Tapas 7232 Music on Madison
May 18th 2013
7232 West Madison
Forest Park, Ill 60130
Cost: No Cover
Get More Info
Listening Room at Lakeside Legacy Arts Park
May 18th 2013
401 Country Club Rd
Crystal Lake, Ill 60001
Get More Info
Understanding what it means to be a "jazz singer" may have been easy to define when The Jazz Singer, Hollywood's first "talkie," was released in 1927. Today, however, understanding jazz singing is at least as elusive as being able to define jazz itself. For last issue, Chicago Jazz Magazine sat down with four of Chicago's best-known singers--Jackie Allen, Frank D'Rone, Marc Pompe and Judy Roberts—to sort out different aspects of jazz vocalizing. In part two of that interview the singers opine on examples of all-time great jazz vocal performances, good advice they have received and more. Collectively, these four singers have over two hundred years (yes, you read that right—200 years) of professional singing experience.
As early as the 1960s, precocious singer-pianist Judy Roberts was headlining some of Chicago's most prestigious jazz rooms. Daughter of singer-guitarist Bob Loewy, the multiple Grammy Award nominee has over twenty albums to her credit, including Trio, which also features legends Ray Brown and Jeff Hamilton. Additionally, Roberts has recorded an international hit ("Dave Frishberg's "My Attorney Bernie") and co-written with another famed Chicago jazz woman, Marian McPartland. Roberts, who recently relocated to Phoenix, has also been a feature columnist for Chicago Jazz Magazine. She will be returning to Chicago this summer for a series of engagements. For her complete schedule, log-on to JudyRoberts.com
Marc Pompe began performing around Rush Street as a solo piano/vocalist in the mid-fifties and was influenced by the music of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, and vocally by stylings of Frank Sinatra, Joe Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McCrae and Jon Hendricks. In 1965, Pompe left Chicago to work out of New York and played at Jilly’s (NYC), Eddie’s Backstreet in St. Thomas, the Gaslight Club in Toronto and Mother’s Lounge in Pittsburgh. Pompe continues performing in the Chicago area today. He is currently working on a ten-piece disc with trumpeter/arranger Bobby Ojeda dedicated to his recently-departed long-time friend, saxophonist Bob Centano. Pompe's latest CD, Everyone But Me (2011), is available at MarcPompe.com.
Frank D'Rone's career started as a five-year-old when he sang and played guitar on stage in Providence, Rhode Island. By age eleven, he had his own local radio show twice a week, and by twenty he was on his own, living in New York City, making a living performing music. D'Rone's big break came in the late 1950s when a club owner from Chicago hired him to work solo at Dante’s Inferno. During his fourteen-month engagement, Dante's became one of Chicago's hottest clubs and people flocked to see him, including such music luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, Johnny Mathis, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Stan Kenton and June Christy. D'Rone's new release, Double Exposure, is receiving nationwide critical acclaim, and may be purchased at FrankDarone.com.
Wisconsin native Jackie Allen was exposed to jazz at an early age by her father, Louis (Gene) Allen, a Dixieland tuba player. While attending the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Allen discovered the great jazz singers Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Nancy Wilson. They soon led her to Mark Murphy, Helen Merrill, Shirley Horn and Jimmy Scott, taking her deeper into the music. A highly respected jazz educator, Allen was on faculty at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts (Roosevelt University), and has taught at Elmhurst College, Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, Bloom School of Jazz and the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee. For Allen's upcoming projects visit JackieAllen.com.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: What are some of the best examples of jazz singing at its best? One example would be Ella’s performance of “How High the Moon.”
Pompe: That works!
Allen: I agree.
Pompe: Right. She’s so in it!
Allen: I have an album from many years ago. It was a live, double album with Ella singing at Carnegie Hall with Tommy Flanagan and Joe Pass, and I remember listening to every tune for hours and hours. It was like she was my teacher for months. I couldn’t get enough of it.
D’Rone: To me, there’s not just one tune. I love ninety-nine percent of Ella, Sarah, Mel…. No one thing stands out, because they’re all good.
Pompe: Ella was the first one I thought of. “Mack the Knife”––I mean…her singing was incredible! I can’t believe how good that was.
Allen: I would go back to the album that Nancy Wilson does with Cannonball Adderley.
Roberts: Me too.
Allen: That was one of my first, strongest albums. I wore those grooves out.
D’Rone: That’s a great one.
Allen: I think for a vocalist, too, to be exposed to those wonderful instrumental arrangements with Nat and Cannonball. Those were fantastic, too. …
Roberts: I second that.
Allen: … And I still can’t get those out of my ear either. That was a refreshing change. Why doesn’t someone do that again? Another album?
Roberts: They can’t, because no one’s as good as them. Sorry! [laughs]
D’Rone: You just can’t do it because what record company is going to pick it up? No one. And where is it going to get played? We’ve got one jazz station in this whole area, man. The whole Chicago-land area, and we’ve got one station? Come on, that’s absurd!
Roberts: We even have a great jazz station in Phoenix––KJZZ. But I second Jackie on Nancy Wilson being a defining moment. That, and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, for me...
Allen: Oh, that’s a great one!
Roberts: …because of “Twisted.” In my day, before the young kids had lyrics on the record cover, I had to listen to “Twisted” about nine thousand times to learn the words. That was defining moment for me, too.
D’Rone: I worked with Lambert, Hendricks & Ross at the Hungry i years ago in San Francisco. We followed each other, and man, I would catch every show. They were just incredible!
Pompe: Yeah, they were something else.
D’Rone: And you know who used to gas me more than anyone was Lambert! He was incredible!
Pompe: He was a great scat singer!
Roberts: I have another defining thing. With all do respect to Jackie’s fantastic version of it––Mark Murphy singing “The Bad And The Beautiful.” To me it is the best jazz ballad ever sung by any person… ever. It’s like Number One. I know he gets weird and far out sometimes, but on that thing––just him and piano––perfect. It doesn’t get any better. And Jackie’s version is my second favorite of that song.
Pompe: Did you sing that, too?
Allen: Yeah. And it was really a tribute to Mark. That’s why I had Kurt on it, because Kurt was such a disciple.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: What piece of advice have you received from other musicians that changed the way you approach your singing or musicianship?
D’Rone: We’ve all been told, You should get out of the business. [laughs] I worked with Sinatra a lot. We were at Caesar’s Palace––I was in the lounge, and he was in the main room, of course. He would come to see me and bring people. And I would go back stage after the show. And one night it was just me and him in his dressing room, and I asked him, “Hey Frank, is there anything I should be doing that I’m not doing?” And he looked at me and said, “Yeah, turn the piano around.” And that was it. [laughs]
Roberts: Oh cool! Well that’s nice. I thought he was going to say something horrible.
D’Rone: No, no. He was telling me in his own way, “You’re doing great, kid.”
Pompe: Well, Sinatra was at Jilly’s a lot of nights when I was there, and I never spoke to him, I never tried to approach him, and he never approached me. He didn’t throw me out, so I guess that was cool! Actually when you asked that, I thought of this vibes player that I met in Pittsburgh, and he said––and it wasn’t about my singing or anything––but he just said, “If you know how to practice, you can get a lot out of working on something for just fifteen minutes.” And that always stuck with me––that you could make a dent in something. And I can’t remember anything that I could say somebody told me about singing, but it’s a good thing that I always pass along.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: It indicates that you could have a great voice in terms of a natural instrument, but you can work at it and improve upon it.
D’Rone: There’s always room for improvement.
Allen: Yeah. I remember when I was working on my very first album. I had gotten some club owner to give me ten thousand dollars…
Roberts: You go, girl!
Allen: …and I was too frightened to bring out a producer––what did I know? But I was doing something at Andy’s and Jo Belle was singing…
Pompe: She’s wonderful. Great jazz singer.
D’Rone: There’s another good singer.
Allen: And she said, “What would you do on your first album?” and I was thinking about repertoire, I was thinking about arrangements, and I’m thinking, Which direction should I go in? And she told me, “Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Think about what you’ll feel good about twenty-five, forty, fifty years from now, and are you going to feel good about playing this CD for your grandkids?” That really brought me around and I thought, What is it that I want? Forget about what I think other people will want…
FD/Pompe: Good, Jackie. That’s a great one!
Allen: …What moves you? What would you feel great about? What would you feel proud of?
Roberts: Good point!
Allen: And that was really good advice! It reminded me to go back to myself and think about what I really want.
Roberts: I have a similar thing. People were raking me over the coals because I went in a quote––fusion––direction for a minute, and now when I hear those things back, like "Senor Blues," and they sound great. But somebody very important told me what to do when I was eighteen. I was recording with Ray Brown, and my "air" thing came up. We were doing a ballad that Ray wrote, and there was a long note that any of you guys could do in your sleep, but I couldn’t do it. He showed me how to redirect that phrase so I could split the note up into a couple of different moves, which I still do today. He said, “Can’t you hold that note out?” and I said, “No”––because I had childhood asthma and some problem with my lungs, and I said, “I can’t do this.” And he showed me a slick way to sing around it. I mean, he was married to Ella Fitzgerald, so I thought, he should know!
D’Rone: Exactly. Exactly.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Judy, can we give away one of your secrets?
Chicago Jazz Magazine: When the notes of a song go too high for you to sing them, you rotate the chords around and change the key in midstream, and nobody even knows you’re doing it!
D’Rone: I do! [laughs]
Roberts: Yeah, Jackie and I have done that for years if a song is too high for us.
Allen: Yeah, we modulate down…
Roberts: It’s always down. We always modulate down! [laughs]
Pompe: Stravinsky in “Firebird” goes [sings progression] it went down a half step [sings progression] and it was really fantastic.
Allen: We’re talking about going down a fourth! [laughs]
Roberts: When you’re playing for yourself though, you can get away with all kinds of things. People think it’s brilliant. Last night, Jackie and I did an arrangement of “The Street Where You Live” that we haven’t done for ten years, and it goes from three-four to four-four at the bridge, and she counted off in such a way that I couldn’t hear what it was, and we were definitely not together at the beginning. But we were making a happy face, and I thought to myself, Well, when we get to the bridge in a few seconds, I’ll know where the four-four is and I’ll be good from there on out. And that’s what happened. After the set, someone said, “What happened to you guys in the beginning of that song?” And I said, “Yeah, I couldn’t figure out where Jackie was!” And he went on to tell me that one of the local jazz critics who was there said, “Wow! Cool thinking! Isn’t that profound? I wonder how long they worked on that?!” [laughs] So he thought we were doing something really cerebral that we had rehearsed, when in fact, we just messed up! Well, I messed up. So it goes to show that you can do anything and people can still think you’re brilliant.
Pompe: I just want to say, Judy is so articulate. I don’t see why you’re saying you don’t have range. You have a range that’s fuckin’ great.
Allen: You have plenty of range.
Pompe: But the articulation of when you scat is fantastic!
D’Rone: When you do “Donna Lee” with Greg, it’s incredible!
Allen: You could go anywhere with that!
FD/Pompe: That’s incredible! That’s incredible!
Roberts: But that’s not a real range. I could go [scats a high, squeaky falsetto] triple-time, really high, but that’s not singing a song.
Allen: It’s music!
Roberts: But you guys can actually hold those notes, where as I’m just like…
Allen: Well is one more legit than the other?
Pompe: Right. It’s your instrument. Your body is your instrument.
Allen: Well if you’re doing it tastefully, I consider it vocal jazz.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Judy, do you want to take some shots at your compadres?
Roberts: Yeah! These three people are my favorite people to accompany. They all turn me on. Frank D’Rone…when he sits next to me on the piano bench and sings, I can feel the air––I mean, I’m not touching your stomach––[laughs] I can feel the air coming out of his body, and it’s so magnetic and beautiful. It’s just this hot wet thing to grab onto. His physical presence is huge to me. [addressing D’Rone’s wife] It’s big turn on, right, Joan? And Mark is so amazing. When I’m playing for Mark, I’m literally laughing every second, because he’s so brilliant and so funny and so clever and so spontaneous with what he does. It’s amazing! I don’t know what the hell it is, but we’re always in sync with each other. It’s great. He’s a complete turn on. Jackie is like my soul mate. No matter what style we do, it’s just beautiful. I love surrounding her with this beautiful bouquet of musical flowers for all of the different styles she does. It’s really fun, because she can do all kinds of different material. We can do funk, we can do a ballad, we can do be-bop, and it’s all good. Allen: Could I ask you something, because you’re both an instrumentalist and accompany yourself. What is it like to work with Judy?
D’Rone: I said it earlier. She’s one of the greatest accompanists that I have worked with. And I’ve worked with a few––I’ve worked with Oscar Peterson, Dave McKenna, George Shearing... and especially Shearing––he’s a great player, but accompanying, wow! But I put Judy in the same class. That’ll be twenty dollars, Judy. [laughs] You know, I think we should add one thing, I think you asked the question about who was inspirational and who inspired you? To me, a trombone was my inspiration. I used to listen to trombone players…
D’Rone: …Yeah, for phrasing. The good ones, you know, like Milt Bernhart and Frank Rosolino and Carl Fontana. I worked with Carl Fontana, and when we worked together in Vegas, it was a quartet. I was the fifth. It was my gig, and he was part of the band. But I would tell him, “Carl, please do me a favor. Play two ballads in a row.” And I would leave the stage and go sit in the audience and just listen to him play. [panelists agree] And I would learn so much from listening to his ballads. You want to talk about picking the right notes?
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Didn’t you once say that the trombone is the instrument that comes closest to emulating a human voice?
FD/Pompe: Well, it does. Yeah. For some reason, I don’t know, but I love the instrument. When I hear it, I get crazy.
Roberts: Hey, I want to add something. Jeannie Lambert––although she’s not here at this meeting––she, to me, has defined jazz singing in its truest art form. She has a very unique and angular way of moving the phrases around, and she is a genius at choosing the perfect, most musical notes for her improvisational moves. Her phrasing, her emotion, all of it—is brilliant. To me, Jeannie is one of the master jazz phrasers of all time.
Pompe: Jeannie-ology. Wonderful phrasing––she sounded great on that.
Roberts: She’s killer!
D’Rone: Yes she is.
Pompe: Well, let’s mention Linda Ponce. She is one of my favorite great singers that no one ever heard of.
D’Rone: Oh! I agree completely!
Roberts: TThere’s a common denominator here––she and Jeannie were both married to a hot saxophone player. [laughs]
D’Rone: Is she still singing?
Pompe: I don’t think so. I haven’t heard her name for years. She was a natural.
D’Rone: Oh I loved her. I saw her years ago at the Four Torches! I loved her singing!
Allen: You never described accompanying yourself and working with Judy. How is it different?
Pompe: Oh, I love to have her play for me because she’s right there no matter what. It’s just completely seamless. Everything you do.
Allen: When you play, you know exactly what you’re going to get, and when Shirley Horn plays, she knows exactly what she wants. Judy decides what she wants for you. So…
Pompe: I’ll go off of what she does. I’ll take it and run with it.
Allen: So you could go in places you would never go…
Allen: She takes you to a new place.
D’Rone: Well not only that. When I sing with Judy, I know I can go anywhere, and I know she’s going to be there. That’s the point. No matter where I go––and I go a lot of places… [laughs]
Roberts: I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that! [laughs]
D’Rone: …Judy’s always there. That’s another twenty dollars, Judy.
Allen: She’s a ticket for me to go anywhere, because I know she’ll follow me.
Pompe: Everybody that I sing with, I take things from anybody that accompanies me, because whoever accompanies me and whatever way they do it, I just go their way, because that’s part of the fun for me––and the spontaneity. I have different things that I love about Jodie Christian or Larry Novak, or the way that Joey DeFrancesco played…I mean, I just go wherever you are.
Roberts: Yeah, Mark is really good at going.
Allen: And with great artists, like Judy––you feed us. You’re feeding me ideas that I can play off of, so it just makes it that much more interesting.
Roberts: Well, I think part of my thing is that I’m so envious of what you guys do that I just love getting to play behind a great singer when I’m not singing! I mean, it’s just such a thrill for me. Plus, it helps to be a white, middle-aged, Jewish, female accompanist!
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Because?
Roberts: Well, because being a girl––no offense you guys–– I'm already more giving; and then being Jewish, I want to rock the cradle and mother the singer; I'm middle-aged, so I know a million songs and know all the words, and that helps me back you up, because I know the lyrics and that changes everything! Most accompanists don’t know the fucking words! I know all the words so I know where you singers are going.
D’Rone: That’s true with a lot of instrumentalists––even a drummer. Greg Sergo, Rick Frigo, Rusty Jones––most of the time they know the lyric.
Allen: Chuck Christiansen.
D’Rone: Oh, without a doubt, Chuck Christiansen! On night I was on stage at the Jazz Showcase and I was doing a tune, and I forgot the first line. I could not remember the first line to the song! And I just turned around and said, “Chuck, what’s the first line?,” and, boom, he gave it to me. He saved my ass.
Roberts: The key to being a great accompanist is that you have to love the people that you’re playing for and really respect them and want them to do well. A great accompanist is the supporting cast. No offense to the male gender, but I see too many guys playing as if they don’t give a shit––they don’t care. I never play a big flashy fill. Never! I don’t want to play a fill because I want to hear the last note and breath of the singer. How am I going to hear that if she sings, [sings] On a clear day… and I play a big fill? What happens to the word “day”? What happens to the beginning of Jackie’s first word of the next phrase? Why would I want to bury that? I want all of the singer's nuances to be heard. D’Rone: That’s why you’re such a good accompanist.
Roberts: I care about you singing those words!
D’Rone: Because you’re listening! People don’t listen anymore––it’s me, me, me, me!
Allen: They’re lying in wait for their own solo.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: We didn’t mention this specifically, but when you watch Judy accompanying a singer she’s focused like a laser beam on the singer, reacting to any and every musical nuance.
Pompe: She’s super attentive.
Allen: And that helps guide the audience, because jazz performance is a visual art as well…
Allen: …so when you see the accompanist that intently interested in what’s going on, that helps guide the observers and listeners, too. They’re like, This is what’s going on in the show: she’s really focused on this, so we should be focused on this. It pulls everyone in, instead of being like, I’m kind of bored, when is the next break? With a good accompanist, like Judy, everyone’s focused.
Roberts: Why do it if you’re not going to go all the way with it? That doesn’t make any sense! I wouldn’t dream of doing it any other way.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Are there any other comments before we wrap up this interview?
Pompe: Two-five! [laughs]
Don't miss anymore Chicago Jazz Information.
Subscribe to Chicago Jazz magazine / Get A Free CD.
Subscribe to our Chicago Jazz weekly newsletter.