“I sang before I could talk.” – Peggy Lee
“Other babies are crying. Your baby seems to be singing.” – Maternity Ward nurse to Bob Mover, describing his one hour-old daughter Emilie - "Proud Papa" Bob Mover
Ten years after her passing, the elusive and eternal Peggy Lee invites classification only to evade it, simultaneously defines and begs re-definitions of genres, and exerts a lasting, cross-generational influence on the countless jazz and pop and blues and cabaret singers and composers joyously in her thrall. To paraphrase Hemingway, those lucky enough to hear her are inspired for the rest of their lives, for Lee is a moveable feast.
Emilie Mover has been to Lee’s table and come away with dishes that appeal to a refined musical palate. “In her voice.” says Emilie, “you can simultaneously feel youthful optimism, cynical wisdom, the blow of disappointment, the burden of an ever-broken heart, and a sense of humor about it all.”
What I hear in Emilie’s voice are all of those qualities, plus a gentility empowered by what her father, the pre-eminent jazz saxophonist Bob Mover, describes as “fearlessness.” In the studio, he notes, “Emilie is direct about what she wants to get and how to use precious creative energy. She hates over-singing, and Peggy Lee is the antithesis of over-singing.
“But it’s deeper than that,” adds Bob. “We’re talking about kindred spirits. If Peggy were alive today, she would be aware of a huge amount of music. Just like Emilie is. It’s as if Emilie is her spiritual daughter, here to continue what Peggy laid down.”
Bob ought to know. It was in Sacramento, during a cross country road trip that would have sent Kerouac to the Dramamine stash (don’t ask), that he introduced his then-17-year old daughter to Lee. There was an immediate and obvious impact. “What I felt the first time I heard Bird, Emilie felt the first time she heard Peggy,” Bob recalls.
Emilie is eager to acknowledge the breadth and depth of Lee’s influence. “I am a sucker for her phrasing, and most definitely a copycat – in homage. She had the ability to communicate deeply and clearly while steering clear of over-embellishment and over-emoting. I’ve always felt that this understated sensibility was respectful, an indication that she trusted the judgment of the listener to feel their own feelings. I love that lack of manipulation in any music.”
Inspiration is observable but non-quantifiable. Emilie gladly leaves it to the listener to judge just how much of Peggy Lee is on display within the standards and Lee originals (a distinction without a difference, I’d argue) chosen for this collection. How much of this swing and poetry, this wit and humanity derives from Lee? How much from Emilie?
You tell me. Take all the time you need.
“He’s a Tramp,” part of Lee’s score for Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, immediately suggests deep kinship. It isn’t that Emilie sounds like her major influence. Rather, she feels like her. Experience this magic for yourself throughout the CD and especially (to my ears, at least) on “Tramp” and the noir-ish “Black Coffee”, the latter redolent of the “cynical wisdom” so often expressed by Lee.
“Save Your Sorrows for Tomorrow” and “Fine and Dandy” were chosen by Emilie in recognition of Lee’s ability to “somehow take a song that is lyrically pretty kitschy and give it a sense of humor about itself. And yet she maintains a level sincerity about it, and an unabashed if unproven hope that if you CHEER UP! skies really will clear up.”
Bob Mover’s arrangements (co-written with Emilie), introductions, solos, and obbligatos enrich this recording, to which he brings one of the most refined and daring jazz instrumental voices on the planet. Who else but Bob could find the opportunity and summon the chutzpah to insert “Epistrophy” into “It’s a Good Day”? Or masterfully alternate Lestorian understatement (“Where or When”) with a Parker-derived, blues-drenched modernity (“Black Coffee”)?
Invaluable contributions to these proceedings are made by guitarists Joe Cohn (“Linger in My Arms”) and Saul Rubin (“I Don’t Know Enough About You”), pianist Ehud Ashirie (“Where Can I Go Without You?”), and vocalists’ dream (ask Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross) drummer Jimmy Wormworth.
Bob Cranshaw is best known for his nearly five-decade collaboration with Sonny Rollins. But Emilie reminds us that he often accompanied Peggy Lee – an affiliation that proved so felicitous during these sessions.
“I think my dad’s main criteria when judging a song’s quality are feeling and intention. I’m definitely the exact same way,” says Emilie. “If I feel like a song’s intention is to impress me, I won’t be impressed.”
Emilie Mover may not have set out to impress anyone with these sides. But those of us lucky enough to hear her are certain to be impressed and inspired for the rest of our lives.