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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Jazz vs. Cabaret/Shiny Stockings

What a gorgeous day in Chicago! Goes with a song I'm working on. "What a day this has been, what a rare mood I'm in. Why it's almost like being in love! There's a smile on my face for the whole human race, why it's almost like being in love!" And no, there's no new love for me, but still I feel like singing that happy upbeat song! Tonight writing group and I'm thinking about prompts. Cleaning, I found some old vinyl records of my parents - mostly folk music. Great song titles that should be fun for writing inspiration:  Tango Till They're Sore, The Piano has Been Drinking, Gin Soaked Boy - you get the idea. Tomorrow if I write OK, I'll share it with you.

And speaking of inspiring, I forgot to tell you that after Petterino's on Monday  I went to my friend Tom Muellner's Pro Jazz Jam Session at a squirrely little restaurant on Irving Park Road - Serbian Village. Rudy, the owner, loves jazz so about a year and a half ago he approached Tom about doing a regular Monday jam session.  I've been attending since the beginning when I was sometimes the only person in the audience. And the restaurant is weird - sometimes they have food, depending on what's going on in the kitchen. No menus but the server will check to see if Rudy has anything grilling and if so, offer you a sausage or two. Music starts at nine but it doesn't heat up until after ten and then goes until about 1AM. Musicians drift in one or two at a time and before long the place is packed. What I like best is hearing the old timers play and watching the dynamic between the old pros and the newbies. I witness something very special that is, I think, sorely lacking these days. What you'll see if you come, is profound respect on the part of the younger musicians for the old jazz veterans. And the old guys are the best - confident, relaxed, they know every song in every key - they've been playing the same tunes all their lives. The youngsters are good too, don't get me wrong - remember it's a pro session so they're working around town.  It's just that mostly they try too hard, they push, they posture. In time, they will be chill like the elders and then it will be their turn to lead by example.

Tommy asked me to sing - I chose a song jazz musicians love, Shiny Stockings.  Learned the song at the request of friend Janet who loves jazz. I'm comfortable with Tommy on keyboard - we've done the song a bunch of times, but he took a break and I was a bit freaked to be singing with a pianist I hadn't worked with.  And let me describe to you what can happen when things go wrong. The difference between singing Cabaret and Jazz is profound. It's the same songs in both genres - the old standards, often referred to as The American Songbook - songs from Cole Porter, Gershwin, Mercer, Arlen, Berlin, etc. Difference is that, when you sing Cabaret style, usually you're just accompanied by a piano and the accompaniment is straightforward and easy to follow (jazz musicians can play some crazy shit under you). What's more, in Cabaret, it's the pianist's job to follow you, the singer. You can pause, speed up, get loud or soft, change tempo, repeat a phrase and even if you haven't practiced with the pianist, they somehow follow along and adjust to what you want. Another big difference is that Cabaret singing is all about the lyrics - telling a story.  You can play fast and loose with the notes and time signatures if changing the phrasing enhances your ability to deliver the lyrics in a believable way - singer in control. BUT, when you sing jazz, you're just another ensemble instrument. If you get lost you're screwed, the musicians behind you are not going to slow or stop for you to get caught up. And unlike Cabaret, jazz is ALL about the tune - lyrics are just a bonus.

Anyway, I sang the song with the stand-in pianist, bass, drums, a couple of saxes, trumpet and a few other instruments. I didn't embarrass myself. Later Tommy told me the pianist was considered a local legend - his name, Larry Novak. I just Googled him and oh, my.
Novak played with and arranged for Peggy Lee and worked extensively with Pearl Bailey; he also worked with singers Mel Tormé, Frank Sinatra, Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, and Carmen McRae. Among the instrumentalists he played with are Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt, Charlie Shavers, Barney Kessel, Scott LaFaro, Sonny Stitt, Louie Bellson, Terry Gibbs, Buddy DeFranco, Phil Woods, and Scott Hamilton
Here is the link to a 2009 interview with him. I SO did not belong up on that stage with him!

Oh, another thing to report! Yesterday as I left my office, I saw a tall skinny man, standing on the parking strip,  looking into a long box. I thought to myself that it was odd, he was looking for something deep within the box, he was intent. I was so confused - watched him out of the corner of my eye as I got into my car.  Maybe he was deranged, fixated with whatever was in the bottom of the box. Shaking my head, I started to drive away and then had the "duh" moment. I pulled over to the curb, got out and approached him. "Are you watching the Transit of Venus?" I asked him, hoping he would give me a look-see. "I'm trying," he answered and said, "Thank you for not thinking I was out of my mind!" (didn't tell him the thought had crossed my mind).  Turns out his box apparatus wasn't doing the trick - he couldn't view the transit. So we talked for many minutes about the celestial event. I shared what is now extensive knowledge about previous transits from the reading I've been doing. He, in turn, informed me of facts I didn't know. We had a lovely moment together thanks to the Transit - fun to meet new people doing interesting things who are not afraid of appearing silly.

Shay moved in for the summer - he needed a place to stay. I'm elated. He is the best of companions, always at the ready helping me out around the house.  Despite the difference in years, we find each other interesting and good company. He quizzes me on song lyrics and lays, eyes closed, while I sing to him. He even accompanies me to Schaller's and Petterino's. It's a pleasure and a help having him around the house. And for anyone who thinks it's odd, screw 'em - our relationship is absolutely appropriate.  He's like a son.

All for today.  Challenge is a bit of a stretch today. Maybe you could read the interview with Larry Novak and be inspired to accompany me to Serbian Village one of these Monday nights. It will be a highlight of your summer, I promise. And even though it's late on a Monday, I'm sure you can figure out how to make it work - maybe take the next morning off of work.


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