Tag Archives: Rachael Price

Concert notes: Rachael Price, Vivaldi

Two short notes on recent concerts:

Jazz singer Rachael Price is just 23, but judging by her performance Saturday night in Boca Raton, she already has the instincts and perseverance of a road veteran.


Price, a Boston-based singer who just earned a jazz studies degree at the New England Conservatory of Music, appeared at the tiny Willow Theatre in Boca’s Sugar Sand Park with a substitute pianist in her backing trio while clearly battling a cold that occasionally robbed her of volume and smooth register shifts.

Yet she did a fine job, giving good readings of a handful of standards from the Great American Songbook. The majority of her two sets — which included You Go to My Head, Skylark, I Love You Madly, Let’s Build a Stairway to the Stars — are featured on her newest album, The Good Hours. Bassist Erik Privert and drummer David Brophy were a tight unit, and Privert had to do double duty as bandleader, cuing in guest pianist Sergio Salvatore, who was reading from charts most of the night in the absence of Price’s usual pianist and vibraphonist, Warren Wolf.

Price has a powerful, somewhat deep, often sexy voice that sometimes can overblow, rolling out a bit too much lungpower in things such as the rideout of The Trolley Song, but that’s what the weather’s like at the intersection of today’s popular singing styles and that of the past. She has a chatty, friendly stage presence, sharing a family story  before singing Serenade in Blue, and confessing to being hung up on someone before doing a moody take on That Old Feeling.

The high point for me, and apparently for the rest of the half-full house at the Willow, was a duet with Salvatore on My Romance, the Rodgers-Hart beauty from 1935. Salvatore began with a slow, sculptured series of Debussy-style chords and Price floated in with an unmannered, pure interpretation of this lovely Rodgers tune and classic Hart lyric. Words like these can be hard to relate to for younger people, Price told the audience afterward, but that they seemed so right and meaningful as she sang them was “testimony to the power of music.”

Quite so. Sources tell me the veteran arranger and composer Sammy Nestico is working on an album for Price, and here’s hoping My Romance is among the charts. Here’s also hoping she’s able to come back to these parts sometime soon, and  in full vocal health — though if she isn’t, you can bet she’ll soldier on anyway.

Viva Vivaldi: On Sunday afternoon, I went over to St. Paul’s for the Camerata del Re’s all-Vivaldi concert (except for one piece by Chedeville), and wrote about it for the South Florida Classical Review (read it here).

As I mention, the tuning problems the group faced were considerable, but I did want to note also that the current lineup of concerts for St. Paul’s is deeper and more ambitious than series in past years, and that’s to be applauded.  Keith Paulson-Thorp is a fine musician and an engaging scholar who promises to bring ambitious and interesting programming to the Delray Beach church, and this is a series well worth watching.

In fact, a benefit concert for two St. Paul’s children’s charities has been announced for 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6. The young Italian harpsichordist Chiara Massini will perform works by J.S. Bach (including the Goldberg Variations), Alessandro Scarlatti, Johann Jacob  Froberger and Francois Couperin. Here’s a chance to hear music from the earlier centuries of keyboard tradition before the piano conquered all.

Froberger and Couperin, for instance, had huge influence on the development of keyboard playing and compostion in the German and French lands, respectively, and this great music isn’t heard in our concert halls often enough. (Tickets for the Massini concert are $20 and $35 and can be reserved by calling St. Paul’s at 278-6003 or going to the church Website. Thus endeth my plug.)

For the weekend: ‘Elijah,’ jazz, Vivaldi and organ music

The classical season hereabouts is heating up, and here are the things I’m thinking about seeing:

Tonight: The Master Chorale of South Florida introduces its new director, Joshua Habermann, in a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a full performance of this oratorio, and I’m looking forward to it. The Mendelssohn bicentenary next year hopefully will bring some other serious Mendelssohn to the fore.

Saturday: Rachael Price, jazz singer, takes the stage at the Willow Theater in Boca Raton’s Sugar Sand Park. Price is just 23, but she’s already finished work on her fourth CD, and has a hot trio behind her as she navigates the standards. I like her voice, and you can hear some more of it at her Website; I particularly like her version of Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark, which has a lyric by Johnny Mercer, whose centenary is being celebrated this year.

Sunday: Camerata del Re at St. Paul’s in Delray Beach, doing an all-Vivaldi program. Some interesting things on the program including the cantata Vengo a voi, luci adorate (with soprano Anita Smith) and the popular flute concerto known as Il Gardellino.

Also Sunday afternoon is the third and final concert in the organ series at Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach. On the program are organists Brian Wm. Davey, R. Steven Gorden, and duo organists Diana Akers and Irena Kofman. Music by Rutter and Alan Rawsthorne is on the program for the 3 p.m. recital.

More thoughts on jazz and the canon

Some other thoughts, engendered by the Wynton Marsalis book I reviewed yesterday.

I stopped in at a fast-food eatery this afternoon for no good reason, certainly not real hunger, but what I heard on the piped-in music brought me right back to the idea of jazz and its core canon. The restaurant was piping in 1950s pop music, most of which I find pretty uninteresting, and the stuff I heard today was no exception: I, vi, IV V, over and over and over, all the melodies basically the same, trite sentiment.

It’s the kind of music that screams that it was born for commerce, and its parents were not named Art and Eurydice. Be that as it may, it’s music that means a lot to many millions of people, though it means nothing to me.

But here’s the jazz thing. Through most of its lifetime, jazz had a core canon, essentially the Great American Songbook of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, with some later songs sneaking in there for good measure. This core canon is music composed by people who played the piano, not the guitar, and there’s a big difference. If you’re playing piano, you’re going to be writing from a different chordal perspective than the guitar, which draws from a different aquifer. Guitar-based music is wonderful in its own right, but the majority of songwriters using guitars are writing from a modal, folk-based tradition, not a piano tradition, and that’s a tradition that hearkens back to classical.

You can’t have decent jazz using the chord changes of songs such as the ones I was hearing this afternoon. It’s impossible to make those interesting, no matter how many substitutions you use. The original song has to have some melodic and harmonic interest to make jazzifying it workable. This is what restricts traditional jazz to its original canon of Gershwin, Berlin, and the other major writers.

Now that doesn’t mean there isn’t any contemporary music worth transforming into jazz (and here I’m leaving aside original jazz composition in order to make a narrower point). A case in point is Paul Anka, who surprised lots of people with his Rock Swings album of 2005. Much of that record swings, and it swings hard, but not on the weirder selections like Smells Like Teen Spirit, which gains nothing from its jazz arrangement.

The ones that work best on that record are It’s a Sin (Pet Shop Boys), which gets a light bossa nova treatment and is more easy listening than jazz, and True (Spandau Ballet), a more harmonically sophisticated song that makes a natural transition to wee-hours balladry in the Neal Hefti-Sammy Nestico-style chart it gets here. The two biggest shocks on the record were It’s My Life, the Bon Jovi anthem, and Eye of the Tiger (Survivor), both of which are actually better songs clothed in Randy Kerber’s muscular arrangements than hanging out in their original houses on the Highway of Cheese. They’re still corny as all getout, but it’s more forgivable in all-out big-band Vegas glitz, somehow.

One of the things that makes traditional jazz so moving is hearing the players comment on the old songs, and it’s best of all when you know the lyrics. As Marsalis points out, Ben Webster once stopped playing in mid-solo because he’d forgotten the words, and Lester Young used to insist that the most important thing was to know the lyrics of the song you were playing in order to craft a meaningful solo. On the Anka record, many of the songs — Wonderwall, Blackhole Sun, Eyes Without a Face, The Way You Make Me Feel — are either gibberish or underwhelming lyrically, and that basically kills the songs, no matter how interesting the arrangements are (and there’s a nice alto break on Wonderwall).

So all this means that in jazz, the new music either needs to have the same melodic, harmonic and lyrical integrity as the core songbook , or jazzers who don’t write their own music need to search for fresher contemporary material with those qualities. It might be a long search.

I have wandered around making several points here, I know, but my overall one is that jazz has a basic canon like classical does, and there’s no end to the music that can be made from it; decades from now, saxophonists will still be playing A Foggy Day. Whether there will be a large canon of newer music that offers the same sustenance remains to be seen.

Here’s a young jazz singer named Rachael Price, who’ll be coming to Lauderdale in November. There are some nice samples on the front page, especially Skylark. Here’s a young person making this older material fresh as a daisy.

And here’s Anka doing It’s My Life. I just like the full-throatedness of this thing; it must have been great to sing and play