Archive for Jazz Singers

T.C. Carson – Jazz Singer

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Under The Radar, Video Vault with tags , on November 7, 2013 by curtjazz
TC CarsonMy wife and I were fans of the television series “Living Single” back in the 90’s. We always felt that “Friends”, which premiered a year later, was a poor copy of “Living Single” but that’s a story for another post.

I first heard actor T.C. Carson (aka Kyle from “Living Single”) sing a little jazz during an appearance on Arsenio Hall’s original show around 20 years ago. He was no dilettante. He demonstrated a solid sense of jazz timing and a good way with a lyric. On top of that, Carson appeared to be truly enjoying himself, continuing to jam as the band came back from commercial breaks.

A short time after that, I heard him dabbling in jazz singing on a couple of “Living Single” episodes; most memorably singing “My Funny Valentine” to his on again/off again paramour on the show, Maxine Shaw (Erika Alexander). I remember remarking to my wife that I hoped that Mr. Carson would take it further and record a jazz album one day.

The show came to an end in 1998 and save for a few supporting roles, some game voice work (notably Kratos in the “God of War” series) and an R&B album (Truth) that had its moments, we unfortunately have not heard a lot from Mr. Carson in the last decade. Sometime within the last few years, T.C. Carson appeared on a show called LA JAZZ and recorded an impressive jazz set on which he sounds like a baritone Al Jarreau.

Now I hear that T.C. Carson is doing a live show/recording in Los Angeles on November 16. Though I won’t be in LA that night, I have a feeling that L.A. Jazz fans may be in for a treat. I look forward to hearing the resulting album.

Until then, the jazz continues…

A Song That Always “Picks Me Up”

Posted in Under The Radar, Unsung Women of Jazz with tags , on October 23, 2013 by curtjazz

Elli Fordyce - Songs Spun of GoldWe all have those tunes that can lift us out of the darkest doldrums; a performance that helps to put the “pep back in our step” and gets us through that rough patch.

There are a few songs like that for me. One is the old Kern/Fields tune “Pick Yourself Up” as performed by the wonderful jazz singer Elli Fordyce. “Pick Yourself Up” is lyrically upbeat to begin with and I’ve heard many, many versions of it over the years; but there’s something about Ms. Fordyce’s performance and the finger snapping arrangement led by pianist Jeremy Manasia, that makes me almost giddy.

For those who are unfamiliar with her, Elli Fordyce is a NYC native who has only recently returned to singing after a hiatus of many years. In fact, Songs Spun of Gold, the critically acclaimed album (see our review HERE) that includes “Pick Yourself Up”, was recorded and released in 2009 when Elli was 72.  It is her second album, following on the heels of her excellent 2007 recorded debut Something Still Cool (yes, June Christy is a strong influence).

Elli is still coaching aspiring vocalists and performing today, at age 76.  If you get a chance to hear her live, you should not pass up the opportunity.

I listened to “Pick Yourself Up” a number of times while preparing this post. I feel better than I have all day.

Thanks Elli for once again “picking me up”.

Male Jazz Singers – Hope for the Future

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by curtjazz

Ori DaganIn 2008 I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Hendricks for Jazz Inside Magazine. The legendary”James Joyce of Jive” was extremely generous with his time (we talked for over two hours, including his impromptu, a capella performance of his classic lyric to J.J. Johnson’s “Lament”).  He was also not shy about sharing his opinions.

One of the topics we touched on was the dearth of young male jazz singers coming up through the ranks. While we acknowledged the formidable gifts of Kurt Elling and Kevin Mahogany, we lamented the fact that there didn’t seem to be a lot of others. The young women singing jazz seem to outnumber the men by a 20:1 margin.

Mr. Hendricks offered the theory that in our 21st century culture, jazz singing is not considered a “serious profession” even in the entertainment world and that men of all stripes are pushed toward vocations that will “bring home the bacon”. Whether that is the case or not can be debated. The paucity of guys under 40 who are truly singing jazz, cannot.

However as the title of this post indicates, there is hope on the horizon. Over the past three years, there have been a number of younger men that have showed up on the scene who are quite good. Many are as versed in hip-hop as they are in the standards and they bring to the stage a sound that is fresh and promising.

Here are five that I find interesting. These are not the only five good young male jazz singers, just a few who have my ear at the moment. I have also cheated a bit in that one is slightly over 40 but he is too good to pass up because of that minor technicality.

In alphabetical order:

Ori Dagan

Born in Israel and raised in Toronto, Mr. Dagan is also a classically trained pianist. He is the best scat singer of this quintet and his improvisations, which have at times taken him from English to Hebrew and back again, are often a joy for these jaded ears. He has two albums out, which put the fun back in jazz singing: S’Cat Got My Tongue and Less Than Three

José James

The likely breakout star of this group, Mr. James has dropped successful albums on the jazz and the hip-hop sides of the street. His appearances on Letterman, Leno and other mainstream shows have helped to juice his rise. But make no mistake about it. This cat can SANG. Think of the crooning ability of Al Green mixed with jazz sensibility of Bill Henderson and you’re on the right track.  His latest album, No Beginning No End on Blue Note, is a strong mixture of multiple genres. However to really hear José James the vocalist, you should also check out For All We Know, a duet album of standards that he did in 2010 with pianist Jef Neve, on Impulse! Records.

Gregory Porter

Mr. Porter has become an “overnight sensation” at age 41. Though he doesn’t have the mainstream profile of José James, he has turned the jazz world on his ear and with his powerful yet vulnerable tenor voice, he has even made some inroads into the adult R&B world, as evidenced by his 2013 R&B Grammy nomination. His two albums 2010’s Water and last year’s Be Good are standouts, that earned a place on their respective year’s Curt’s Cafe “Best Of” list.

Milton Suggs

Chicago born, Atlanta bred and now living in NYC, Milton Suggs has garnered attention not only for his powerful baritone voice but for his impressive gifts as a lyricist, which he fully  displayed on his latest album, the appropriately titled Lyrical, Vol. 1 ( a Curt’s Cafe Best Jazz of 2012 selection).  Mr. Suggs lyrics evince a fearless creativity that is reminiscent of Jon Hendricks but with a hip-hop undercurrent that should help to keep those of his own generation listening. Definitely someone to watch. Also check out his previous album Things To Come.

Sachal Vasandani

Blessed with boyish good looks and a smooth, crooning vocal timbre. Mr. Vasandani could have easily opted to go the route of slicksters like Michael Bublé. Instead, the fact that he has toured and recorded with Mr. Hendricks and he has appeared as a guest vocalist on recent albums by artists such as Gerald Clayton and Don Braden, says a lot about Mr. Vasandani’s artistic integrity. Yes, he can sing “The Very Thought of You” in a style that is swathed in velvet but then he will turn right around and bop his way through an impressive rendition of “Monk’s Dream”; something that the Bublés of the world wouldn’t even try. Check out his two most recent albums, We Move (2009) and Hi-Fly (2011).

Paula West – You Need to Hear This Woman Sing

Posted in The Jazz Continues..., Who's New in Jazz with tags , on September 22, 2012 by curtjazz

A while back I was roaming around Manifest Records here in Charlotte and I came across a couple of used CDs by a lady named Paula West.  I had seen them in the bins for a few months but had always passed them by.

On this day, there was a BOGO Sale; so to fill out my order, I decided to pick up the two CDs by Ms. West – Temptation and Restless.

I was floored by the richness of her voice, her masterful phrasing and her song choices, which were a nice mixture of the familiar and the refreshingly different. I became an instant fan and I kicked myself for letting those two discs languish in those bins for as long as I did.

Though she has come East on occasion, Paula West is based in the Bay Area and is relatively unknown outside of San Francisco. Hopefully that will change soon.

A few weeks back while listening to her most recent disc, Live at Jazz Standard, I impulsively tweeted that “Paula West was the best jazz singer that you’ve probably never heard”. I got a surprising number of retweets and agreements, so it’s nice to see that the lady does have a growing fan base.

But don’t take my word for it. See and hear for yourself. You can thank me later.

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2011 – Audrey Shakir

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2011, JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , on May 22, 2011 by curtjazz

Vocalist Audrey Shakir will be performing at the Atlanta Jazz Festival on Saturday, May 28, at 5 pm.  Ms. Shakir is a veteran of the New York jazz scene, who has performed with greats such as Kenny Barron, Duke Pearson and Lionel Hampton.  She was also a regular performer at the late, lamented Village Gate nightclub.

Proving that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, her son Walter Blanding, Jr. is a renowned tenor saxophonist, who was a member of the Tough Young Tenors in the ‘90’s and is now featured with Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.   

She has also released an album, If You Could See Me Now, backed by Barron, Reginald Veal and drummer Justin Varnes. It’s available on CDBaby.

She has been an Atlanta resident since 1989 and has performed at many Atlanta area clubs and festivals, including the AJF.

You can read more about Audrey Shakir in Jason Crane’s 2007 article about her in The Jazz Session.  You can also see her perform as a part of this 2010 video clip about Jazz Appreciation Month in Mobile, AL. 

But better yet, why not catch Audrey Shakir live, at the Atlanta Jazz Festival, next Saturday.  Hope to see you there.

For further information about the 2011 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website:

Gretchen Parlato’s new CD now on NPR’s “First Listen”

Posted in CD Reviews, The Jazz Continues..., Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , on March 29, 2011 by curtjazz

As I write this brief post, I’m digging The Lost and Found,  the latest CD from the wonderful young jazz singer Gretchen Parlato, which hits the streets a week from today (Tuesday, 4/5). I’m hearing it courtesy of NPR’s terrific “First Listen”, which allows listeners to stream selected works in their entirety prior to their release.

I’ll resist the temptation to review the album, since I’m still in the process of listening to it. But I will say that I was a fan Ms. Parlato’s first two CD’s and six tracks into this one, which was co-produced by Robert Glasper, I’ve found nothing to disappoint me. In fact, I’m sitting here typing and listening with a beatific smile on my face, so I’d say that we’re off to a good start.

But don’t take my word for it, listen for yourself by clicking on the link below.

Gretchen Parlato – The Lost and Found on NPR “First Listen”

And if you dig it, BUY IT when it is released on Tuesday, 4/5.  Click the album cover below to pre-order on

For those who want something a little more visual, here’s Ms. Parlato singing “Butterfly”. Enjoy!