December 2009

Before & After with Jackie Ryan

Language, For Music’s Sake

Since the release of her first CD in 2000, Bay Area singer Jackie Ryan has won an avid following with a series of increasingly confident albums showcasing her big, lustrous voice, deft sense of swing and polyglot repertoire. The daughter of a Mexican mother and Irish-American father, she was born and raised in San Rafael, Calif., and has long explored songs in Spanish, Portuguese and other languages. Increasingly visible on the East Coast, she’s gained more attention than ever with the double album Doozy, her fourth release on her OpenArt label.

1. Carol Sloane
“Old Devil Moon” (from When I Look in Your Eyes, Concord Jazz). Sloane, vocals; Bill Charlap, piano; Steve Gilmore, bass; Ron Vincent, drums; Howard Alden, guitar. Recorded in 1994.

BEFORE: That’s Carol Sloane. It took me a minute because I haven’t heard her for a while. She’s got that mature confidence. There’s no one who sounds like her. She’s someone who’s been singing a really long time, and the way she phrases is so comfortable. Is that Akira Tana on drums? It kind of sounds like him. [The correct drummer is Ron Vincent.] He swings nice. I think she liked Carmen McRae. I hear that in her voice, right there [scat verse].

I never noticed that before. But when you sit and listen and really analyze, you can hear all those influences. I hear Ella there too, and Sarah. It goes to show how we’re all so influenced by each other. That’s great. Who’s the pianist?

Bill Charlap.

I liked his bounce, his swing. He was right there with her, really swinging and very supportive.

2. Denise Jannah
“Something to Live For” (from I Was Born in Love With You, Blue Note). Jannah, vocals; Bob Belden Orchestra. Recorded in 1995.

BEFORE: I hear shades of Abbey Lincoln and Ernestine Anderson; I think she’s around that same time period. I love this tune. Billy Strayhorn. I should know who this is.

AFTER: I know her, but I don’t have this recording of hers. She is a wonderful singer who’s underrated in this country. The arrangement is great: It reminds me of the older big-band arrangements, and I’ve just heard her do more contemporary stuff. That kind of threw me a bit. She really deserves to be recognized far more than she is in this country. She’s living in Holland now, and I recorded a song that she wrote the lyrics to, “Sari,” which means “sadness,” and is in Sranan Tongo, the language of her birthplace, Suriname. The melody was written by Amina Figarova. I really hope she gets more recognition in this country, though she’s well known in Europe.

3. Mary Stallings
“I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You” (from Manhattan Moods, Concord Jazz). Stallings, vocals; Monty Alexander, piano; Ben Wolfe, bass; Clyde Lucas, drums. Recorded in 1996.

BEFORE: It’s a beautiful song, “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You.” I know her voice. Oh lord. It’s sort of Etta James/Ernestine Anderson, but I’m not sure. It’s a classic style, bluesy inflection—a seasoned singer who’s very familiar.

AFTER: Oh yeah. There’s a good reason why she’s known as one of the best singers around. I’m sorry to say I don’t have any recordings by her, but I saw her when I first moved back to the Bay Area around 1990 at a club in San Francisco, and thought she was great. It’s that old-school sound, so polished and sure of herself. Oh, that was Monty Alexander. I was just fantasizing about doing a CD with him. I’m striking out here.

4. Sarah Vaughan
“The Lamp Is Low” (from Live at the 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival, MJF). Vaughan, vocals; Bill Mays, piano; Bob Magnusson, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums. Recorded in 1971.

BEFORE: Sarah. That’s easy. Great band. It sounds live. Watch, she’s going to go high. Oh yeah! This is not early Sarah. It’s when she’s mature. I would say she was in her 40s or 50s when she did this. [Vaughan was 47.] She was so great. What I loved about Sarah is that she always surprised you. All the sudden she’d throw in these notes out of nowhere. She had such an incredible range. I like this arrangement, the way it goes from samba to swing. I’m wondering who the band is. [The pianist is] wonderful. Sarah started out with this sweet, high, girl voice, and later on I heard a lot of Billy Eckstine, with that low vibrato. She and Billy sang a lot together, and I know they were very close.

The rest of this Before & After session with Jackie Ryan appears in the December 2009 issue of JazzTimes.

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