Review...Bebopified March 30 2011
JoAnn Funk doesn’t sing a song as much as she whispers it in your ear. Sometimes her voice is silky and warm; sometimes it’s hot; sometimes it tickles. She’s part Blossom Dearie, part Dusty Springfield, a bit Nellie McKay, a hint of Norah Jones, a dash of Stacey Kent, a splash of Diana Krall (like a smoky Scotch on ice), yet somehow all those references to other singers with breathy voices fade the more you listen to JoAnn.
At first you can’t help wondering, “Who does she sound like?” and then you realize—she sounds like herself. It’s what we want from every singer.
Her new CD, Pick Yourself Up, is only her third, after Holidays (2000) and Solo Piano (2003). Her singing has changed since Holidays, which is mostly instrumental, though we get a hint of what’s to come with “Let It Snow!
Since 2008, she and bassist Jeff Brueske have had a regular weekend gig at the elegant Lobby Bar in the historic Saint Paul Hotel. In her liner notes, she thanks the hotel staff for “giving us a chance to incubate jazz in the Lobby Bar, where so many of these arrangements originated.” Good things can happen when artists have the chance to play together in the same place for a long period of time.
Pick Yourself Up is a mix of familiar standards (the title track, “Girl from Ipanema,” “If I Had You,” “Two Sleepy People”) and songs heard less often. The Gershwins’ “He Loves She Loves” (also covered by Stacey Kent, whose version is more straightforward) features deep, rich arco notes on Brueske’s bass and soft brushes from Nathan Norman, whose sensitive, expressive drums throughout make this a trio recording.
Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” was done a few years back by Madeleine Peyroux; JoAnn’s version is more inventive and seems truer to the spirit of Cohen’s original, while not sounding at all like it. Her musical pas de deux with trumpeter Greg Lewis (in his only appearance on the CD) is playful and unexpected.
Like many women jazz singers, JoAnn accompanies herself on the piano, and you realize as you listen to Pick Yourself Up how nice that must be for a singer, how ideal, to have a piano player who gives you exactly what you want.
“If I Had You” begins as a spare, sensuous bass-and-voice duet; when JoAnn adds piano (at around 1:15), it’s delicate and understated. She sings Jobim’s “Triste” in Portuguese, planting one foot firmly in the Brazilian tradition of spacious, relaxed singing, then lets her piano lead. Jeff and Nathan both shine. "Triste" is the CD's longest track and it’s delightful.
The arrangements are out-of-the-ordinary; all are by JoAnn. “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me” experiments with rhythms before settling into an easy swing. (Although, once you’ve heard it, you can detect the melody in Norman’s opening drums.) “What Is There to Say” begins with a bit of arco bass before turning into a song of pure bliss (“The dream I’ve been seeking has, practically speaking, come true… I knew in a moment contentment and home meant just you”).
In a nod to Dearie (and probably Maurice Chevalier as well), JoAnn delivers a sassy, upbeat “Moonlight Saving Time.” Hoagy Carmichael’s “Two Sleepy People” is the perfect ending, especially if you listen to Pick Yourself Up late at night, which I highly recommend
Review KDUZ radio April 3 2011
Brand new to the program JoAnn Funk is a jazz vocalist out of the Twin Cities area that brings a voice that's unique.
On her latest album "Pick yourself up", she brings her soft, sultry pipes to the music...emphasizing the notes and lyrics beautifully. The song "Dance me to the end of love", dances her words with well arranged instrumentals from Jeff Brueske, Nathan Norman, and Greg Lewis. A romantic feel is felt all over the album...songs like "When I grow too old to dream", "If I had you", and "Moonlight saving time" all make you feel like it's 11 pm and sitting in the front row at the jazz club she's playing that night.
Overall a very nice listen, one you could listen to for hours!
Review Jazz Police March 28 2011
When does a hotel piano bar become a jazz venue? When the talent belongs to musicians who not only soothe bar patrons with refined artistry, but at the same time can engage jazz cognescenti with their interpretive skills and serious repertoire. Pianist/vocalist JoAnn Funk effectively crosses that line every weekend in the Lobby Bar of the venerable St Paul Hotel in downtown St. Paul, usually in the company of bassist Jeff Brueske, and sometimes with the added pulse of drummer Nathan Norman. Now the trio brings their combination of sultry and sublime out of bar and into the living room, or wherever one prefers to unwind, with the release of Pick Yourself Up, to be celebrated—where else? – in the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel on Saturday, April 2nd.
Long familiar to Twin Cities happy hour and weekend audiences, JoAnn Funk melds her classical training (degree from UW-Madison) and jazz studies (with David Hazeltine and Joan Wildman) to the keyboard and microphone. She toured as a staff musician on the SS Norway after college graduation, then relocated to St. Paul where she has performed in solo, duo and trio formats, with long-term gigs at Orion Room, Dakota, Radisson Hotels (St Paul and University), Wayzata Country Club, and Zander Café in addition to the St Paul Hotel’s Lobby Bar. She’s also in demand as a performer for corporate and private events, casinos, concerts and festivals. Always a pianist, JoAnn began adding vocals to her performances about ten years ago, recognizing the charms of mixing piano and voice. Drawing influences from the likes of Blossom Dearie, Diana Krall and Norah Jones, JoAnn has evolved her own vocal style, to which she adds her own arrangements and a growing repertoire of beloved and less familiar, often quirky songs from the diverse books of Dearie, Krall, Jones, Nat King Cole, Otis Redding, Bob Dorough, Tony Bennett, Patsy Cline, Leonard Cohen and Boz Scaggs.
Teacher, composer and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Brueske brings his bass chops to the Lobby Bar weekly, as well as working with Sidewalk Café, the Willie August Project and more. After completing a masters in guitar performance and pedagogy, he was inspired to take up the double bass by listening to jazz greats such as Charles Mingus and Charlie Haden. A former student of Anthony Cox, Dennis Irwin and Rodney Whitaker, Jeff has played with Connie Evingson, Laura Caviani, Tanner Taylor, the late Bobby Peterson, David Roos, Reynold Philipsek, and Rhonda Laurie.
Washington, DC native Nathan Norman earned a Bachelor of Music from the Eastman School of Music and studied with the Percussion Group Cincinnati at the University of Cincinnati. After teaching at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts back in Washington, he relocated to the Twin Cities in 1988 where he has performed extensively with area artists, including vocalists Debbie Duncan, Connie Evingson and Charmin Michelle. He’s also played and recorded with Bill Banfield, Nancy Bierma, Robert Huntley and more.
Trumpeter Greg Lewis has played with the Cedar Avenue Big Band, Alloy Brass and many other ensembles over his 30-year career. He's recorded with Fog on trumpet and French horn, and sometimes pulls out the pocket trumpet. An active jazz educator in the Twin Cities, Greg recently performed in Antonello Hall with two of the MacPhail ensembles celebrating the works of Charles Mingus.
Pick Yourself Up
While the 11 tracks of Pick Yourself Up come right out of the Lobby Bar set list, JoAnn reshaped each arrangement for her third recording. “Some songs are just marvelously enhanced by adding Nathan,” notes JoAnn, “and some, like ‘Dance Me to The End of Love’ [with guest trumpeter Greg Lewis] became something quite new, which was great to see. It's kind of cool because I really like the sound of the piano and bass on ‘If I Had You’ that would be what Jeff and I usually sound like. And then Nathan fits in so beautifully on the other tunes.” Source material runs the gamut from stage and radio classics from Gershwin, Kern and Carmichael, to Brazilian standards from Jobim to the songbooks of Nat King Cole, Diana Krall, Blossom Dearie and Leonard Cohen. And yes, you have probably heard many of these in the Lobby Bar, but the added percussion, and some new twists in arrangement, give the set a new feel, maybe more cabaret, and in some cases, definitely more daring.
The title track provides an enticing opening, one of several Nat King Cole hits included in the CD. JoAnn’s choice of somewhat dissonant voicings provides keyboard character, and the assertive percussion accentuates the stutter-stop rhythm, giving it plenty of “pop.” It’s also a perfect introduction to JoAnn Funk, vocalist, who brings a sultry girlish charm to the lyrics. Her light-as-air interpretation breezes through another Cole favorite, “When I Grow Too Old to Dream,” although the instrumental component really shines here, particularly Jeff Brueske’s swinging bass. And it’s Brueske’s solo intro and accompaniment that gild the duet track, “If I Had You,” with JoAnn vocally at her most coquettish, instrumentally at her most delicate.
The two Jobim tracks offer engaging interpretations, with “The Girl From Ipanema” reminding me most of Mina Agossi in JoAnn’s reimagining of phrasing that risks an X-rating; “Triste” (sung in Portuguese) is a soft envelope that wraps the listener in a tropical sunset. Bass and percussion work well together to ensure authenticity of Brazilian rhythm.
Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” is a centerpiece, featuring a marvelous duel between JoAnn and Jeff, dark and sinewy accents from Greg Lewis’s swampy trumpet, and the rhythmic, clicky sways of Nathan Norman. It’s definitely not a piano bar arrangement! (A hit for Madeleine Peyroux a few years back, this version has a lot more bite. )
It would not be JoAnn Funk gig without some Blossom Dearie, and the choice here is surely one of the most delightful—“There Ought to Be a Moonlight Savings Time,” full of swing all around, some particularly catchy breaks from Norman, and JoAnn’s sweet and playful vocals. It’s a voice that easily slides into sultry reverie to close the set with Hoagy Carmichael’s “Two Sleepy People.”
It’s a fine “good night.”