Although she has been playing piano since she was barely large enough to reach the pedals, Janice Friedman continues to seek out and conquer new musical challenges at every turn. On her new release, “Swingin’ for the Ride” (on Janika Musik) the acclaimed pianist, songwriter and arranger has for the first time put lyrics to her music, performing as a vocalist as well as keyboardist on a collection that includes five originals interspersed with such timeless songs as “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “Summertime,” “Don’t Blame Me,” and “Is You Is.”
“I have always been a closet vocalist,” confesses Janice. “To me, knowing the words was necessary to my understanding the phrasing, melody and mood of a song. In the privacy of my home I would not only sing the songs, but I would also sing along with my piano improvisations, believing it would help me be honest about what I was playing. Who knew that while I was working out at the piano, I was actually developing a vocal style? I really didn’t realize this until my husband, David, heard me singing and playing. His enthusiasm was the encouragement I needed to allow me to hop out of the closet to do both.”
Coming out of vocal hiding seems to suit Janice. “Swingin’ for the Ride,” is a lively, joyous effort, recorded in a one day session in primarily a trio setting. She’s joined by Sean Conly (Ray Barretto, Marian McPartland, Michael Franks) on bass and Diego Voglino (Josh Roseman Unit, Marshall Crenshaw) on drums, with special guest percussionist Daniel Sadownick (Dewey Redman, Julian Coryell, Meshell Ndegeocello, Nelson Rangell) on several tracks.
Janice’s CD opens with its title track, an optimistic original that sets the stage for the “swingin’” music ahead. “This song captures my belief in the magic of this world that we too often take for granted. As a musician I believe it is my job to help people feel connected and to experience the fun, love and joy that is out there for all of us.” She continues to spice it up with the familiar tune “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” done in an upbeat, swing groove before switching emotional lanes to the complex, melancholy “A Fairytale.” In an off-beat Brazilian mode, she composes a tune that captures the reality of coming to terms with the end of a relationship. Though it may share a similar theme you can feel that the drama is all tongue in cheek in the breezy version of Billy Austin and Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is.”
Recently married, Janice can’t keep her good spirits at bay for long. “I used to say that a solid heart aching break was the best impetus for composing a bunch of tunes. Now I see the other side, where this lovely relationship has borne at least as many tunes and I know there’s many more to come.” The lively “You ‘n’ Me,” is a prime example of that new partnership – the melody was composed by Janice while the lyrics were written by her husband, David.
A last minute decision to record “Don’t Blame Me” as a ballad captured a take that is pure, spontaneous emotion. It’s followed by the easy, breezy “A Day in the Life of a Fool” which Janice performs frequently in her live shows. The casual vibe of that song is echoed in her cheerful yet passionate original “The I Do Song,” another tune dedicated to the surprise and joy of finding a wonderful partner. “I hope this tune gets played for lots more happy couples,” laughs Janice. “In fact, I hope that joy is brought to everyone that listens to this CD.”
Janice proceeds to create a funky, Latin “Summertime,” made fresh by harmonic changes that give this ever-popular tune a completely different twist. Staying south of the border, she combines soft vocals with sparkling keyboard on Jobim’s lovely, romantic “Meditation.” The atmosphere evolves from child-like wistfulness through foreboding to take-charge confidence on the Hart/Rogers standard “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” before the CD draws to a close with her own “Seems Like a Dream.” “I wrote the melody back in 1996, during a snowstorm that closed Manhattan to traffic. It was a day unlike any other I’d ever experienced in our city - so absolutely quiet and beautiful. People were skiing down Broadway and having a ball. I was in my home watching the snow fall as I wrote this tune. When I sat down to write the lyric ten years later, it was just so easy to put myself back into that day.”
Born in the Bronx, Janice Friedman was raised in a creative, hard-working household. Her mother was and is a talented pianist. Both parents exposed Janice to jazz when she was still small enough to sit under the piano. The stereo would be playing the likes of Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, Marian McPartland, Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal. Before even entering kindergarten, Janice was figuring out not only her favorite children\'s songs, but also her favorite standards. She began taking formal piano lessons, and by first grade, she was being called on to play for nearly every school event. By fifth grade, she was studying classical piano and racking up academic awards and trophies. Earning international rankings from the Music Education Council for a couple of years in a row brought her to the stage of Carnegie Recital Hall. In junior high she began to officially study jazz piano at the same time as she started teaching - about 12 years of age. She has continued to teach both privately and at Rutgers University, where she’s been on the faculty since 1993. Of course, as she says, “You never stop studying music.”
Janice’s professional career also began when she was still in junior high school, playing solo piano at private parties, backing up vocalists at demo sessions, working as the music director at summer camps, and even playing with a rock band. She went on to earn a degree with honors in Jazz Studies from Indiana University, where she continued to gain work experience and expand her repertoire. She has taken on all sorts of musical jobs, from playing solo piano, performing in big bands, and has even played some gigs as a keyboard bassist. Her first “real” jazz gig, however, was with the great trombonist, Slide Hampton when not quite out of her teen years. Since returning to New York in the early 80’s she has worked consistently, from steady gigs at the well known Village club Arthur’s Tavern, to touring with the Woody Herman Orchestra, to playing at Carnegie Hall. In fact, Janice has presented her music in just about every state of the union and practically every country around the world. She has performed and/or recorded with such renowned players as Milt Hinton, Cab Calloway, Billy Higgins, Warren Vache, and Marian McPartland, just to name a few.. With a myriad of recording credits to her name as a side person/accompanist, Janice is known for her supportiveness, sensitivity and skill. She has recorded two previous CDs as a leader, “Tryptich: A Trio of Trios” with the Janice Friedman Trio, and “Finger Paintings,” with the Janice Friedman Quartet featuring Claudio Roditi.
On “Swingin’ for the Ride,” Janice establishes a sound that is definitely her own, but which also bears the mark of her varied musical influences. You can hear the joy of Errol Garner in her playing, and the desire for a beautiful sound and introspection being coaxed from the piano from years of listening to and appreciating Bill Evans. There’s also the air and space and dynamics from Ahmad Jamal and Miles Davis, and the strong bebop knowledge and bluesiness coming out of Wynton Kelley and Red Garland – “They loved playing for the groove and so do I.” She cites the likes of Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington, Mose Allison, and Bob Dorough as just a few from the long list of vocalists she admires. However, both her vocal and keyboard styles are creative and unique – a natural extension of years of experience, expressed with honesty and depth. With the release of her third CD,”Swingin’ for the Ride,” Janice has succeeded in defining herself, no longer by association or influence, but by a joyful, playful approach to balance her impressive talent.
Reviews from Official sources:
Midwestrecord.com, February 7,2007:
JANICE FRIEDMAN TRIO/Swingin’ for the Ride: \"Friedman...has a great resume, played with everyone bla bla bla. Long story short, why do we like her? (She)doesn’t bog you down with all the hype about “influenced by”… “in the tradition of”…and all the other hoo hah that tell you the act has nothing on the ball. Friedman isn’t derivative, isn’t imitative. She just plays it from the heart without sounding the slightest bit like a joker. On top of that, she does it without being too hip for the room. A really cool set by a piano ace that goes the extra mile without breaking a sweat.\"
Alex Pijnen at BRTO Radio, February 12, 2007 Feedback on Janice Friedman \"Swingin\' for the Ride\":
\"Fantastic Album. Great stuff for our Radio Station.\"