Jazz Congress Confidential – Part One
As a singer/songwriter myself, the panel discussion on Jazz Vocalists and Repertoire last Thursday was of great interest to me. Ann Hampton Callaway, Jazzmeia Horn, John Pizzarelli and Catherine Russell joined moderator Deborah Grace Winer for an hour of talk and performance. I was especially interested in seeing and perhaps meeting Ann and Catherine, as I hoped I might interest them in some of MY songs.
The discussion began with the obligatory joke about advising female singers in their early teens against adding Love For Sale to their repertoire. Then there was a lot of talk about how critical the lyrics were – the apparent sanctity of the words of a song completely overshadowing the significance of the melody, rhythm and chord progression. I might have bought into this partially, at least – except for the performance of “God Bless The Child” by Catherine and John towards the end of the hour – which inspired winces when she substituted the wrong words and he played some very un-choice chords behind her. You can see/hear for yourself HERE – starting at around 57 minutes in. Both John and Catherine were apparently quite pleased with themselves, as was much of the audience – but after carrying on about the sacred nature of the lyrics and their ability to convey the message of the song, I’m here to tell you that to me, there’s a world of difference between “though the Bible says” and “so the Bible says” – also “empty pockets don’t even make the grade” vs. “empty pockets don’t ever make the grade”. The devil is in the details.
I have a great deal of respect for both John and Catherine as established legacy artists, i.e. their parents were “heavy hitters” in the music industry – and so I hold them to a higher standard than generic club date musicians/singers. They know better, thus they should do better! Sloppiness in performance affects meaning and creates the wrong impression of the song. Catherine and John need to remember that while most people in the audience are well acquainted with Billie Holiday’s work, for some people, this could be the first time they hear this song. For someone else, it may be the last time they hear the song. Being careless is perhaps caring less than a performer should – and an industry panel on repertoire is not the place to be careless!
So I say: God Bless The Singer and the Musician… who care enough to get the lyrics and music right!!