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LUCKY TO BE ME


Landmark Records 1990
LCD 1524-2
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LUCKY TO BE ME

  1. Lucky To Be Me
  2. Something To Remember You By
  3. Do I Love You
  4. Glad To Be Unhappy
  5. Moments Like This
  6. My Buddy
  7. This Funny World / He Was Good To Me
  8. By Myself
  9. Be Careful, It's My Heart
  10. For All We Know
  11. A Face Like Yours
  12. Rhode Island Is Famous For You
  13. Don't You Know I Care
  14. Two For The Road
Wesla and Orrin Keepnews

LUCKY TO BE ME

Wesla whitfield: vocals
mike greensill: piano / arranger
Dean reilly: bass

orrin keepnews: producer







LUCKY TO BE ME

There are three topics that should never be brought up in polite conversation: politics, religion, and who (or what) is (or isn?t) a jazz singer. I have sometimes felt daring enough to break the rule regarding the first two, but never the last, which from personal observation I know can tear families apart and end lifelong friendships.

So there will be no discussion here of how to define a jazz vocalist, or arguments where Wesla Whitfield might fit into that picture. What we do have here is a singer with deep knowledge and affection for a wide range of American popular song, and a wonderful ability to interpret that remarkable body of music.

Since we both happen to live in San Francisco, I have been able to hear her much more often than people less fortunately located. Sine I happen to be a record producer by trade, it has been possible for me to assist in capturing on tape the sound and the feeling of how Wesla practices her art. It is a collection designed to recreate as directly as possible the way you might hear her in her natural habitat: the kind of room that used to be smoke-filled (but no longer is) and that is usually described, with no particular accuracy, as a ?cabaret.?

This is a musical form that (to come dangerously close to the forbidden topic) has always seemed to me to have a great deal in common with jazz. The fact is that the basic repertoires of the two idioms use a good deal of the same material - and often for the same reason, which is the inherent strength and grace and imagination of the music. There is, clearly, a relationship: a good song to sing is often a good song to blow on, and many (though certainly not all) of the numbers here have worked equally well both ways.

There is more to it than that. Having inhabited both worlds, I know that both call inevitably for more devotion to your art than is ever likely to be financially repaid. And there surely is a mutuality of spirit. I may be overly influenced by the fact that I grew up in New York, and that my wife and I spent a lot of time listening to jazz, and going to baseball games, and discovering for ourselves the joys of hearing Mabel Mercer, without ever being aware of crossing any boundary lines. I do know that the first time we went to hear Bobby Short, it was in the company and at the urging of Cannonball Adderly. Since that was the man who had also eagerly called my attention to Wes Montgomery, you may get the idea that it all relates much more to taste and talent than to subdivisions of style.

Wesla is California-born and is at the stage of her career where she is better known on the West Coast than elsewhere, and better known to her colleagues than to the vast public. Mention her name to Tony Bennett or Margaret Whiting, to Mr. Short or Michael Feinstein, and you?ll get very strong vibrations. She has for some time been guided and musically supported by her husband, the excellent pianist Mike Greensill. Between them, they have done an extensive and still on-going job of exploring the American popular song. The 14 numbers here are ?representative? enough, particularly in the fact that they do include Porter and Berlin and Rodgers-and-Hart, but not on this occasion Kern or Arlen, who surely would be on the list if you came around tomorrow. Also typical is the presence of a song or two probably thought you?d never hear again (My Buddy? -but it works) and a few you most probably never heard before: Frank Loesser and Burton Lane?s Moments Like This, from a thoroughly obscure 1930s move called ?College Swing?; Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz?s less than serious tribute to Rhode Island from the 1948 revue, ?Inside USA?; and the recent A Face Like Yours, by Tommy Wolf and the late Victor Feldman.

Wesla Whitfield is a rare and shining artist, performing in a specialized field that tends to turn its members (like, again, many jazz musicians) into an almost-endangered species. What she specializes in is the interpretation of the best and most rewarding of American popular song. Don?t miss the opportunity to hear her.

-- Orrin Keepnews

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