Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Parallel Lines Who Meet

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Parallel Lines Who Meet

Article excerpt

Numerous musicians have explored the intersection of Sondheim and jazz

Once upon a time, Broadway was a major source of material for jazz musicians, as the Great American Songbook provided a Venn diagram where jazz and theatre intersected. But as the 20th century waned, Broadway swapped stand-alone hits for songs plumbing specific character motivation. Meanwhile, young jazz players explored their own new worlds of stylistic conventions and harvested rock and pop for cover material.

Luckily for fans of jazz musicianship and Broadway tunefulness, Stephen Sondheim's compositions have inspired numerous contemporary players to unite the best of both worlds. Contrary to the belief that Sondheim's complicated rhythms aren't innately "hummable," songs such as "Send in the Clowns" and "Not While I'm Around" have worked their way into many a jazz musician's repertoire. And though Sondheim's intricate, often dense lyrics present an interpretative challenge for jazz singers, some artists have recorded entire albums of his work.

Vocalist Jane Harvey (who died in August 2013 at 88) was known for her work with Benny Goodman, Zoot Sims and Duke Ellington. She tackled Sondheim's catalog in her 1988 recording The Other Side of Sondheim with three virtuosos: pianist Mike Renzi, drummer Grady Tate and bassist Jay Leonhart. But Atlantic Records gutted the integrity of the sessions by overdubbing strings, cutting songs and destroying medleys to shorten the record. When rights reverted to Harvey years later, the original album was restored for Jane Harvey Sings Sondheim, SSJ Records' unexpurgated 2009 release (reissued by Little Jazz Bird Records as The Jazz Side of Sondheim in 2012), which includes a new recording of "Send in the Clowns." Venerable jazz critic Gary Giddins called the disc "a masterpiece that honors the songwriter and the singer."

Pianist Terry Trotter's six albums for the Varese Sarabande label are easily the most comprehensive take on Sondheim's catalog. TYotter began in 1994 with Passion - a brave choice, considering the songs' unconventional structure - working in a trio format with bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe LaBarbera. Two releases arrived in 1995 - Sweeney Todd (Lorraine Feather, daughter of jazz critic Leonard Feather, sings "Not While I'm Around") and Company (with guitarist John Pisano guesting); A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum followed in 1996. Trotter's 1997 take on A Little Night Music was a solo piano affair, but he returned to the trio format for the series' most recent installment, a 1998 selection from Follies. …

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