By Will Friedwald
The last thing I felt like listening to was another female singer. My mailbox had been inundated with them lately. While nearly all of them talented and honestly sincere; I hadn't heard anything in a while that absolutely leaped out at me. Thus, my initial reluctance to listen to "VINTAGE", the new Kathy Kosins CD.
Then, I remembered how much I enjoyed "Mood Swings", Kathy Kosins' previous CD. So, even though I thought I was more in the mood for bagpipes, harmonica, stritch or manzello - anything but a female voice - I gave "VINTAGE" a listen.
Well, Kathy Kosins grabbed me and fairly quickly - the same way she grabbed me right away on "Mood Swings" with her renditions of "Maybe September" and "Melancholy Serenade". She again peaked my interest by excavating great vintage songs that I have loved all my life, but which almost no one - and certainly no contemporary jazz singer - has touched for decades.
I like what Kosins' choice of songs on her new CD, tells me about who she listens to. It turns out her favorite singers are pretty much the same as mine. What she does with these tunes as the artist and producer tells me that she knows where the deal-breaker point of demarcation is between respectful homage and radical re-interpretation.
I already knew she listened a lot to Tony Bennett and Bill Evans from her interpretation of "Maybe September." On "VINTAGE" there are two further tip-offs - "When In Rome", which Tony also sang with Evans and "Penthouse Serenade".
Kathy could have learned "Penthouse Serenade" from any number of 1930's chanteuse recordings, (i.e. Bebe Daniels). But no; she specifically references Bennett's classic treatment of "Penthouse Serenade" from the LP "Hometown, My Town", by quoting the special introductory verse (a paraphrase of the bridge, with new lyrics) as well as the second verse written expressly for Bennett's recording.
Likewise, she touches on the canon of two great band singers, Benny Goodman's Helen Ward with "You're A Heavenly Thing" and Stan Kenton's June Christy with "Look Out Up There"- both of which remain in her treatments, swinging and danceable. In both cases, she completely updates and personalizes these songs. As Ward and Christy before her represent state of the art female jazz singing of the 30's, 40's and 50's; Kathy Kosins demonstrates 21st Century state of the art jazz singing.
I don't think she could address a more diverse spectrum of sources than Shirley Temple and Julie London. Ms. Temple, who introduced the song, "When I'm With You" in the motion picture Poor Little Rich Girl (1936), was and remains Hollywood's ultimate icon of childhood innocence. Normally, a slow love song such as "When I'm With You" tends to be sad, but Kathy shows that this song can be upbeat, even when the tempo is not. She languidly sings the lyric over lovely, shimmering keyboard textures and understated Pan-African rhythm effects.
Julie London was pop music's sensual response to the 1950's Hollywood sex goddess. However, in addition to sensuality, London's recordings reflect musicality, taste, and class of the highest order. Kosins does justice to this legacy in her rendition of "Go Slow", composed for London by orchestrator Russ Garcia. Kathy's recording of "Go Slow" opens with a bass clarinet intro, and though she sings primarily over solo bass, nonetheless her performance maintains a balance of swing and sensuality- the hallmark of her CD.
Kathy Kosins continues the London legacy with her performance of the composition, "Nice Girls Don't Stay For Breakfast", which coyly and classily ends with a request to - "pass the jam". Amazingly, this 1950's style melody and lyric (the title track to one of London's later albums), was actually written, recorded and released by Ms. London during 1967's Summer of Love.
The diversity continues with the 1966 pop hit "These Boots Are Made For Walking" - a song that's been unfairly overlooked by the jazz community for way too long.
Plenty of jazz singers have been inspired by the classic recordings of Frank Sinatra; Kosins is the first one I know to use a Nancy Sinatra hit as a starting point.
Kathy's reading is slow and funky, not neglecting the groovy backbeat of the original. In fact, by removing the "pop" veneer, Ms. Kosins is considerably sexier - she's already got me scouring her website looking for a picture of her in those "spike-heeled boots" she sings about.
Kathy managed with several selections on her CD "VINTAGE" to "stump the band", something that very rarely happens when someone's been listening to songs and singers as long as I have.
"Tip-Toe Gently" I couldn't place, until Kathy reminded me that the only prior recording was on Carmen McRae's very obscure first album.
"I Know You Oh, So Well", unknown to me prior to listening to Kathy's performance, turns out to be a rare gem. Originally a Ray Brown instrumental from an obscure Andre Previn LP, the lyric by Dory Previn was written at the original recording session and not used - a moving love lyric laced with irony.
I was totally caught off guard by Kathy's performance of "Tomorrow's Another Day" - a rarely heard lyric credited to the late King Pleasure set to the melody of the jazz instrumental standard "Dear Old Stockholm".
I am usually less than enthusiastic about new original songs by contemporary jazz singers (with the exception of those of the great Abbey Lincoln). However, Ms. Kosins' original composition, "I Can't Change You", is very thoughtfully constructed, and several cuts above most of what's out there. (The same can be said for Ms. Kosins other original songs, seven of which are heard on her CD, "MOOD SWINGS".)
And that's my story, except to add - that this whole package actually took me by surprise.
I wasn't expecting to fall in love with a new female vocal album.
But, I wound up staying the night….
Pass the jam.