Liner Notes By Doug Ramsey -
Patty Cronheim’s determination comes wrapped in a petite five-foot-two-inch package of toughness, humor and a sense of wonder. Since she was a little girl, she has had music in her bones. It took her a few years to shape it into the sounds she heard inside and put a band together. Now, she’s getting her music out into the world.
Patty grew up on the New Jersey shore. When she was eight, she was on an outing in the family car with her parents, brother and two sisters. They were singing together, as they often did. To the surprise of her mother and father, she broke into harmony. It had never happened before. She’s not sure where it came from.
“My dad practically stopped the car,” she said. “They turned around and it was, ‘Oh, my god, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m just singing.’ To them, it was like I’d hung the moon. I just did it.”
Just doing it seems to be the Cronheim way. She just goes down to the Jersey shore to pursue a favorite pastime of her childhood, swimming in the Atlantic. The bigger the waves, the better, even if they are powered by a storm.
“The lifeguards know me. They trust I’m not going to panic. We had those big hurricanes on the East Coast last summer, and I was out in them with fins. You try to take a wave, but sometimes it takes you. A couple of times, I’ve had them take me. Then, you drag yourself up on the beach and collapse and say, ‘Okay, I’m done.’ It’s not something I recommend, but I love it. The ocean takes me to a place of surrender, of letting go. The waves may be big, but once you get out past the chop, it’s really pretty mellow.”
Patty has negotiated a significant amount of chop. She is past it and she’s mellow—in her dynamic way. She put hard work and study into developing her singing career amidst demanding circumstances. She has a masters degree in science from Columbia University, in nutrition and exercise physiology. A divorced mother, she raised two children alone while working as an eating disorder therapist and continuing to write music. “It’s simpler now,” she said, “all good.” The goodness includes her happy new marriage, “to a nice, calm guy.”
Patty’s composing grew out of the piano study she began as a girl. It got a big shot of inspiration in the 1970s when she belonged to one of those mail-order record clubs that relentlessly kept LPs coming unless you returned the “don’t send” card. She listened to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Muddy Waters, whoever showed up in the Cronheim mailbox.
“I think I was the only 10-year-old girl in white suburbia listening to John Lee Hooker albums,” she said. “So, I’m a little kid hearing these wonderful blues, not to mention all the pop music. I’m saying, ‘Wow, this is great stuff.’ It was an incredibly eclectic education.”
Patty sang professionally. She was in an a cappella group that, among other appearances, opened for a Ray Charles concert and sang one of her original songs on NBC’s Jane Pauley Show. Shortly after the beginning of the new century, she decided to concentrate on jazz. She began sitting in on open-mike nights, playing when she could, developing arrangements, studying theory books, teaching herself to use Sibelius, the music notation software. “I started out knowing nothing,” she said, “and learned more from my mistakes than by having someone explain it.”
A turning point came in 2003 when Patty wrote Tony Branker, conductor of jazz ensembles at Princeton University, requesting an audition. Branker liked what he heard and included her in the first of several concerts she has sung there. Branker became a source of support and encouragement. He is the producer of this CD. The Princeton connection brought Patty in contact with young musicians she recruited for her first band. Having polished her skills, rehearsed her band and broken in with casual engagements, Patty and her musicians auditioned in 2006 for a large Philadelphia agency that books bands for weddings, bar mitzvahs an private parties. They passed the test. The agency gave her a lot of work.
“I was paying my dues,” Patty said. “I was learning how to get comfortable on stage; work with players and clients who were easy, difficult and all things in between. But it usually worked out very well.”
After a few years of intense, often demanding, experience on the party circuit, Patty moved to a new level. She wanted to do her own music and she wanted it to be jazz. She sang in Princeton restaurants, played festivals, appeared at the Cornelia Street Café in Manhattan, did private gigs—all the while honing her performing and writing skills and readying herself to make a record.
“The reason I wanted to do a CD in the first place was to be able to use it as a business card,” she said. “And then as I got involved with doing it and started writing more and more, it became something different, so much more about the music, and I just fell in love with the whole process.”
All but three of the songs here are Patty’s. Her compositions and her earthy vocal style reflect her experience and her passions. She says she doesn’t speak Portuguese well, but as we hear in “Estando Aqui,” she can sing it as if she had written it. In this case, she did, with a Brazilian friend of her daughter Brynnah. “We sat on a bench, and I said, ‘This is what the song’s about,’ and we wrote it in Portuguese. It’s about, ‘Here I am and I’m grateful to be here with you.’ The literal translation of ‘nunca quero, esquecer teu sabor’ is “I never want to forget your flavor’– a phrase that prompted the boys in my band to want to move to Brazil.”
Patty reports that Brynnah is slightly miffed that this CD has two songs about dogs, but her mother has yet to write one about her. The heroine of “Stella by Sunlight” is the family golden retriever. “Stella is a dear old dog who was recovering from cancer,” Patty said. “She’s fine now.”
According to Patty, “Don’t Work Anymore” is “pretty much the opposite of ‘Stella.’ It’s about those times when your own thoughts drive you crazy. Recognize what isn’t working and move on – however indelicately.”
Patty and her dad used to watch television specials about George Gershwin.
“I was once stunned as he sat crying and wondering what else Gershwin might have written had he lived longer. It was the only time I saw my dad cry. I’ve sung ‘Summertime’ since I was a little kid. I think it’s part of my DNA.
“For the CD, I was looking for a Stevie Wonder song to cover, and my husband, who has the tendency to say, ‘Take that song and jazz it up’ and whom I usually ignore, calmly said to me one night, ‘Of course, you want to do ‘Superstition’. He may have even said, ‘Duh.’ I‘m glad I listened. I gave the idea to my drummer, Corey Rawls, and a year later he came up with the arrangement—two weeks before we went into the studio. I was thrilled!”
Patty wrote “Doggone Blues” in the kitchen while trying to control dear old Stella. “I really do have one of the most incorrigible dogs on the planet. This is about my dogs Stella and Sally and every dog (or man, really) that's ever given me a hard time. The song is a lot of fun to do live. I never want to be accused of taking myself too seriously.”
“I Feel the Heat” is a confession, but not a full one. Patty explains that it has to do with “feeling the chemistry like a charge between you but not acting on it. Either it’s inappropriate or forbidden or just awkward. But, the heat is still there. I guess writing a song about these feelings is a lot safer in the long run, and maybe a lot hotter, than seeing it through. For the record, I’ll never tell who.”
“Made For Love” is a love song to her husband. She says, “I kinda owed him after the last one, don’t you think? I tried to distill what made me fall in love with him and what keeps me there.”
Patty started “Days Like These” many years ago, but put it aside until she was old enough to understand what it was about. She says that is “the strength and courage to choose love even though it may hurt. Anyone who’s ever been estranged, or loved and lost, knows what I’m talking about. There may be a little hope. And even if there’s not, you’d choose all over again to love and be the kind of person who’s not afraid to love. It’s the days like these that we have to dig deep to get through and find joy in.”
“Bye Bye Blackbird” closes the CD, as it closes Patty’s live performances. “We play it at the end of shows, introduce the band and sign off,” she said. ‘I’ll be home late tonight.’ Isn’t that the truth… when the equipment is put away and the lights are off, home is the sweetest thing.”
That’s a comforting thought…in days like these.
- Doug Ramsey is a winner of the Jazz Journalists Association Lifetime Achievement Award. His books include the award-winning Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. He blogs about jazz and other matters at www.dougramsey.com