cannot recall any new recording with which I have been associated that has given me more listening pleasure than Wesla Whitfield's "Just For A Thrill" album of songs. For many years the collective judgment of Wesla Whitfield's performances in the San Francisco area has been enthusiastic approval, often to the point of adulation. Perched on a bar stool, with pianist Mike Greensill just beyond her right elbow and bassist Paul Breslin behind her at the grand piano's tip, Wesla is singularly "at home" with her songs, her setting and most importantly, her audience.
She's a pert one, brimming over with witty remarks, comments on the songs and confidence. She really loves singing, loves introducing new material to her fans. Such feelings translate, as a listener quickly discerns into lyric and melodic interpretations of great depth and warmth. Wesla has gained high praise whenever and wherever she's sung, from various San Francisco clubs and concert halls to Michael's pub in Manhattan. She has been compared to such singers as Ruth Etting, Connie Boswell and Lee Wiley, although those who search for her musical roots admit she is incomparable.
Hearing Wesla on a fairly regular basis in recent years I've never known her to duplicate a cabaret set. There are always new songs or a new format; she is a hard worker and her preparation shows. In fact, that is the why an the how of her presence, in person or on recordings – her radiant confidence is well grounded.
In the last six years Wesla's work has been greatly enhanced by the musical direction and accompaniment provided by Michael Greensill.
One of a critic's greatest pleasures is knowing on any given night, where there is outstanding music available – such places become a sanctuary an oasis, a home-away-from-home I always know where Wesla will be singing and I know she will be sitting up there mesmerizing her audience when I drop in. She creates an intimacy with every song that draws a listener right inside.
Play this recording – it will grab you, draw you in.
Errand Girl For Rhythm is a "jump" tune recorded (and written) by Nat Cole in 1945 – he, of course, sang it as Errand Boy..I doubt that anyone else has sung it in 40 years, let alone included it in a repertoire. Wesla here leaps into the lyric and establishes a marvelous, swinging mood for the rest of the track – and album. Greensill at the keyboard catches the beat immediately (joined by Breslin and Lateano) and then in roars Cohn on tenor sax. For those who have hard only of Wesla the romantic cabaret balladeer this first track will be an ear opener for sure. And what a nice release of tension Greensill achieves with his two-bar piano coda.
It is difficult to realize that I Got Lost In His Arms came into the world sung by Ethel Merman, from Irving Berlin's "Annie, Get Your Gun" score, 1946. But loud though she was, Merman could deliver a romantic ballad – as she demonstrated on the Decca 78rpm original-cast recordings. Here, taking it through only a single chorus, Wesla is at her intimate best – careful shadings, gorgeous delivery, warmth and mellowness; beautifully supported by piano and bass.
Bart Howard's 1954 song Let Me Love You with its difficult leaps and melodic range, was a favorite of cabaret's greatest singer, Mabel Mercer. Wesla personalizes the romantically poetic lines. Al Chon – smooth and warm- flows in-and-out, and Wesla handles the concluding lines most deftly.
Howard Diets and Arthur Schwartz turned out I See Your Face Before Me in 1937 for "Between the Devil" and If There Is Someone Lovelier Than You in 1934 for "revenge With Music". The shows vanished; the partnership was dissolved for a dozen years, but these songs became standards. This medley, moving gracefully, seems (in essence) all one song – even the lyric line seems combined logically.
Wesla gives The Folks Who Live On the Hill ('Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II, 1937) the full treatment – just like Irene Dunne did in a film "High, Wide and Handsome." The difficulty with such a song is maintaining a melody, sustaining the lyric line, in other words never slipping into a narrative style. Wesla carefully and melodically surmounts the song's potential difficulties – turning in a touching interpretation.
I Thought About You, a wonderful slowly swinging ballad turned out by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer in 1939, was one of Benny Goodman's first records for the "new" (i.e. red-label) Columbia company – Mildred Bailey sang it. For some reason, the song took until the 1950s to gain much recognition. Again, Wesla displays a fine knack for "just singing the song", letting it guide its own way.
Some Other Spring for most of us, means Billie Holiday – although it was the flip-side of Billie's 1939 record that sold the disc, Them There Eyes. Wesla's performance, with Cohn's marvelous tenor sax phrasing, does this splendid work full justice. The arrangement, by Greensill, surrounds the voice better than the rather clumsy chart with which Billie had to work.
Just For A Thrill goes back, in my ears, to the Ink Spots, and before that to a recording its composer, Lil Hardin Armstrong, made in the mid-1930s. A perfectly wonderful, plaintive blues based lyric line that Wesla handles to perfection; Cohn's sax interludes are, of course, breathtakingly appropriate.
It is hard to believe that one of the classic and formal ballads of or times, You Are Too Beautiful survived, to be sung and played by everyone interested in interpreting outstanding compositions, and that includes Wesla. She loosens the melodic line a bit, sliding up and down the line on the way a refreshing break in the strongly rhythmic interpretation frequently applied.
My Baby Just Care For Me (1930) the oldest number in this collection, gives Wesla a chance to swagger. Paul Breslin's bass gets into a loose swing, and Greensill comps firmly in the background. Cohn's solo has the guts of a Coleman Hawkins – and a fittingly raspy edge. Wesla, following the piano solo, has some fun jazzing around with both the lyric inflections and the melody.
Richard Waters' My Merry Way gives Wesla a chance to bend the lyrics, and to direct her emotions right to the heart, the fondling, at the keyboard, of Wesla's lyric lines makes this a quite intimate recording.
Mr. Snow, as all Rodgers & Hammerstein fans know, comes from "carousel". Wesla, with the long stage-line "verse" builds sensitively to the lilting main theme, showing keep judgment. "Story songs," after all, are the toughest of all for essentially recital singers – to prove she can do them, and do them well, Wesla set this one in the midst of an eclectic a set as any of us are ever likely to hear.
Loonis McGlohon, composer-adviser-coach-pianist, has been a warm friend of singers for many years. His Songbird is a gorgeous number, here a complete duet between Mr. and Mrs. Greensill – it is fitting that the recording ends with the ultimate collaboration.
Mike's piano, perfectly captured, is exquisite; Wesla's delicacy is admirable.
San Francisco Examiner
San Francisco, 1986
In memory of Ruth Amadon, Phil Barrett, Verna McCandless, Etta Rose Smith and Elsie Whitfield