Souvenir Of You - New Lyrics to Benny Carter Classics, the debut release from multitalented vocalist/lyricist Deborah Pearl is a remarkable musical memento that’s been two lifetimes in the making! The brilliant instrumental melodies of multiple Grammy-winning jazz legend Benny Carter have been given voice through the lyrics and singing of Ms. Pearl, whose deep friendship with Carter and his beloved wife Hilma served as inspiration to this truly wondrous work. Pearl hopes this recording, a real labor of love, will bring to today’s jazz singers and their audiences the musical genius of this bandleader, composer/arranger, saxophone and trumpet soloist, whose artistry created a template for the Swing Era and beyond, in a career that spanned a staggering eight decades. Ms. Pearl, a talent with abilities nearly as broad as Mr. Carter’s himself, finally brings her long recognized excellence as a singer into the spotlight, having been diverted by her success as a tv and screenwriter (Designing Women, Waiting For Yvette) and playwright (Incomplete Strangers, About Sex). The result is a refreshing new sound that is simultaneously novel and mature, filled with artistry, wisdom and wonder.
As a child, Pearl loved to perform by lip-syncing to jazz great Dakota Staton. Her youthful turn in pop, club and jingle singing - jazzing and blusing it up - all prepared her for this project. Carter himself told Pearl that “she could be a jazz singer” and “has a phenomenal range” more than a decade ago after attending her critically acclaimed one-woman show, Chick Singers, in which she portrayed eight different female vocalists, from classical and country western to jazz and blues. Reviewers agreed, from Backstage West ”superbly written and performed” to “Pearl could have a career just as an accomplished jazz singer.” to LA Weekly’s “blessed with a wonderful alto voice” to LA Times’ “Pearl saves the best for last, performing songs as herself.” Two years ago, Carter’s widow asked Pearl to evaluate an unsolicited lyric sent to her for Benny’s beautiful “People Time.” That neither was impressed was fortuitous - they decided Pearl would put her writing skills to work on the composer’s music. In the words of Carter’s biographer, Ed Berger (whose encyclopedic knowledge of all things Benny Carter gave Pearl much insight), “Deborah Pearl's longtime friendship with Benny and Hilma Carter has given her a deep appreciation of Benny Carter, the man, and special insights into his music. She is the ideal person to put lyrics to these quintessential Carter melodic masterpieces and to perform them with the sensitivity and understanding they deserve.” As you’re about to hear…
The cd gets off to a swinging start with the great Carter himself, LIVE!, leading his Big Band and the Rutgers University Orchestra on “Happy Feet” from his MusicMasters Harlem Renaissance recording. Pearl jumps in singing her hip lyric “Happy Feet (At The Savoy),” a nod to the amazing dancing at the legendary Harlem Ballroom (where Benny first met Hilma back in 1939). From there the vocalist and her trio -- pianist Lou Forestieri, bassist Kenny Wild and drummer Jimmy Branly – mesh seamlessly with Carter and the orchestra, trading off instrumental and vocal sections. Pearl opens with “Dancin’ to the beat that’s on the street/Kickin’ to the beat with happy feet,” later rhythmically fulfilling Carter’s prophetic vision of her abilities as a jazz singer with a scorching scat chorus, followed by Carter’s own solo with the orchestra with Pearl doubling the altoist’s line on the final chorus, followed by Forestieri’s piano solo that returns the trio to backing the singer before she takes things out with the full orchestra.
Pearl’s imaginative words to Carter’s joyously lilting melody “Wonderland (Isle Of Love),” finds her full bodied voice conjuring images of the composer’s first meeting with Hilma and the exhilaration of love at first sight. Her ability to craft a vivid story to a nimble melody shines here as she sings “What a stumble/Happy tumbling in love with you/You’re a wonder/And a spell that I fell under too/Every time I lose a mile/Think of you and I’m beguiled/Fate has finally forced my hand/Stranded me in wonderland.”
Carter’s popular “People Time” (previously recorded by Stan Getz, Phil Woods, J. J. Johnson, Joe Wilder, and Roberta Gambarini with Hank Jones) is finally given the words its beautiful melody has so long cried for. Pearl’s warm, rich vocal enhances the emotional rendering of her lyric, which speaks to the Carters’ private unrequited love that endured through three decades between falling in love and their eventual marriage. First recorded beautifully by Grace Kelly with Phil Woods on their new Man With A Hat cd, it’s both melancholy and joyous, with lyrics Kelly calls “beautiful, philosophical, and deep,” telling a satisfying story of the timeless exultation of love.
“Doozy Blues” is a witty account of love and cell phones in the 21st Century, with Pearl rocking clever lines like “I’ll make your passion ring ding-a-ling/A swingin’ ringtone that your heart can sing” and “Pick up your text and text me the rest.” Reminiscent of Annie Ross’ ”Twisted,” another melody written for horns sung with speed and dexterity, this tune is sure to be a crowd pleaser - and hopefully a ringtone!
Pearl’s “Sunday Morning Comes,” a second selection from Carter’s Harlem Renaissance, (her days as a Barnard College coed were spent a subway stop away), is about love’s ability to get us through anything. She dismisses life’s challenges with, “Don’t care what a new day may bring/As long as I’ve got one single thing/My one day break from time/Work and all the grind/Sunday morning comes/Easing my weary mind,” ending romantically with “Sunday morning comes whenever I’m with you.”
“Scattin’ Back To Harlem (aka Sugar Hill Slow Drag),” also from the Harlem Renaissance suite is a bluesy outing with Pearl’s words speaking of music’s power to unite people in a universal “cool state of mind” that’s uniquely jazz. A power, she says, that’s in us. “Anywhere is Harlem, it’s just a cool state of mind/Everywhere is Harlem, tunes are the ties that will bind/ Harlem’s in you, and you can go anytime.”
Bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Dave Karasony join Forestieri in the trio for “Again and Again (I Try To Pretend),” a captivating Carter melody, somewhat reminiscent of Victor Young’s classic “Beautiful Love,” complemented superbly by Pearl’s melancholic lyric, “Again and again I try to pretend/And ask myself when your memories will end.” Filled with octave leaps and rich low tones, Pearl’s voice dips and soars like a saxophone in this emotionally full performance.
“Anniversary Dance (Song of Long Ago)” is an enchanting Carter tune in 3/4 time (his "Waltzing the Blues" was one of the very first jazz waltzes), from the altoist’s Japanese inspired Tales of the Rising Sun Suite. The track again features Carter with his Big Band and the Rutgers University Orchestra, opening with Pearl warmly intoning her Great American Songbook styled lyric alone with Forestieri’s expressive piano, then segues movingly into Carter’s sumptuous saxophone solo backed by the orchestra, before the singer steps out front with the big band for a rousing finish. “Our love rights any wrong/Love’s a dance that lives on/You and me together, happily forever/In love’s ever-after song.” And a song you could easily hear replacing the standard “Anniversary Waltz” at those occasions.
Not even the exhaustive research of Ed Berger could turn up the identity of Carter’s “Johnny True”. With no clues, Pearl instead found inspiration in the composition’s melodic longing, and the name’s historic civil war reference, leading her to “honoring the wives, mothers and families of servicemen who wait for their loved ones to return home,” which she sings with touching poignancy.
In “Sail Away With Me” aka “Sirius Samba,” written by Carter for the award winning Faith Hubley animated film Journey To Next (one his countless scores for the silver screen), Pearl blissfully sweeps us away to a tropical vacation. The trio, propelled by Karasony’s driving Brazilian rhythms, stretches out with the singer, whose overdubbed backing vocals emphasize the song’s carefree feel.
“An Elegy In Blue,” title track of Carter’s 1994 MusicMasters album, was written to memorialize the composer’s late friend from Japan, Dr. Kiyoshi Makita, founding president of the Pacific Rim College of Psychiatrists. Pearl sings with convincing sorrow about the death of a friend who always looks on the bright side and always gets you through, but now is gone. Her vocal stings with emotion and irony as she sings, “You’d raise your glass and say/Be sad another day/Play me an elegy in blue.”
The mood returns to joyous on “Sky Dance For Two,” from Carter’s critically acclaimed Central City Sketches cd with the American Jazz Orchestra. Here Pearl finds the inspiration for her delightful lyric in the idyllic reunion of Benny and Hilma, singing exultantly “that love puts wings on your shoes.” Ever true to her source, Pearl borrows the horn line from Carter’s arrangement and scats it with the piano.
Carter composed the title track, “Souvenir Of You,” upon hearing of the passing of his friend, fellow altoist Johnny Hodges and played the moving melody throughout his career in memory of departed musical colleagues. Here Pearl addresses her dear deceased friend with gratitude and grace, ending the cd with wise words that honor the man and his enormous contribution: “Time takes our verses away/But melodies live on/Forever playing your song/At heaven’s door/ And here, a souvenir of you.”
A touching tribute to one of the greatest jazzmen to ever live, Deborah Pearl brings to life the incomparable melodies of Benny Carter on Souvenir Of You, singing and swinging lyrics inspired by the man and his music. She says, “We hope Benny’s music will play on for decades to come.” Now with her words, it will sing on, too.