From Loren Schoenberg's liner notes:
It could be the vowels. Take Blame It On My Youth. At the end of the verse, she sings away and I have never heard an A sung like that before. It amplifies the text, the melody and that ineffable effect Barbara Lea casts every time she sings. The word “you” comes up a dozen or so measures later and there it is again -- the shape of a sound magically wedded to meaning.
It could also be the diction. The t’s, the d's -- all of the sounds that make words distinct from each other are in Lea’s hands (make that mouth) things of great beauty. Never self-conscious, she nonetheless enunciates in a manner that should be the envy of any singer who loves the English language.
But then again, it could very well be the love of melody and words and the commensurate respect for the composers and the lyricists who labored to produce the masterpieces that comprise this collection. Even given that jazz is largely a matter of theme and variations, far too many times the compositional baby has been thrown out with the interpretive bath water. Lea takes liberties to be sure, but they are deserved ones that underline and enhance the composer’s intentions.
The program is also a major consideration. Some of the songs are well known, while the majority are still far from warhorses. In the months spent working on this album, those of us involved in the production heard these selections dozens of times each and I can tell you that Barbara’s interpretations contain a level of subtlety that reveal new facets on each listening.
The arrangers outdid themselves. Chris Madsen, a creative saxophonist/composer just out of Juilliard, had the challenge of setting two Lea originals. Given a recording of just the melody and words -- no harmony -- he more than rose to the challenge with two very different approaches. The other arrangers are all veterans with many recordings to their credit. Mike Christianson’s If I Love Again was written about 7 years ago, while When They Ask About You was done just for this session. Note the great ingenuity Mike reveals in writing for the band sans trumpets (save the solo) and by the canny use of the reeds doubling clarinets. Mark Lopeman, upon hearing the first read-through of Bend A Little My Way, decided to revise it overnight and came up with a gem. One moment to savor is the rising ensemble scale followed by the dissolve into muted brass and a rising bass clarinet right after Barbara sings “please see a few things my way”. Brent Wallarab flew in from Indianapolis to conduct his arrangements and wound up playing on the second date. Blackberry Winter, Blame It On My Youth and How Will I Remember You, above all, fit Barbara like an immaculately tailored dress. The arrangers confronted the challenge of writing on a short deadline with grace and came up smelling like roses, all.
The other big band pieces were ones that we had been performing over the last 26 years. What more can be said than that they were arranged by Benny Carter, Eddie Sauter, and the undersung Spud Murphy? By the way, when we played Restless with Benny Goodman, he was especially smitten with Barbara’s style.
Then there are the small group tunes, mostly duets where I played the piano and Barbara sang. On one we did some overdubbing, and on another, John Eckert, on a tour and unable to make the big band dates, played some of his trademark soulful trumpet, with accompaniment on drums from Ken Kimery.
It must be noted that this album would not have happened without the support in every way imaginable of Jeanie Wilson; indeed the entire project was her idea! As for the big band, I have one thing to say to them - a heartfelt thank you. Every single person playing those nights is equally responsible for the -- dare I say -- magic that occurred. Those familiar with my band since our first recording in 1984 will recognize that many of us have been making music together for a long time. I like to think it sounds that way. Almost all of the performances you are hearing are first or second takes. If I were to single one player out above the others it would be unfair. Most of their names should be familiar to you, and the ones that aren’t yet by virtue of their young age will soon join their elders in the ranks of New York’s first call players.
Oh yes, it could also be this - I love Barbara Lea.