Roseanna Vitro & Friends Pay Tribute to Bird


PARKER: People Chase [Steeplechase].1,5 The Scatter [Red Cross].1,2,6 Bird’s Song [Relaxin’ at Camarillo].3,5 Parker’s Mood.4,5 Grapple With the Apple [Scrapple From the Apple].1,6,8 Audubon’s New Bluebird [Bluebird].2,6,7 Sheila, Jazz Child [Cheryl].1,3,6 Quasimodo.3,6 Now’s the Time.4,5 Yardbird Suite.1,5 Medley: Ko-Ko/NOBLE: Cherokee.5 STRACHEY-MASCHWITZ: These Foolish Things 1-3,6 / 1Roseanna Vitro, 2Bob Dorough, 3Sheila Jordan, 4Marion Cowings, voc; 5Gary Bartz, a-sax; Alan Broadbent, pno; Dean Johnson, bs; Alvester Garnett, dm. 6Mark Gross, a-sax; Jason Teborek, pno; Johnson, bs; Bill Goodwin, dm. Add 7Paul Myers, gtr; 8Mino Cinelu, perc / Skyline SKYP 2101

With all the tribute albums to Charlie Parker (Bird) that have come out this year, you’d think this was the centenary of his birth or death, but actually the centenary of his birth was last year—the year of the Dreaded Pandemic From Hell—so I guess that they held off releasing this CD until now, particularly since some of the tracks to complete this album couldn’t be made until May of this year. It’s scheduled for full release on September 24.

And what a tribute it is, including vocals by one singer who actually knew and sang with Parker, Sheila Jordan, as well as the late Bob Dorough, who just made it to this album before his death on April 23, 2018 as well as Marion Cowings, a master of scat singing. Jordan’s voice has finally dropped in pitch from the way she sounded even into the early 2000s, but the girlish sweetness of tone remains the same…plus it’s a treat to hear her with a full band and not just a bass playing.

Indeed, although the album was Vitro’s project it really does sound like an open jam session in which she or the band invited these other three excellent jazz singers up to the stand to pitch in. She had an urge to put new lyrics to Parker’s compositions, thus creating a bop counterpart to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross’ classic Sing a Song of Basie LP from the 1950s; Jordan, Dorough and Cowings, all of whom she considers models and/or mentors, were thus invited to join in. The rhythm sections seem to vacillate between a bop beat and a swing one, but bop came out of swing anyway just as R&B did. Of the two alto saxists, both try to channel their inner Parker pretty well but for some reason Gross’ tone sounds a bit more like his model.

Yet in the end, I think Bird would have enjoyed this tribute because it really does come from the heart. All of these singers and musicians obviously admired Parker, and if I single out Jordan for top honors among the vocalists it’s simply because her improvisations are the most imaginative and interesting. Interestingly, Vitro’s style, though clearly good, sounds closer to young Sheila as she sounded on her recently-released lost 1960 album than modern-day Sheila.

But as I said, everyone is in there pitching and every singer and musician gave his or her all on this effervescent set. There’s not a bad track on the entire CD, they programmed the songs well. The Ko-Ko/Cherokee medley is the only instrumental on the set.

Strange though it may sound, there are too many highlights on this album to spend time describing them all. The album is flawless in the sense that there isn’t a bad or indifferent track or solo from start to finish, yet except for Vitro’s excellent new lyrics the album doesn’t break any new ground. But it didn’t have to. This is jazz perfection as you rarely hear it in any genre nowadays. What a shame that it wasn’t issued on Blue Note, who could have given it bigger promotion, but nowadays as long as you know about the record you can go online and buy it regardless of who put it out.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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