I fell in love with Marc Pompe the first moment I heard him. I was a teenager, just starting to play gigs, when a mutual friend, the great pianist Pat Manago, brought me to a club to meet Marc and hear for myself what a real jazz singer/pianist was “supposed to sound like.” It was just some little Chicago suburban bar, but to me, it was as though I’d walked into Jazz at the Philharmonic. I sat mesmerized as Marc sang and played a variety of wildly inventive jazz standards, and then ended the set with a scorching ballad I hadn’t heard before—“My One and Only Love.” That did it. At that moment I became a star struck fan, just like I am now, years later. Whether I’m listening to his recordings or playing piano for him, I am always star struck by Marc Pompe.
Since that first encounter, I have watched with awe and pleasure as Marc continues to develop and expand his skills as an ever-evolving singer, pianist, songwriter and performer. Marc has become more than just a song stylist with an intensely appealing voice who can swing standards and sing jazz tunes: he is a bebop-driven vocal interpreter of the kinds of expert melody lines and harmonic phrasing that a great saxophonist would create. When Marc scats solo choruses, those solos are transcribable works of art for any instrument.
And yet he is also one of the most contemplative and compassionate musicians I know. His warm and intense interpretation of ballads offers an up-close and personal look into his innermost thoughts and feelings. With his powerfully beautiful voice and expressive sound, Marc is a master of conveying the most tender emotions, joyful or sad, with quietly smoldering passion.
In both his singing and his composition, Marc can take you on a magical trip from blazing bebop to melancholy yearning that is so smooth you don’t know what hit you. He can adapt material to his own quirky-scatty delivery of a complex jazz tune, and then, just as quickly, change course and completely melt your heart with a haunting ballad of lost love. He is not afraid to go out on a limb with adventurous musical explorations, yet all the while keeping it thoughtful and poignant.
Marc is also one of the wittiest people I know. His talent for injecting his offbeat sense of humor into his music allows him to have fun with lyrics and phrasing continually raising the bar of creative singing to a high and very entertaining level.
An all-star cast of close friends and frequent musical collaborators is featured on Everyone But Me, with abundant solo space for each player. A jazz pianist himself, Marc knows how to communicate his ideas on a wide variety of moods and styles, and it is obvious that all of these empathetic artists have been thinking alike for a long time.
Drummer RUSTY JONES, famous in his own right for his work with such jazz stars as George Shearing and Marian McPartland, delivers his usual high-energy performance and patented chops-ish wizardry, terrific solos and trading, and (in my opinion) his “perfect spot in the universe” time feel.
Bassist NICK TOUNTAS, about whom I have always said “knows exactly what to do when” in terms of time feel, mood, texture, (plus making note choices that flatter the all-important pianist’s left hand), navigates beautifully through the arrangements with satisfying long, low notes, as well as taking plenty of excellent solos. Together, Nick and Rusty reprise their long-time popular role as Chicago’s favorite rhythm section.
El Paso guitarist CURT WARREN, who has played and recorded with this Chicago group many times over the years, fits perfectly into the mood of the project. His performance on the beautiful voice/guitar duo rendition of “Darn That Dream” is among the standouts.
Special guest saxophonist GREG FISHMAN makes an exuberant showing on the opening cut of the album, “The Touch of Your Lips.” Playing with fire and energy, he does his usual terrific work of harmonically nailing all the perfect notes with his elegant sound and his hot, intelligent phrasing. Although he is featured on just one track, he makes the most of it with his inspired and inspiring solos and fills—a great way to set the tone for the album.
Featured on piano is legendary jazz musician and accompanist to the stars, LARRY NOVAK. I’ve heard Larry play for many years, both live and on recordings, and I think this is one of his most remarkable performances. It is a foregone conclusion that he is a monster of technique, but his playing here goes way beyond that. Just his piano work behind and during Marc’s vocals alone qualifies for a serious clinic on how to play the perfect piano fill. His clever rhythmic comping and ingeniously complex right-hand lines are right in sync with Marc’s edgy style. While this kind of adventurous accompaniment may not be for the faint of heart, it is ideal for Marc, who always likes taking it to the next level. Then there are Larry’s solos, which are breathtaking in their composition and execution. While his intimate take on the softer, sweeter ballads are luxurious, his high-energy, neo-blusey, intellectual solos on the faster swing tunes and bossa novas are thrilling.
The affectionate camaraderie between Marc and the band is what allows the essence of Marc’s “down-to-earth hip” factor to shine through on every cut on the album. This is especially evident when Mark is the composer. His warm and wonderfully offbeat original, “Old Chari,” is simultaneously a dizzying jazz piece and a sentimental tale. Singing bebopishly about a favorite old chair that has been relegated to the curb to be given away, Marc refers to this as “the is-ness of being.” (And the song sounds exactly that way!)
On a clever bossa nova arrangement of pianist George Cable’s tune, “I Told You So,” Marc has written a set of lyrics that are positive and inspirational. Marc advises you to “follow your star—be who you are—live and learn, or crash and burn.” If you don’t he warns, you’ll be the guy “who can’t overcome being down in the mouth, when your dreams unravel and travel south.”
Among other standouts are Marc’s rapid-fire delivery of the obscure Stanley Cornfield lyrics to Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation,” which showcases the band’s aggressive, straight-ahead playing and Marc’s acrobatic yet articulate vocalese. Take note of his well-executed opening chorus of flawless “a cappella” scatting.
Tad Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now” gets a special treatment which includes the rarely-heard verse; played as a slow bossa nova with an interesting bass/piano unison figure, Marc and the band set a mood of romantic intrigue.
The Bob Dorough classic, “Devil May Care,” is an intense guitar-trio burner, with Marc making the most of the message that living dangerously is cool.
Marc’s voice/piano duos with Novak on Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” and the Gordon Jenkins standard, “This is All I Ask,” are intimate works of art.
The title song, “Everyone But Me,” is one of those obscure, wonderful ballads that has been somehow overlooked, and has finally found a home on this recording. The melancholy lyrics by dinger/songwriter Ron Boustead are expressed perfectly by Marc’s tender, wistful exploration of longing and loneliness. The music, written by saxophonist Gordon Brisker, is beautifully enhanced by Novak’s delicate solo piano backing.
What could be wilder than the famous girls-dancing-on-the-airplane-wings scenes from the 1933 movie, Flying Down to Rio? Answer: Marc Pompe’s vocal version on this CD. Marc has taken a Fred Astaire song that was popular almost eighty years ago and makes it sound like it is written tomorrow.
Redesigned as a contemporary samba, “flying Down to Rio” opens with a long, bright intro, featuring Tountas’ melodic bass solo jam over Jones’ patented bossa/samba/jazzy drums. The pair never looks back and only gets more intense as the song continues to build steam. After Novak’s piano joins the interplay with a cool rhythmic segue, Marc comes flying in like a supersonic jet. His vocal is appropriately on fire as he twists and turns the acrobatic melody and tasty re-harmonies into his signature scatty/funny/expressive story about the joys of exploring Rio de Janeiro. Novak’s blazing piano fills and solo are equally airborne and constantly dazzling.
The band drops out to feature Rusty’s extended and jaw-dropping drum solo, which sounds like there are at least five drummers and percussionists playing. At the height of all this, the infamous Jones cowbell makes its entrance, and the solo reaches a fever pitch. Marc bursts into the last chorus to enthusiastically talk more about the Brazilian ladies and rhythms. He holds the last “Rio de Janeirooooo” note for a long time, ending it in his smoothed-out tone and sensual vibrato. What follows is an extended samba tag of breathless, soaring energy, with the band happily fading out of the final song of the album as though a troop of colorful samba dancers has left the carnival parade.
On Everyone But Me, marc Pompe has time-capsuled all the raw energy of his hot be-bop youth and it’s accompanying romantic innocence, and has blended it into this new, finely tuned tapestry of refreshingly sophisticated material. With an approach that pays respect to his neo-savvy look at life and love, Marc has chosen the best songs to sing and the best musicians to play them. There is no missing the fact that Marc is a total original—a “singer’s singer” who appeals to everyone; a Renaissance Man with a romantic heart, a philosopher’s mind, and a jazz musician’s soul.
Judy Roberts, named “Chicago’s Favorite Jazz Woman” b the Chicago Tribune, is a Grammy-nominated pianist/vocalist/recording artist and a columnist for Chicago Jazz Magazine.