Left Coast Story
“Left Coast” has several connotations. It is used in reference to politics, to weather, and to location on a printed map, among other things. But for the many loyal fans of Jennifer Leitham, this Left Coast Story is the long-awaited result of several requests for her versions of music from West Side Story to be available on a CD. It is a “Left Coast Story” because the disc was recorded in southern California by L.A. musicians, and the leader of the trio plays the bass left-handed. “Left Coast” also implies unconventionality, and that’s the real story on this disc! This is not a “standard” jazz trio album.
Take for example, the solo bass version of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” Jennifer makes the bass sound as though the bass viol was originally intended to be a solo instrument, to be handled more like a guitar than the giant time keeper and low voice it usually is. Her rendition of this jazzy pop tune is pyrotechnical, compelling, and contemporary, as she plays melody and rhythm. She plays great throughout the disc, but this piece demonstrates clearly why noted jazz critic Leonard Feather called her “the left-handed virtuoso of the upright bass.”
Another unconventional treat on this recording is the presence of Richard Greene on violin and John Chiodini on the dobro-mandolin. Greene pioneered (with mandolinist David Grisman) a style of music called “New Grass,” a blend of jazz and bluegrass, among other styles. Jennifer’s original “Studio City Stomp” works well in this treatment. It includes Jennifer performing a kind of Slam Stewart-like vocal-and-bass solo in addition to singing the offbeat melody. The vocals on this are not unexpected as Jennifer did some swinging vocals on her previous disc. She’s already proven she can deliver a fast-paced, tongue-twisting lyric, but it is always fun to hear her do it!
What are unexpected are her vocal ballads, “Blame it On My Youth” and “Detour Ahead.” Jennifer shows off some impressive phrasing and control, as well as catching the poignancy of the lyrics.
Really pushing the boundaries is “Ghost.” It was written by Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls fame. Jennifer fits comfortably into the country folk vocal style, which, I admit, took me completely by surprise! It also features Greene again on violin, with Chiodini on guitar, and subtle back-up vocals by Ginger Berglund and Jane Brucker.
Some words should be said about pianist Josh Nelson and drummer Randy Drake. They follow Jennifer effortlessly through her eclectic journey, accenting, enhancing, and dazzling along the way. Listen to what Randy is doing throughout “Dreamsville.” Very tricky! And Josh has impeccable technique, changing rhythms and tempos seemingly with ease, playing unexpected harmonies, and swinging all the way. I LOVE what he plays on “Something’s Coming.”
Jennifer’s passionate commitment to her music and her vivacity of spirit make her popular with her audiences and give her the freedom to explore her range of talents (composer, arranger, bassist, singer, lyricist) in a variety of styles. This remarkable CD is yet another chapter in Jennifer’s ongoing Left Coast Story!
When I first heard Jennifer play I was astonished. Could it be?
A bassist that understood how the instrument should be played,
rhythmically powerful and harmonically beautiful. A stunning virtuoso soloist!
Week after week I would go to her performances in Southern California to
experience this sound again and be sure it was real. I was drawn to
this talent. On one occasion another bassist I knew was in attendance and we spoke. He said “have you ever heard anything like that?”. My feeling exactly!
In time I got to know her and we became friends and had many conversations. She is an extraordinary person and musician and I hope to always be able to listen to her and be supportive of her creative endeavors.
Dave “BEDROCK” Bedrosian
This project is the result of a friend and fan coming forward and making it happen. Bedrock has been coming to hear us play for years and has always asked when we would be recording my “West Side Story” trilogy. He’s not the only one!!! All of these tunes have been requested by my fans. I’m overjoyed to be able to finally record them!
I’m gratified and overwhelmed at the response to my previous CD, “The Real Me” and I hope we’ve been able to improve our sensibilities even more on this CD.
My trio and I have been performing these tunes for a number of years, I’m grateful to Randy and Josh for their brilliant interpretations of my arrangements and their patience as we climb the ladder of public recognition.
The last tune, “Ghost”, written by Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, was my own request. It may not be of the Jazz vernacular but it is a tune with deep meaning for me. As with my “Newgrass” rendition of “The Studio City Stomp”, I hope our Jazz world fans will listen with open minds.
For the most part they’ve been keeping my mind open the last few years. Thanks to all who’ve been part of my “Left Coast Story”!