Liner Notes: Carol Welsman "I Like Men."
See Carol Welsman in action once and you'll never forget her. Tall and blonde, she sits poised at the piano, head back, fingers stretched over the keys, her slender body arched in a seductive curve. Then the music flows, a combination of voice and piano that seems symbiotically linked. Like bossa nova icon Joao Gilberto and his guitar, Carol's honey and whiskey sound and her crisp, rhythmically articulate piano lines seem an integral part of each other. At a time when female jazz singers have been arriving in waves, she is that rarity -- an authentic vocal/instrumental artist who brings an irresistible blend of musicality and lyrical insight to everything she touches.
Carol's focus upon the essential elements of her art is not surprising. Coming from a musical family (her grandfather was the founder and first conductor of the Toronto Symphony), she has studied in the U.S. (at Berklee College of Music) and Europe, and released seven albums since her first CD, "Lucky To Be Me," in 1995. Her numerous achievements include the receipt of four Juno (Canadian Grammy) Award nominations, and several CDN Smooth Jazz Awards. She has become well-established as an international artist, touring the world, and performing in Italian, French, Portuguese and English.
In this new collection of songs, Carol pays tribute to Peggy Lee -- a singer she has always admired -- even though, at first glance, the connection between the two appears slim. True, they are both blondes, and they both have jazz in their souls. But the physical differences are obvious, and Lee's stand-up, big band singer-based style was dramatically different from Carol's identity as an intimate, vocalist/instrumentalist. A connection, nonetheless, was established early.
Lee was the favorite singer of Carol's musician father. "He took me to see her," she recalls, "when I was 12, when she was performing in Toronto. And one of the first things I ever heard of hers was her "Beauty and the Beat" album with George Shearing, because my father loved Shearing. He liked Peggy's no nonsense, unaffected kind of singing, the subtlety of what she did. And he drew a lot of comparisons with me when I was starting out, because I never had the big vibrato, always had a cooler sound, and he thought that she was the best person to follow."
Her father's instincts were right on target musically, which is where the real connection lies between Carol and Lee. Though there are plenty of differences in style, manner, and even intent, the quest toward originality, toward finding the heart of a song -- while avoiding the easy temptations toward superficiality that attract too many singers -- is the one essential quality that links the way each approaches her music.
All of which virtually guarantees that this collection of Peggy Lee-associated songs -- although performed with affection for the original versions -- reflects Carol's creative view, her own unique interpretations of some very familiar material. Several of the tunes include Lee's lyrics. Some -- "Why Don't You Do Right," "Fever," "Lover" -- are classic hits from the lexicon of American pop song. But the most fascinating aspect of this compelling collection is the way each is treated as a new musical experience by Carol.
Let's take a brief look at each of the songs:
1. "I Like Men." Give Carol credit for discovering a terrific, too rarely heard tune with Peggy Lee's lyrics. Appropriately, she delivers the coquettish lyrics over a jaunty, foot-tapping, straight-ahead rhythmic swing driven by Carol's airy piano accents.
2. "Do I Love You," Carol's affection for Brazilian bossa nova is front and center in an imaginative take on the Cole Porter classic. Floating over the gentle rhythms, she tells the story, first with a warm exposition of the lyrics, then via buoyant scatting in unison with her piano lines.
3. "Lover." More simmering Latin rhythms -- with an Afro Cuban feeling this time -- on the Rodgers and Hart standard that produced another of Lee's hits. And here, as elsewhere throughout the album, Carol creates an interpretation that recalls the Lee version in a way that simultaneously makes the song her own. Don't miss Pat Kelley's take no prisoners guitar solo followed by Carol's scatting over full chordal clusters into the final chorus.
4. "I Love Being Here With You." In the same mode as "I Like Men," here's another song about a chick who doesn't hesitate to express her feelings directly. And another example of Lee's ability to write provocative lyrics. Alto saxophonist Tom Scott enhances the tune's high spirited mood with a characteristically bop-tinged, blues driven solo.
5. "The Folks Who Live On The Hill." Carol's piano and voice version of Jerome Kern's gorgeously lyrical anthem to love is a deeply intimate, personal reading. "My father," she recalls, "always used to say, 'You have to record that, Carol; it will bring tears to my eyes.' And he's ever present here."
6. "Why Don't You Do Right." A million copy seller for Lee with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in 1942. Carol, however, assumes a proprietary position. Notice how her arrangement uses René Camacho bass to set the mood. And how, in her own imitable style, she sings a little phrase leading directly into a crisply swinging piano solo. creating a spontaneous connection that continues throughout the song, with phrases rebounding happily back and forth between voice and piano.
7. "Just One of Those Things." Carol once again finds a new way to invigorate an old Cole Porter standard, this time with a bouncy, samba feeling. Scatting imaginatively through the changes like the instrumentalist she is, sometimes in unison with piano line, occasionally with chordal accents, she does it all without losing track of the song's story. And hang on for the happily strutting ending.
8. "Johnny Guitar." Carol's voice and Pierre Coté’s guitar play out the dark drama of the 1954 Nicholas Ray Western-noire film starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden. The lyrics, by Lee, underscore the remarkable range of her writing skills.
9. "I'm Gonna Go Fishing." Lee came up with an unlikely set of lyrics for Duke Ellington's soul jazz, waltz tune. Carol's arrangement, while remaining true to the source, spices up the proceedings by adding a driving set of piano choruses to the jaunty melody.
10. "Dance On Your Own." Carol takes on the Peggy Lee Swing era legacy with an original, written with Daphna Ziman. And they nailed it, with a catchy melody, love's labor lost lyrics, and a laid back groove complete with finger snapping. "I thought it had a Peggy Lee-ish quality," says Carol. And she's right.
11. "Remind Me." One of the great Dorothy Fields & Jerome Kern love songs. Carol immediately asserts her ownership of the tune with a whisper in your ear vocal over a floating, rubato opening. The slow dance mood then continues, beautifully supported by Rene Camacho's bass lines. with a stunning combination of lyrics, melody and harmonic movement.
12. "Fever." One of the Lee classics in which her interpretation is virtually locked in stone. Carol wisely does it her own way, with a conga-enhanced groove alternating with a tinge of Basie-style rhythm. And the song -- partially written by Lee (the Romeo and Juliet, and Captain Smith and Pocahontas verses) but never credited to her -- finds a new life.
13. "When You're Smiling." Ken Peplowski's soaring clarinet provides the perfect foil for the velvety sound of Carol's voice on one of the great feel-good tunes. Listen to the long, swinging vamp at the close with voice, piano and clarinet throwing ideas around as they head off into the sunset.
14. "Angels on Your Pillow." A beautiful, touching lullaby by Peggy Lee and Paul Horner, warmly performed by Carol's voice and piano alone. The only other recording of the tune -- with lyrics by Lee and music by Paul Horner -- is by Michael Feinstein. The title, according to Lee's daughter, Holly, is a phrase her mother frequently said when her children were being put to bed.
- Don Heckman