In 2018 after a major life transition, I played these old jazz standards like hymns, prayers to the universe. I posted a few videos online and Chris Schlarb at Big Ego sent me the google eyes emoji and soon he was positing the wild idea of recording a jazz album together.
I thought, “That’s ridiculous. I’m not ready. I don’t have the chops. I’m not a real musician…” and so on. But who am I to refuse the Big Ego mastermind Chris Schlarb? Anything he touches turns to gold- and Big Ego IS the happiest place on earth. Thus the project affectionately called the “Weirdo Jazz Album” was born. We recorded in November of 2019 with an ensemble of brilliant musicians with staggering backgrounds.
I had the opportunity to be accompanied by the legendary percussionist Danny Frankel (who I had the privilege to play with on my first Big Ego recording session of “Nonsense Mouth”). Danny has recorded and performed with a long list of legends including Lou Reed, Rikki Lee Jones, Laurie Anderson, Fiona Apple- the list goes on! The brilliant percussionist Garrit Tillman also created amazing textures and a Tom Waits feel to “Nickel Under The Foot,” and “On a Clear Day.”
The wild saxophones are courtesy of the outrageous free jazz musicians Joe Cunningham and Isaiah Morfin, who added wild textures and sounds to the conversation.
The virtuoso clarinetist Brian Walsh brought in the reeds to add warm, sweet and sometimes ominous tones to some of my favorite tracks.
Bassist Anthony Shadduck, a Big Ego hero well-versed in standard and free jazz, generously lent his talents to the record and was a grounding and encouraging presence the entire way. He provided the inspiration of H. Jon Benjamin’s “Jazz Daredevil” to keep us on the right track.
I have two mentors in particular who I want to dedicate this album to: Sharon Ridley and Peggy Malbon. When I first heard Sharon Ridley perform at the Long Beach Senior Arts Colony, I stopped in my tracks. She has been my mentor for years, and I am indebted to her energy and spirit for inspiring me to play these songs and make them my own.
I met Peggy Malbon at my dear friend Alex Bradley’s funeral. Alex was a bright light and musical companion to me, and taking lessons with Peggy not only began a new friendship and technical insight to playing standards, it also helped me feel like I was staying close to Alex somehow. Peggy gave me guidance and mentorship around my career as a musician. Without these two guides, I would not have started on this path.
I’ve spent most of my life looking for hymns, and I’ve found them in these old American song books; these jazz standards and old show tunes have become holy to me. My journey to these songs has been a complete gift from the universe.
As I become closer to this music, I’m humbled to learn its language and legacy. I am indebted to the Black Americans who created jazz and the Jewish Americans that lent their voices to this timeless music. Songs that give musicians a language to connect and communicate to each other- songs that are eternal. Each song is a conversation with the musicians in the room and every other musician who has played or heard it. When I play these songs I’m playing with an enormous orchestra of ghosts, so many hearts connected through time and space through these tunes.
Two of those ghosts were born on March 2nd- hence the significance of this release date- my two favorite composers Kurt Weill and Marc Blitzstein. These composers’ work especially resonates with me, as progressive Jewish-American composers using music theatre as a means to point out the injustices of capitalism- particularly in “Threepenny Opera” and “Cradle Will Rock.” Their work gave me some idealism around the potential of what music and theatre can do- especially as a young artist hearing stories from my Grandmother about seeing the production of “Cradle Will Rock” during its infamous history in the days of The Federal Theatre Project. These songs have bite, angst, and beauty.
Ultimately, the songs on this album are tracking a journey from claiming and indulging in heartbreak and loneliness, falling in love again, and emerging with a sense of perspective. “On A Clear Day” is a song that has followed me since I first heard Babs sing it in that movie musical from the 60s- and Elayne of Marty & Elayne would always play when I came into The Dresden Room. It might even be the theme song of my life soundtrack… a sweet song to those glimpses of clarity.