Hogan, Olivo and the Marketing of Jazz Singers

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SWEET INVITATION / JACQUET-MUNDY-STILLMAN: Don’tcha Go ‘Way Mad. RODGERS-HART: Falling in Love With Love. VAN HEUSEN-BURKE: Here’s That Rainy Day. BERLIN: I Got Lost in His Arms. KAPER-WEBSTER: Invitation. LAWRENCE-TINTURIN: I’m Just Foolin’ Myself. COMDEN-GREEN-DAVIS: What a Way to Go. MANILOW-MERCER: When October Goes. COLEMAN-McCARTHY: Why Try to Change Me Now? / Beverley Church Hogan, voc; John Proulx, pno/arr; Bob Sheppard, sax; Grant Geissman, gtr; Lyman Medeiros, bs; Clayton Cameron, Dean Koba, dm; Kevin Winard, perc / Café Pacific Records CPCD 7060

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DAY BY DAY / STORDAHL-WESTON-CAHN: Day By Day. DOMINO-BARTHOLOMEW: I’m Walkin’ JONES-KAHN: It Had to Be You. ORTLANI-OLIVERO: More. STYNE-CAHN: Time After Time. ARLEN-HARBURG-ROSE: It’s Only a Paper Moon.* RUIZ-GIMBEL: Sway. AUSTIN-BERGERE: How Come You Do Me Like You Do? KAEMPFERT-GABLER: L.O.V.E. Bacharach-david: This Guy’s in Love With You. H. CONNICK JR.: Come By Me. VAN HEUSEN-CAHN: All the Way / Dan Olivo, voc; Jamelle Adisa, tpt; Garrett Smith, tb; Kyle O’Donnell, t-sax/fl; Joe Bagg, pno/Hammond B3 org; Ian Robbins, gtr; Lyman Medeiros, bs/uke/*voc & arr; Kevin Winard, dm/perc; *Renée Myara Cibelli, voc / Ava Maria Records AMR 5316

This review is going to be different from most of those I write, because in addition to assessing the talent and level of performance exhibited on these CDs, I am also going to talk a bit about marketing.

Here we have two excellent jazz singers who, in an earlier era, might have been marketed very differently from the way they are presented here. When I first looked at the front cover of Beverley Church Hogan’s CD, the first thing I said to myself was, “No way am I reviewing this. She looks like your typical breathy, no-talent lounge singer who thinks she’s ‘jazzy’ because she sings with a ‘come hither’ whisper in her voice.” Thus when I put the record on and listened to it, I was stunned. Hogan not only has a rich, well-controlled voice, but also swings and sings with a great deal of nuance. She is, in the vernacular of the old day, as Real Jazz Chick, the kind of singer one would put in a category with Cheryl Bentyne or Maureen McGovern.

Moreover—and this is really going to floor you as it floored me—she’s 86 years old. WHAT?!? ARE YOU SERIOUS??!!? Yep, that’s what it says in the promo sheet accompanying this release. Eighty-six. Which means that she was born in 1936. If you know this when listening to the recording, really closely, you can hear a few signs—not many—of the age in the voice. I couldn’t believe it myself at first, but then I thought of Sheila Jordan and how fresh her voice sounded in her 80s, and I conceded the point.

Hogan’s singing is subtle. At her age, she’s clearly not going to belt it out like Ella Fitzgerald (who could still deliver in her 70s), but as I say, she’s a surprisingly hip singer. More of a contralto than a soprano, Hogan clearly knows what she’s doing, and she does it well.

But why market her like a young sexy chickie-poo? Just look at the cover. You’d think she was Julie London or some other ersatz “jazz” singer from the 1950s or ‘60s. Yet I get so many CDs of female jazz singers marketed this exact same way. Even an online acquaintance of mine, British jazz singer Beverley Beirne, who is a real artist in the subtle way she handles her voice, has to be marketed this way—and she hates it because it demeans her and obscures her art in favor of physical appearance. Have we really not changed since the ‘50s? No wonder Anita O’Day performed so often in pantsuits or slacks with a band jacket, as Connee Boswell also did in her later years (after being dolled up in chiffon dresses all through the 1940s). They were jazz chicks. Hip. Sophisticated. And this is what I also hear in Hogan’s singing. Even in a romantic ballad like I Got Lost in His Arms, Hogan’s focus is on the phrasing of the music, not a wimpy projection of the lyrics, despite the lush arrangement with bowed bass throughout. But she’s still being marketed as eye candy for the men. At age 86. Real jazz fans are more interested in how Hogan sings, not what she looks like on the cover, but she has similar photos on her website, so apparently she thinks this is how she has to sell herself, which is really sad.

But there’s another anomaly about Hogan’s record: not one song composer is identified on or in the CD envelope. There was a time when omitting even one songwriter’s name would have cost the label a lawsuit from ASCAP or BMI, but here’s a whole album of songs with no accreditation. I had to go on the Internet to find the names of the songwriters for those tunes I didn’t know, which was a little over half of them. [Update: After this review was posted, I was informed that the song composers are identified on the INSIDE of the fold-over album, UNDERNEATH the CD when you take it out…behind the plastic that holds the disc, on the inside of the back cover. Well, of course I never looked there. I never pay any attention to what is inside the album underneath the disc.]

One of Hogan’s best performances on this disc, I thought, was Invitation, where she fractures the time in the bridge and otherwise phrases like a jazz horn. It almost makes me wish I could hear what she sounded like 40 years ago; I’ll bet she was even better. I’m Just Foolin’ Myself, a song written by the unfortunately oft-forgotten songwriter Jack Lawrence, has even more subtle swing in its phrases. Hogan invites you into her world. I only wish that she could, or would, also sing a few more modern songs.

Now we move on to Dan Olivo. If you look at the cover on his album, you’d think he was also some kind of coochy lounge singer, with his tie-less white shirt and jacket plus the now-obligatory three days’ beard and moustache growth. (I’d still like to know how the scruffy look became a “thing” among men nowadays.) But when you listen to his record, you hear a pretty hip jazz singer in the Bob Dorough vein: the same light, bari-tenor vocal range and subtle but swinging phrasing. The only difference is that Olivo doesn’t accompany himself on the piano the way Dorough did. Yet once more, the poor guy is being marketed as a lounge lizard, even to the point of including lounge lizard favorites like More, This Guy’s in Love With You (a song I didn’t even like back in the late 1960s when Herb Alpert recorded it) and All the Way. Again, it’s the “Who are you selling this to?” syndrome.

Of course, the big difference between then and now is that physical record stores, and to a certain extent physical records, are passé. Everything’s online now, either for streaming or download, although if you really want the actual CD you can buy it.

If anything, Olivo’s backup band is even more swinging than Hogan’s. They have a bit more edge to their playing though it is still pretty much Swing School. The arrangements swing; they’re tight, but not terribly creative (though I did like the swinging chart on I’m Walkin’). Kyle O’Donnell’s tenor sax provides the best kicks on the album aside from Olivo’s singing. But since Olivo is much younger than Hogan, and his voice is fresher, I really wish that he’d have pushed the envelope a little more. I hear him capable of much more than we hear on this record: a bit harder swinging, some scat singing, things like that. Oh, yeah, that reminds me: What the heck ever happened to scat singing? Don’t “jazz” singers use real jazz techniques like scatting anymore? If it was good enough for Louis Armstrong, Cliff Edwards, Bon Bon, Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, Mel Tormé, Al Jarreau and even (on occasion) Dizzy Gillespie, it should be good enough for Dan Olivo. Not that I’m picking on Olivo; he’s scarcely alone in his avoidance of scat.

But even within the limitations of this material, you can tell that Olivo has what it takes to be a good jazz singer. I can’t recall hearing a hipper version of Jule Styne’s Time After Time, and he really does do a wonderful job on Isham Jones’ old evergreen It Had to Be You. Even so, these performances show his potential, not quite the fulfillment of what I hear as a clearly first-rate talent. Except for the fact that he includes Renée Myara Cibelli in duet, Olivo’s performance of It’s Only a Paper Moon is clearly modeled on Nat “King” Cole’s classic recording with his trio, and on this track Joe Bagg plays his best piano of this set. The closest Olivo comes to the kind of potential I hear in him is How Come You Do Me Like You Do?, the old Gene Austin classic from the 1920s.

The bottom line, then, is that I liked both CDs, Olivo’s a little better than Hogan’s (because there was more variety in the programming), but have issues with their holding back somewhat on the potential they have in their voices as well as the visual presentation of their respective talents. Maybe someday we’ll reach a point where adult music like this can be presented in an adult image and packaging.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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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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